Archive for September, 2009

RSCVA: A little ‘west of center’ and a little south of creativity

September 30, 2009
By David Farside
September 29. 2009
The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority is still trying to re-invent a tag-line to attract tourists to the area. The current one, “America’s Adventure Place,” isn’t working. The only thing adventurous about Reno is trying to maneuver through all the motorcycles during Street Vibrations.

The latest suggestion for a catch phrase was “West of Center.” I really don’t know what that means or what it has to do with advertising Reno and Sparks. Evidently, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell didn’t know, either. He said it embarrassed the city of Reno and that he didn’t like it. The rest of the RSCVA board members agreed and voted against the proposal. I don’t know how it got on the agenda in the first place.

At the same meeting, the board did approve a new official RSCVA logo. The colorful emblem highlights the words Reno, Tahoe and USA. But they intentionally omitted the city of Sparks. They probably don’t think sparks is in the United States of America.

The RSCVA might want to consider reading the “Short History of Reno” written by Barbara and Myrick Land. They might learn our international name recognition began not with highly paid consultants but with a creative city council and the Smith brothers.

On July 4, 1910, the heavyweight championship “fight of the century” between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries was held in Reno before an all-white crowd of 22,000 Jeffries fans. Johnson, the first black boxing champion, entered the ring while a band played “All Coons Look Alike.” He left the square circle retaining his belt, earning $225,000 and beating Jeffries into submission in the 15th round.

A group of reporters covering the fight thought Reno should have a slogan to help promote the fight. They created “Biggest Little City in the World.” It never really made the pages of national papers, but was later used as an advertising slogan worldwide.

The Reno Commercial Club also labeled Reno as the “Biggest Little City” on a map they published in 1912.

During a parade in 1914, a local attorney carried a banner with the logo “Biggest Little City” sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Moose from Chicago, Ill., but the slogan still hadn’t really caught on.

Then, in 1928, the Reno City Council wanted a new, permanent slogan for the Reno arch. The arch, built in 1914, had been used to welcome visitors traveling through Reno on their way to the Panama/Pacific exhibition in San Francisco. And in 1927, it greeted visitors traveling through Reno on the newly completed Lincoln and Victory highway. It was time for a different slogan.

The council had a contest and offered a prize of $100 to anyone with the best permanent slogan for Reno. It had to represent the theme for the whole city. G. A. Burns of Sacramento won with the slogan “Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World.” True, it wasn’t original, but the council hadn’t seen anything else that better described the city. Other entries included “Reno: Nevada‘s Silver Lily” and “Reno: Paradise of the West.” I’d say they got their money’s worth.

And then in 1941, Harold’s Club, owned by Harold Smith and his brother, Raymond, started promoting the city of Reno internationally, using its own western theme. At the time, Harold’s Club was the only Nevada casino to establish its own theme. Almost 2,300 billboards and signs with a picture of a covered wagon with the logo “Harold’s Club or bust” on the canopy was competing with “Burma Shave” signs on every highway in America. During World War II, Harold’s Club signs could be seen in both the European and Pacific theaters. Now that’s real promotion and advertising.

Speaking of Burma Shave, in 1925 , Allan Odell convinced his father to give him $200 to advertise its product, a brush-less shaving cream, on small wooden roadside signs. By the mid-’50s, there were more than 7,000 signs and reading them on long trips kept us awake and was the highlight of the drive.

So, the slogan “The Biggest Little City in the World” was found for only $100. Harold’s Club gained international recognition for itself and Reno at no cost to the city. Throw in Burma Shave’s investment of $200 for a slogan still remembered by most of us who traveled in the ‘50s. Why can’t the RSCVA find a suitable slogan without spending a small fortune? The answer is simple.

Reno, Sparks and Lake Tahoe don’t have one theme for the whole area. They each want to promote its own identity. Sparks wants to be a city of circus festivals and clowns, Reno wants to be everything for everybody and the beauty of Lake Tahoe sells itself.

I suggest we follow the example of our 1928 city council. Advertise a contest for our new slogan nationwide and offer a $50,000 prize for the winner, because it’s clear no one working for or contracted by the RSCVA has a creative brain in their head.