Controversy Branding Sparks, Nevada

2/21/09 - THE CONTROVERSY OVER BRANDING SPARKS - I wasn't going to really get into this too much on this site, because the topic is, well Sparks. But the conversation and controversy have reached a zenith in which it's hard not to ignore. SmartBlog has a great discussion going on about this, in which the original architect of the branding campaign and spokesdude for Sparks is getting involved. Click here to skip all over the bull and voice your opinion right to the source. I encourage you to get involved in the thread on SmartBlog, even if Sparks Officials don't respond any further, they are definitely reading it, along with the original strategist. Especially if you are a Sparks resident.
Now, my opinion. Keep in mind this is just my opinion. I'm sure you've watched the travel channel or even mainstream cable and every once in a while you see a commercial to travel to a certain destination, usually with a hip little tagline. For example, Texas uses 'It's like a whole other country' and Los Angeles last month unleashed a massive new branding campaign, which you may soon see the new commercials for, called 'That's so LA.' (see below) That's basically what target markets will see when print/tv ads go out for Sparks new branding campaign, 'It's happening here' and 'The festival city'.

I had a great discussion with the owner of SmartBlog about all of this over morning coffee. When you read the comment thread on his blog you'll see the architect of the new brand and Adam Mayberry, Sparks Spokesdude, say that a city has to earn it's brand. I couldn't disagree more. The reason why 'What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas' (which was developed by a local firm by the way) works so well, is Vegas already had a seedy side to it, and that campaign simply amplified it by a million times. The reason why 'That's so LA' works so well, is because the city is already known for that brand statement, it fits, and works. The reason why America's Adventure Place allegedly failed thus far is Reno is NOT America's Adventure Place (try Yosemite, or Yellowstone, or Alaska, or..) and hasn't lived up to that brand, and NEVER fully represented that brand from the beginning. The reason why Biggest Little City in the World worked so well is Reno IS the biggest little city. Reno COULD live up to that brand, and represents it well, to this day. The jury is still out on the recently launched 'Reno Rules'.
I don't feel Sparks will be able to live up to the brand it just set for itself. Setting the corniness of the word 'festival' aside for a second, what makes Sparks think it can exceed Las Vegas (which has 63 annual events per year) or Reno (which has 33+ annual events per year?) in regard to being well-known for festivals and events? The brand developer says that's not the goal or intention...but when you develop a centric brand like 'It's happening here' and 'The Festival City' comes across to the public as otherwise. Reno is already known for Art Town, the Reno Air Races, the Italian Festival, the Great Reno Balloon Races, the Reno River Festival (whose attendance is growing beyonds regional proportions), Hot August Nights, Street Vibrations, Reno Tahoe Odyssey, the Brews and Blues Festival, large Earth Day celebrations, the only outdoor ice rink in the area, 3 convention centers, multiple concert venues in a condensed entertainment district, etc. Sparks, so far, is known for it's rib cook off, and kick ass fireworks shows on 4th of July. The farmer's market is ok, but has been replicated in other parts of the city, including downtown Reno this summer. Now that Sparks has receded from the RSCVA, it will be interesting to see where Sparks gets the funding and support to launch marketing efforts for all of these future festivals.
So enough of this. My passion for this community extends through this entire valley. Tourism to this area is essential, and must continue to be a focal point. So enough of this garbage! I've had it. This is ONE VALLEY. Sparks and Reno needs to work together on one cohesive tourism marketing campaign. THERE IS NOT A FENCE BETWEEN RENO AND SPARKS!
And as far as some of the things the architect of this new brand is saying on SmartBlog....Why officially unveil a brand if it's still in development and being refined? Maybe the public backlash wouldn't have been as great. I'm a web designer, and I don't unveil new web sites halfway through the development process. If Sparks doesn't intend to compete or draw visitors away from Reno events with this campaign, then how is calling yourself 'The Festival City' and having a goal of 200 'event days' per year not directly competing with Reno? There are limited tourist dollars in this valley and everyone wants them so let's get realistic. It doesn't mean Reno and Sparks can't work together on a larger scale on a REGULAR BASIS to attract tourists. Get the tourists here in the valley FIRST...THEN fight over their dollars. Don't try to separate it from the beginning with a centric statement like 'It's happening here'.
It was mentioned a brand can't be developed based on public consensus...sure...but when no one is coming forward praising the campaign except Sparks officials, shouldn't it make you wonder or reconsider it just a tad bit? A high percentage (34% is high in ad terms) of Las Vegas residents surveyed thought 'What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas' would be effective in attracting tourists, according to Ad Track. I have yet to run across an online comment totally praising this new campaign for Sparks. It was mentioned the reason for using an out of state firm is to gain a fresh perspective on marketing to this area, and that this campaign is not designed for residents, it is designed for tourists, yet then it was stated their initial target market for this campaign are local residents and people in the Carson City, Tahoe and Fallon areas. Huh? Enough with the empty brands that this region can't live up to, let's get back to our roots and the real reason why tourists still come here. Thoughts?


