Lottery ad is virtually useless

Technology is now so commonplace, that Camelot’s attempt to impress us in its new ad has been rendered ineffective

In the week when the Americans revealed “virtual advertising” – a computer-aided method of incorporating into televised sporting events logos visible only to the viewers at home – Camelot got there first.

How else can one describe the company’s latest advertising campaign other than “virtual”? It struggles to make a point but never quite gets there, possibly because the point is not worth making, possibly because it doesn’t exist. On reflection, the ad is not so much virtual as surreal.

Camelot’s problem is that, in common with the winners of the Lottery, it makes a great deal of money in return for doing not very much. When it was awarded its contract, it got lucky, and what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong is that we live in a envious and censorious age, at least as far as money is concerned. Though we have shaken off many shibboleths and taboos, mainly to do with sexual mores, we retain a purse-lipped prudery when it comes to what passes between a man and his bank manager. We do not much care for great wealth at all – at least not in the pockets of others – but, if it must exist, then it should be in return for great effort. Nothing is so despised, nor as freely condemned, as easy money.

So rather than admire Camelot’s resourcefulness and good fortune, marvelling at the ease with which it reaps a weekly reward of almost 1m, we carp and cavil. This has the unfortunate effect of forcing the company into justifying its riches, something no pools winner is obliged to do. The effect is doubly unfortunate since in pleading its cause Camelot portrays itself as either a humbug – “we are here to serve good causes” – or an idiot – “more people now play the lottery than vote in elections”.

Its latest effort at self-justification is the mould-breaking virtual advertisement. Headlined “Five Seconds” it comprises two columns, one headed “In Your Life”, the other “In Ours”. The former has at the top “Can I have a National Lottery ticket please?” and at the foot “Thank you. Bye.” There is nothing in between.

The second column begins and ends with the same words, but in between there is an account of what Camelot does to earn its money. This explains how your selection of numbers is scanned by your retailer’s terminal, which then sends your selection either via the telephone or by satellite to your nearest transmitter where the numbers are transmitted, again by the same means, to the Camelot computer (if by satellite that’s a journey of 22,200 miles up and 22,200 miles down). This screens and records full details of your selection and allocates your ticket a unique serial number before transmitting your numbers back along the same route they came (another 44,400 miles) to the terminal. This prints your selection of numbers together with the unique serial number and you now have a valid National Lottery ticket.

The intention, of course, is that we should render ourselves agog at this technological miracle in much the same way that our savage forebears beheld with wonder the setting of the sun. But do we? In truth, Camelot’s virtual ad is another version of the Russian Mars probe.

It falls lamentably short of its aim because hi-tech wizardry is part of people’s everyday lives and no longer a source of superstitious awe. It is commonplace.

When most homes have colour televisions, video recorders, and personal computers with CD-Rom, and when most cars, telephones, and washing machines come fitted with microchips, and when the world is full of e-mailers and Internet surfers, it is neither surprising nor impressive to learn that Camelot employs electronics.

What would be surprising, and really quite impressive, is if your retailer were to put your selection of numbers into a cleft stick, pull on a glengarry cap, and set off on foot across field and fen to Camelot’s headquarters where he was met by a liveried footman who escorted him to a clerk seated at a high table who entered your selection in a ledger using a sharpened quill pen.

What would be a talking point, if nothing else, is if your numbers were transmitted 22,200 miles up and only 22,000 miles down. Again, however, Camelot fails to startle by making the outward and homeward journeys tiresomely equidistant.

The foolish thing about this virtual advertising is that anyone could use to it to as little effect as Camelot. Even your humble correspondent. Thus although this column may take less than five minutes in your life, it took rather more in mine. And while all you do is read, I pace up and down, stare out of the window, have a word with the dog, make a cup of coffee, bite my fingernails, clean my glasses (using a handkerchief and breathing on both lenses), make notes on a pad, stare out of the window again. Then I switch on the computer.

Current flows immediately, giving me access to 4 MB of RAM expandable to 24 MB and illuminating a video display in glowing colours. I have another cup of coffee. I curse a lot, sigh, mutter and tap the keyboard. I scratch my head, adjust my shoelaces and follow the progress of a fly up the wall. You now have a valid column.

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