Camelot takes a punt on birthday bonanza

The lottery is a decade old, and the Government has decreed a major celebration, with one-off games and events nationwide. But will it give an opening to the detractors? asks David Benady

In the ten years since the birth of the National Lottery, operator Camelot has made profits of more than &£400m. From an investment of &£20m spent preparing its bids for the first and second lottery licences, you might expect that these happy returns would give the consortium good cause to celebrate.

But the publicity surrounding the lottery’s tenth birthday, to be celebrated on November 6, will avoid all mention of Camelot’s role in selling &£46bn worth of tickets, handing out &£23bn in prizes and being one of the most profitable private/public partnerships in history.

The celebration, created on the orders of culture secretary Tessa Jowell, is billed as a “thank you” to lottery players and will show how the &£16bn raised for good causes has been spent on 180,000 projects around the country, many of which people do not realise are funded by the lottery. Some of these projects will open to the public free of charge on November 6 and there will be events around the country aiming to show people how lottery spending has boosted public facilities.

The lottery has attracted huge criticism over the past decade. Profiteering by Camelot; “taking from the poor to give to the rich” with grants to such “good causes” as the Churchill papers, Eton College and the Royal Opera House; and becoming a tool of government social engineering are some of the points made against Camelot. So the organisers of National Lottery Day will have to take care that the event does not provide critics with another excuse to bash the institution.

Using milestones in the life of a brand as a hook to push marketing messages is a common technique, though not one without risks. Ford celebrated its centenary in 2003, and used it to emphasise the heritage and the timeless role the brand plays in our lives. ITV will celebrate 50 years of British television advertising next year, at a time when serious questions are being asked about the cost-effectiveness of TV ads and amid regular calls for drink and junk food advertising to be banned.

Waitrose is this year pushing its 100th anniversary using ads promoting the traceability of its food, its local sourcing policy and its long-term approach. A spokesman accepts that there are risks involved: “The key thing to get across is that we come from a strong, consistent, forward-looking business. We don’t want to be perceived as a backward-looking organisation.”

It was Mickey Mouse’s 75th birthday last year, and Walt Disney makes great use of such milestones – next year, the company will mark 50 years of its original California theme park. These events encourage parents and grandparents – gatekeepers to purchases of Disney products – to remember their own childhood experiences of Disney.

A Disney spokeswoman says: “We have strict guidelines on when we can celebrate anniversaries, because there is a risk that they will become annual events and lose their lustre. There is a heritage objective, because an anniversary enables you to look at the character’s history.”

But the flipside of heritage is staleness: the line between timelessness and tedium is narrow.

To mark National Lottery Day, Camelot will be launching its largest scratchcard prize to date – Millionaire Celebration will offer five &£1m prizes. The company will also run a special &£10m Lotto jackpot draw (MW last week). It will retain all profits from these promotions (0.5 per cent of the total sales).

The National Lottery Promotions Unit, set up to push the message that good-cause spending has updated public facilities, will be encouraging projects to promote National Lottery Day.

Jowell enthuses: “From the Eden Project in the South-west to bonfires throughout the Highlands, lottery-funded projects the length and breadth of the country are all proud to celebrate what the lottery has helped them to achieve.”

Whether any of this helps to improve the standing of the National Lottery in the eyes of its players remains to be seen. Jowell believes that public concern about how lottery money is spent has put people off playing. Many observers doubt this, contending that people buy tickets primarily to win the jackpot. Good causes are a secondary consideration, perhaps a mechanism within the brand to disarm two powerful disincentives to buying lottery tickets – the thought that you could be “wasting” money and the guilt associated with the desires aroused by fantasies of wealth.

Camelot director of corporate affairs Mark Gallagher says the birthday celebrations will give the company an opportunity to counter the misleading impression, given by the press, that lottery grants have gone to undeserving causes. “Things that some of the newspapers consider to be controversial have attracted 98 per cent of the press coverage. but account for one per cent of the grants,” he says.

Gallagher accepts that National Lottery Day could be turned into a hook for reminding people about the controversy surrounding the lottery, but he believes the press “would do that anyway”.

But the fact that such considerations are coming up already is a reminder that brands have to manage birthday celebrations with care, or they risk turning a milestone into a millstone.

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