Jones hit jackpot with Lottery’s first year changes

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Michael Jones, Illinois Lottery Superintendent

Taste.  Style.  Both are lovely words. Though hardly ones we would — in the past — have commonly associated with the Illinois Lottery.  After all, how many tacky, juvenile, schticky TV commercials does one have to sit through before concluding that — in the past — the Illinois Lottery was all about appealing to the lowest common denominator?

The very, very lowest.

But with Illinois desperate for more cash to fill its more-than-depleted coffers, the state made a most unexpected move a year ago. It decided to bring back a veteran in the Lottery business. A real pro. 

A man named Michael Jones who had been superintendent of the Illinois Lottery once before in the early 1980s.  A man who had for decades since then continued to follow and work in the Lottery industry in a variety of ways — consulting, research, etc. 

Jones even tried to assemble a group that would become the first private manager of the Illinois Lottery.  But uncharacteristically — yet quite understandably in this instance — he backed down from bidding and left three others in the competition for the first-ever private management contact, including the Northstar Lottery Group that went on to win the contract awarded by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Even as he was stepping back from bidding on the Lottery management contract, Jones could see the whole process had a stink about it — something, let’s be honest, one often encounters in Illinois state government.  A stench that the Illinois Auditor General even felt compelled to address in a report that suggested the entire private management bid process was highly suspect.

But by then, of course, it was too late.  Quinn was hardly going to turn around and admit his underlings screwed up. That would have cast a negative light on him as well.

Upgrading marketing approach a major accomplishment

So here we are a year into Jones’s second tenure as Lottery superintendent. What has he managed to accomplished? About as much as one could hope for in a relatively brief time.

Most importantly, he has managed to totally transform the approach to marketing the Lottery with the goal of making it more palatable to a much broader spectrum of the state’s population.

From the second he took office, Jones was determined to do away with the decidedly down market approach previous superintendents used to sell the Lottery. No longer would Jones allow advertising to heavily target the low-income players who could least afford to be the most frequent players of Lottery games.

Unlike most state government executives, Jones was blunt and above-board about what he was doing. 

He immediately moved to dump Energy BBDO/Chicago as the Lottery ad agency of record.  Energy BBDO was way too cozy with the Northstar Lottery crowd, and it was readily apparent the agency wasn’t fully invested in radically transforming the way the Lottery is marketed.

An agency review was conducted.  Shops got to make their pitch.  And we, at least, were not surprised when the panel of judges convened to assess the pitches selected Downtown Partners/Chicago as the Illinois Lottery’s new agency of record.

Within weeks after winning the account, the agency showed it was not going to be doing work that pandered just to chronic Lottery game players. 

The agency’s advertising under the “Anything’s Possible” tagline has been lighthearted. Fun. More about the simple pleasure of playing than about the big payout that could come from playing.

The advertising has made a different kind of statement. 

And now Jones is focused on making a fresh statement with another key aspect of the Lottery playing experience — the tickets themselves.

Better designed tickets reflect style and taste

Jones’s first move to introduce a more attractively-designed ticket came earlier this year with a series of baseball-themed game tickets with designs from DP.  Jones liked what he saw.

So for a group of holiday-themed games set to debut shortly, Jones tapped VSA Partners/Chicago, one of the city’s top branding firms, to rethink the look of those tickets. 

And rethink they did. 

Gone are the images of money that were garishly splashed across the face of last year’s “Holiday Cash” game, for instance.  Instead we see a trio of Christmas ornaments set against a vivid striped background. 

Jones believes style and taste matter — even in a business like the Lottery. He has watched how Apple has flourished using taste and style in its lineup of products — and the marketing of them — to whet the appetite of a rabid and growing fan base.  And he believes a similar tactic can work in the lottery business. 

He hopes his efforts to effect tasteful, stylish change at the Illinois Lottery will prove his theory to be right on the money.  Big money that the state so sorely needs.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com

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