OPINION: Cowen on ... Lotto

A year or so ago, Banks Hoggins O'Shea seemed to give up on its chosen profession when it rolled out its launch ad for Nivea For Men.

The spot represented a real low in lily livered creative thinking - showing two blokes watching a Nivea ad on TV and moaning about the way companies bombard them with rubbish, only to turn around and buy the stuff anyway, because it looked quite good.

This was a pathetic attempt to disguise the lack of a genuine advertising idea. The only consolation was that we were unlikely to see such desperate post-modernism on a regular basis. Certainly, I'd have thought, we wouldn't be seeing it at the start of one of the biggest campaigns of the decade.

But no! Here it is again in WCRS's launch ad for the National Lottery rebranding, loaded with extra Scottishness, for those viewers who only believe a corporate spokesperson if their accent is from north of Nottingham. The agency has rolled out Billy Connolly to demonstrate the inanity and pointless expense of corporate rebranding before inviting us to embrace the new logo and endline all the same.

On one level, Camelot's approach stems from insecurity - in this case, the need to defuse the predictable public and press criticism of an expensive relaunch from an organisation always treated with suspicion. In itself, that's no excuse for such abject hand-wringing. But WCRS's campaign does have some good points. In fact, it's the first National Lottery ad I can remember that goes some way to addressing the draw's inherent problems.

As a brand, it's arguably never been viewed with genuine affection. As a game, it's never been viewed as that much fun. And as a fundraising exercise for good causes it's struggled to shrug off the "fat cat" allegations that have hung around its management. If the Lottery has grown tired, it's partly because the hype and novelty which supported the launch of the UK's first national draw hasn't been replaced with any truly persuasive, core argument for playing. Instead, we've had spin-offs that confused and weakened the central brand in exchange for getting more cash out of the hopelessly addicted. We get occasional campaigns demonstrating what you could do with the jackpot. Then, in the background, we've got the worthy stuff, explaining that our "stupid tax" is going to good causes.

WCRS's relaunch ad undercuts the pomposity with which the Lottery has been burdened and replaces it with some welcome, light-hearted enthusiasm for an activity that has to be seen as enjoyable, because it's obvious by now that it's not that profitable. The casting of Connolly is crucial to achieving this. So is the new line, which communicates the pleasure of a reckless flutter rather than obsessing about the prospect of a windfall.

In terms of its tone of voice, the work successfully reconnects the National Lottery with the national mood. But the problem remains that this is still a rebranding ad about rebranding. Consequently, it doesn't supply the genuinely fresh proposition that could pull in new players. The tactical ads that follow are nicely, and surreally, executed and there's enough here to lighten the hearts of those who were getting frustrated handing over their weekly quid - but there's nothing persuasive enough to widen the Lottery's constituency.

This could prove a dangerous weakness once the Lotto brand itself is inevitably weakened by the spin-off process - and once other, more interesting, means of throwing the nation's money away appear on the scene. With the Government preparing to do away with gambling restrictions and bingo gearing itself for a comeback, Camelot could be feeling the pinch before too long.

What would the chairman's wife say? What does the purple bear have to do with it? ]]>