OPINION: The lottery is about money, not charity - and Branson knows it

Reviving National Lottery sales is going to provide a remarkable marketing challenge for Sir Richard Branson, the man who has spent most of his life as a 24-hour-a-day walking billboard.

Reviving National Lottery sales is going to provide a remarkable

marketing challenge for Sir Richard Branson, the man who has spent most

of his life as a 24-hour-a-day walking billboard.

We can assume that, for good or ill, the People’s Lottery will be

awarded the licence some time next month.

Camelot is not assuming that, and is pursuing a judicial review of the

National Lottery Commission’s decision to exclude it from further


But for its part, the Branson team will undoubtedly satisfy the

commission by coming up with an acceptable form of trust to handle the

distribution of prizes. The suppliers, ranging from Microsoft and Cisco

to Energis and KPMG, will doubtless put their hands in their pockets to

provide the bank guarantees needed to ward off any chance of remote


That’s the easy bit. As soon as the licence is awarded, the real

struggles begin. Sir Richard and his chief executive, Simon Burridge of

J Walter Thompson, will then have just over a year to create a retail

network and install a total of 35,000 terminals.

A lottery hand-over on such a scale has never been attempted anywhere in

the world before. When Camelot launched six years ago, there were only

10,000 terminals in place and the network was gradually built up over

time. The scale of embarrassment will be enormous if the People’s

Lottery, for all its good intentions, fails to deliver a fully working

lottery at the beginning of October 2001.

Camelot, for all its lack of awareness of public perceptions, ran a

complex project virtually glitch-free - until it was undermined by the

dodgy behaviour of GTech.

But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that Sir Richard switches on his

People’s Lottery and everything works perfectly. It’s then that things

will get really tough. He will have to deliver on promises to make the

lottery seem fun again and lure the missing millions back. This, of

course, will mean much more and much better marketing. And even that may

not be enough on its own.

To get anywhere near his target of raising pounds 15bn for good causes

over seven years, Sir Richard is relying on the idea that more people

will play because they know all the money will go to good causes. This

is almost certainly bullshit.

People will swear to that they will start playing the lottery like there

is no tomorrow as soon as they know all the profits go to good


But the reality is much simpler. People play the lottery for one reason

alone - to win.

The stalling of Camelot sales maybe, just maybe, due in part to

lacklustre marketing as it took its eye off the balls to concentrate on

a new bid.

But there is evidence from around the world that sales tend to dip after

five years of a lottery launch, as people realise the odds against them

winning millions are much greater than they imagined.

It might be possible to win back some of the faint-hearts with

Bransonian razz-matazz, but it will be the greatest challenge the

peerless marketer has ever faced.


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