Post your comments
Posted by: Teresa M - 2/21/2009 12:07:58 PM
You practially took the words out of my mouth. I agree with pretty much everything you ranted about. As a travel agent working in Reno, I have direct contact with families booking trips to Reno and it is nearly 100% event based. They do not come to Reno as a homebase to ski up in Tahoe. Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Mammoth and Kirkwood have been making big changes to attract, and keep, tourists in the Tahoe region with large on-site villages. People may fly into Reno, but then they go right up to Tahoe during the winter. Reno needs to change that. Families come here for events, then they leave. You left unanswered the golden question, with the $200,000,000 answer. What is it about the Truckee Meadows that draws visitors here? I rarely have someone call me and say I want to book a trip to Reno to gamble

Posted by: GreyGoose - 2/21/2009 12:17:26 PM
A long read there, DTM, but good rant. I agree, the logo and overall campaign stinks and does not fit Sparks. I don't know what alternative they had though. It could have been much worse. I bet a lot of tweaking will happen, and the end result will be much different than what we see now. But why make a big media hubub when it wasn't done yet? Sparks should have thought twice about that.

Posted by: Devin Sommerton - 2/21/2009 12:21:59 PM
Spot on

Posted by: Chris - 2/21/2009 12:32:28 PM
I loved the What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas thing. A local place came up with that? And we used an out of town firm in Seattle for the Sparks project?

Posted by: myrnatheminx - 2/21/2009 1:50:36 PM
You hit the nail on the head--sparks and reno should be pooling resources to brand themselves as one place--particularly during a bad economy.

Posted by: Chet Dunlap - 2/21/2009 4:50:52 PM
Sparks, Live by the sword, die by the sword. Sparks, I’m okay, you’re okay Sparks, Get more bang for your buck. Sparks, Lester Holt seemed to like it, I’m sure you will too. Sparks, Now with more cohones

Posted by: Chet Dunlap - 2/21/2009 6:02:26 PM
Sparks, The only thing that is missing is you. Sparks The Honky Tonk city Spark, Rediscover your MoJo Sparks, Fun starts here Sparks Downstream from Reno and loving it.

Posted by: Reno/Sparks Fan - 2/22/2009 11:06:05 PM
How about “Spark's, Reno's quiet side”. Message to those in the “Biggest little City's” sister City.....Take away the Nugget and your a Movie theater complex and a “BIG” sporting good store. Don't get me wrong, I like Sparks and stay there more than downtown Reno. As I have aged I have found that it is nice to mix it up in Reno and use Sparks as the “night cap”, before turning in. I, and most of the people I still know who seek out Reno/Sparks as a destination (quite a few I may say) don't go there for the “Mall” aspect that will be the Marina. You will get your locals, and that's good. But we are going for the posh that is the Grand Sierra, the shows at the Events Center and the constancy of the Sparks keystone that is the Nugget. Be real Sparks, take away Reno and your Elko. There is no “I” in team. You need Reno and Reno in some sense needs you. This is an area I LOVE and all I see is that you in Reno/Sparks are trying to be something you are not. Vegas embraced its “Adult Side” after the family marketing failed. Your on the right track with cool clubs, great restaurants, and local bars that are the “True West”. I lived in Colorado Springs, it tried in vain to tie it's self to the ski aspect that is Aspen and Vail and......etc. It did not work. Look at Reno/Spark's past and you may find some answers. I responded to this website comparing Reno to Austin, TX. I still stand by that comparison. You folks have a diamond that need's a bit of polish. Both downtowns could be great destinations. And what ever you do, and this is from a touresit who gambles not a gambler who is a tourist, embrace your gaming roots! Who in their mind would pass up a hip downtown with clubs, and restaurants.........And go to some indian gaming “Facility” in the middle of know where? Keep in mind........I'm not a local, I'm your potential customer.

Posted by: urbanblog - 2/25/2009 11:05:03 AM
Well said, Reno/SparksFan, well said. You hit the nail on the head.

Posted by: ModGirl - 2/26/2009 9:46:30 AM
I was a bit confused at first... asking why Sparks is doing its own thing.... I thought that the RSCVA (Reno SPARKS Convention and Visitors Authority) worked as one. HUH... And the other thing... they outsourced this marketing campaign to an agency in Seattle. What ever happened to keeping business local!!! Who knows the area better than we do! There dozens of local agencies that would have shed blood to land this gig. They signed a $114,000 Contract with the Seattle Based Agency to develop the brand. Shame on them... GRRRRRR.... (Mike, if you can, post an image of the new Sparks logo... It would be interesting to have our community critique the fine work of art. My blood is boiling, I need to walk it off.... walk it off...)

Posted by: DowntownMakeoverDude - 2/26/2009 9:59:24 AM
Hi Modgirl! I don't have the branding on hand but the entire package is shown over at

Posted by: Uncle Tom - 2/26/2009 3:38:44 PM
Hey, ModGirl, maybe those people in Seattle can spell! Just teasing you; I also think that your Reno locals should have been given the assignment.

Posted by: doofus - 2/26/2009 6:29:52 PM
In honor of it's fine dining reputation, maybe Sparks should go whole-hog and rebrand the entire city as "Sporks".

Posted by: ModGirl - 2/27/2009 9:47:25 AM
I think the locals should vote on a tag line from a variety of options the branding agency comes up with for Sparks AND Reno-Tahoe campaigns. Save some headache. These are our cities, right? We should have some say. oh wishful thinking.....

Posted by: Bugsy - 2/27/2009 7:52:59 PM
Ok guys, lets stop talking about the Sparks ad. This website is for downtown Reno fans.. Lets talk about Downtown Reno and how to make it better for all of us. Untill we make downtown Reno perfect, than we can talk about Sparks.


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