“What happens here, stays here.” This campaign for Las Vegas, launched in 2003, has become part of American pop culture. Even Laura Bush, when asked by Jay Leno about a recent Las Vegas trip said: “Jay, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Why has this line cut through to the consciousness of message-saturated Americans?

Because it rings true. Most of us see Vegas as a place to escape from our everyday, respectable lives, drop our inhibitions and indulge whatever vices we’re into! (I especially like the ad where a sexy woman hops into a limo, flirts with the driver and emerges from the car at the airport for her trip home as a conservative businesswoman.)

Now, do you remember the previous Las Vegas advertising? Neither do I. Apparently, it attempted to reposition Vegas as a family vacation destination.

Now, I’ve been told by more than one person that Vegas actually is a good place to take a family vacation. But honestly, when you think of Las Vegas, is “family” the first think that pops into your mind???

Didn’t think so.

However you phrase it, “adult fun” is the essence of Las Vegas’s identity. And getting to the essence is the key to marketing success, whatever you are marketing…

“Restaurant sales climb with bad-for-you food,” reported USA Today last Friday. Sales are up, thanks to products like Hardee’s Monster Thickburger — a 1,420 calorie behemoth loaded with two 1/3-pound beef patties, four strips of bacon and three slices of cheese, Burger King’s Enormous Omelet Sandwich — with two slices of cheese, two eggs, three strips of bacon, and a sausage patty, and Pizza Hut’s new triple-cheese 3Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza.

Pizza Huts sells 100 pan pizzas for every lower-calorie Fit N’ Delicious pizza it sells. BK sells 100 Whoppers for every Veggie Burger. And McDonald’s McLean Deluxe — the low-fat burger made with seaweed (ugh!) — is now in the “trash bin” of fast food history, a tribute to the futility of trying to be something that you’re not.

High fat, high salt, high sugar food is the essence of fast food outlets. Healthy food is not. When these companies try to push healthier food, they lose; when they pile on the grease, they win. It’s simple (though not nutritious).

Now, KFC is considering going back to its essence, becoming Kentucky Fried Chicken again. Smart move.

Marketing history is rife with examples of brands that faltered when they abandoned their essence and prospered when they embraced it…

Subaru faltered when tried to be a mainstream Japanese car like Toyota or Honda. It bounced back when it focused on what makes it special — all-wheel drive.

Coca-Cola flopped when it tried to taste more like Pepsi (a.k.a. New Coke). It recovered by relaunching The Real Thing (a.k.a. Coca-Cola Classic).

Campbell’s bombed when it tried to convince us that “soup is good food.” It rebounded when it reminded us that it’s “Mmmm, Mmmm Good.”

What does this mean for us in radio? It means that we first have to understand what the essence of our station is — that is, what it stands for in the minds of listeners. . Then, everything our station does — both on the air and off it — must be true to that essence.

Of course, we sometimes find that the essence of our station doesn’t appeal to enough listeners to be successful, or is strategically unsound, or even a negative! If so, we in radio have an option that our counterparts in other industries don’t. We can do something that McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or Las Vegas can’t do…

We can blow it up!