Lottery fever hit the tabloid press harder than most, but the flood of
derivative promotions failed to hit the jackpot. Andy Fry reports
It didn’t need Mystic Meg to predict that the launch of the National
Lottery would spawn copycat promotions in the tabloid press.
Not since British newspapers first cried ‘Bingo!’ have hacks been quite
so obsessed with their balls. In the case of the Lottery, enthusiasm is
enhanced by the editorial alternative it provides to the salacious
lifestyles of soap stars.
But this Lottery loopiness has not grown the overall tabloid market -
despite the near-hysterical coverage jackpot winners provoke.
In the six months before the Lottery’s launch (May to October, 1994) the
combined circulation of the daily tabloid market was 11.83 million.
After one year of Lottery fever, that total was down 0.8% to 11.73
million (May to October, 1995). Sunday equivalents fared no better,
dropping 0.6% year on year.
Although last November’s launch of the Lottery inspired a flurry of
promotional activity, it was not until the April launch of Camelot’s
instant scratchcards that competition among the six tabloids reached
Here, the Daily Mirror can legitimately claim to have stolen a march on
the Sun with the launch of its Instant gamecards. The competition, which
offered a pounds 50,000 top prize, was a thinly disguised rip-off of the
National Lottery’s own game. It used a scratchcard mechanism which had
to be coupled with regular readership in order to win cash prizes.
The prize game helped register a circulation rise in May of about
100,000, and forced the Sun to hit back with Winstants - distinguishable
only by the fact that it offered a pounds 100,000 prize.
The Mirror’s speed off the blocks contributed to a 63,000 sales increase
year on year for May to October. The Sun, despite being cheaper, slumped
by 132,000 over the same period. The only dent in the Mirror’s euphoria
was an internal mix-up which led to a number of readers mistakenly
believing they had scooped pounds 50,000.
After initial murmurings about the copycat promotions, Camelot has
reacted coolly to the competition. Marketing director John Kinsey says:
‘We keep a watchful eye on developments. But newspaper promotions have
not impacted on our business one iota.’
His explanation is that: ‘Players recognise the difference between our
product, which they pay for, and national newspaper promotions. The
odds are very different, and the level of prizes newspapers can offer
from their promotional budget is much lower.’
This is undoubtedly true. But the comparatively slim pickings offered by
tabloids has not prevented an explosion of activity among their
The Mail, the Express, Today, the Sun, the Star and the Mirror have all
employed scratchcards. This promotional itch has even spread to the
broadsheets where The Times (Scrabble) and The Independent (a travel
game) have run upmarket versions of the concept.
The Evening Standard, too, jumped on the scratchcard bandwagon being
driven by the Mirror and the Sun, launching its first scratchcard game,
Instant Winner, across London for eight weeks from the end of July. Its
other Lottery-themed promotion, the London Lottery, was based on the
seemingly less popular system of matching up numbers.
In marketing terms, Lottery-inspired scratchcards have had two obvious
effects. The first is that money has shifted out of above-the-line
marketing into promotional prize funds. The second is that it has
encouraged expectation of instant gratification - a characteristic now
prevalent in numerous fmcg product lines.
Sales promotion specialist ICM has created games for Express Newspapers
since the 80s, when it devised the long-running Millionaire’s Club.
ICM’s Susie Hughes recalls that sales promotion briefs before the
arrival of the Lottery carried a strong branding element. Games had an
aspirational tone that is not necessarily apparent in a world of instant
cash prizes. ‘The mechanics of the sales promotions became simpler after
the arrival of the Lottery,’ she says, ‘and to an extent everyone has
had to replicate that simplicity.’
There is little doubt that the Express Group has shown the greatest
innovation in its promotions. It was the first publisher to recognise
the potential of television tie-ups when the Daily Star sponsored ITV’s
answer to the Lottery, Raise The Roof.
Raise The Roof’s ratings may have been disappointing but the Express’s
ancillary game, which also offered a house, is certainly more
sophisticated than The Mail’s long-running Instant Cash scratchcard
This, however, has made no difference to long-term circulation trends.
While the Mail has put on almost 100,000 copies year on year, the
Express has fallen 70,000 in the same period. It is now lagging half a
million behind. Although sales promotion may lock in new readers for a
short trial period, it can do little about the core product’s appeal.
That proposition seems to be borne out by Today which, despite being
cheaper than the Mirror and offering pounds 10,000 a day prize money
through The Midas Touch, is still 7.8% down year on year.
As scratchcard games reach saturation point, there is a growing sense
that such promotions have increasingly short life spans. This has led to
gamecard promotions which owe less and less to the Lottery theme.
Take the Sun and the Mirror, which are both using the latest James Bond
film Goldeneye to promote Lottery-style games. Recently, the Sun ran
Bruno’s Knockout Scratch - a choice of personality that was clearly
driven by the boxer’s editorial value to both the Sun and Sky Television
- which will screen his world championship fights.
According to Hughes, ICM’s own research suggests that readers’
enthusiasm for scratchcard promotions is beginning to wane. If this is
the case, it could provoke a return to a rounded marketing approach -
instead of the reductionist tactics of price cuts and cash giveaways.
The Sun’s current sponsorship of Bruce’s Price is Right is a reminder of
the crucial role television will continue to play by providing
complementary audiences of between seven and ten million.
What is clear now, even if it wasn’t before, is that newspapers’
promotions are no longer ‘added-value’. They have become an integral
part of the paper’s proposition in much the same way that branded
editorial sections did earlier in the decade. For beleaguered newspaper
publishers, it simply represents another attack on their profit margins.