The confirmation that Richard Branson really is going to bid again
against Camelot for the National Lottery licence will tee up one of the
first great marketing and PR battles of the next century. The contest to
see if something different is going to follow ’It could be you’, and
’Maybe just Maybe’ will, in publicity terms, be short and sweet.
The Lottery Commission, the body that decreed that pounds 100m worth of
working Camelot terminals should be junked to help ensure there is a
competition for the new licence, has also issued another surprising
diktat. Once bids go in on February 29 applicants are ’requested to
refrain, so far as their applications are concerned, from media
contact’. There are to be no press releases, no promotional material and
no staging of promotional events.
This will come hard for Branson as this ’request’ will undoubtedly cover
hot air balloons publicising The People’s Lottery and abseiling down
Nelson’s column. So you can expect a serious outburst of Branson between
now and February 29.
Such a publicity ban by the Lottery Commission is pompous and just plain
daft. Maximising the publicity surrounding the Camelot/People’s contest
would be a huge plus for the National Lottery, which has seen sales
reach a plateau. Peter Davis, the man who ran the previous lottery
regulatory body, Oflot, tried to impose just such a ban last time. Davis
was prepared to listen and after first announcing a ban on publicity,
decided to leave the matter up to the applicants. It should be the same
A Branson bid is, however, great news that will enliven some of the dog
days of the new millennium and will also ensure that, once again, the
Camelot team will have to sharpen its pencils.
Although Branson is perhaps the marketing supremo for the current
century, some of these claims do bear close scrutiny. The latest one is
the claim that people would spend more on lottery tickets if they knew
that all the profits went to good causes. There is no doubt that if
market researchers ask such a question people will claim to be willing
to spend more. Whether they will actually do so is much more
problematic. People play the lottery for one reason only - greed. The
money raised for good causes is a welcome side effect.There is also the
question of whether it is socially desirable for people to spend more on
the irrational 14 million to one shot of winning the jackpot.
Two main questions will face Branson when the ballyhoo ends and the bids
go in. One is if the People’s Lottery could handle the biggest ever
hand-over in the history of lotteries. Branson’s likely lottery
equipment supplier, AWI, won the Arizona lottery licence from GTech and
made such a mess of the handover that GTech had to be called in to sort
The second question is if a wholly commercial model will raise more for
good causes, even after profits have been deducted, than one where all
the profits go to good causes and charities.
But this time the game really is on.