Winning Lottery spot comes from an unexpected agency

With just days to go before the Illinois Lottery and its private manager Northstar Lottery Group are expected to name a new ad agency of record for the Lottery, a startling new television commercial from the Lottery has surfaced.

The spot, so markedly different than anything we’ve seen from the Lottery in years, suggests that — going forward under new Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones — it most assuredly won’t be business as usual for anyone involved in running and marketing the Lottery.

The TV commercial, which broke on Monday, promotes a new national $2 Powerball game that began being offered in Illinois on Sunday. The new TV spot is not from the outgoing Lottery ad agency of record, Energy BBDO/Chicago, but rather the Lottery’s current multicultural agency, Commonground/Chicago.

Commercial lures viewers with emotional hook

The commercial is a revelation in at least a couple of ways. First, it is a clear indication that Commonground, which has hardly been a household name in local ad circles since it was founded in 2004 by Sherman Wright and Ahmad Islam, has some real talent within its ranks. 

Also, the new commercial points to Illinois Lottery superintendent Jones’s  determination to take the marketing of the Illinois Lottery in a markedly different direction from what we’ve become all too accustomed to in recent years.

Most notably, this commercial is not grounded in silly, broad humor.  Rather, it seeks to lure in viewers and compel them to think about playing Powerball via a more pronounced emotional hook.

Giant red Powerball rolls through Illinois

The new spot’s core image is of a giant (and we do mean large) red Powerball slowly rolling across various landscapes throughout Illinois.  Starting in Chicago’s concrete canyons, the big red ball rolls across a bridge over the Chicago River and into the state’s agricultural heartland, which in this instance happens to be dotted with wind combines. 

On goes the red ball through down state Pontiac, along famed Route 66 with its iconic signage, until we see the ball finally making its way down another thoroughfare in Springfield, with the state capitol in full view.  There’s even a nifty shot of an Abraham Lincoln statue thrown in for good measure, lest we have any doubt this is indeed Illinois.

The voiceover copy, delivered by a firm yet dreamy-sounding male talent, talks of the big dreams of Illinois residents and goes on to say that this year we’ll have more winners and more millionaires across the state.  “This is our home” the copy notes at the end, “and we dream bigger than most.”

Yep, not a forced yuck or a silly visual to be found in the commercial’s entire 30-second running time.

No more marketing mediocrity for Superintendent Jones

How could this be?  Well, it almost wasn’t, according to our sources.  Lottery private manager Northstar was set to run a far more generic commercial developed by the Florida Lottery that was also designed to promote the new Powerball game in all but a handful of states where it is now being played.

But superintendent Jones reportedly got a gander at the spot, and deemed it decidedly sub par.  Rather than go with yet another marketing mediocrity in Illinois or let Energy BBDO come up with something as it was headed out the door, Jones instructed Northstar to let Commonground have a go at developing something that would be unique to Illinois. 

On short notice and under pressure, Commonground gave it their best shot, and came up with a real winner.  This isn’t a piece of work stitched together from existing materials either.

Commonground shot all new footage during the last hours of 2011, and edited it into a fully-satisfying finished spot with a soft, sophisticated musical underscore.

Commercial points to new exciting possibilities

Certainly, none of Commonground’s previous work posted on its website would lead one to believe the shop was necessarily capable of producing this kind of result.  But the agency, in its short life, has worked with some high-profile clients, including MillerCoors, Bacardi, Coca-Cola and Nike.

It may be that Commonground has targeted niche markets in most of its work to date and simply hasn’t had an opportunity to go mainstream very often. But superintendent Jones has certainly helped the shop demonstrate its broader capabilities.

Neither Sherman nor Islam at Commonground could be reached immediately for comment on their Powerball spot.  But the high quality of the work on display  definitely points to the exciting possibilities that now exist as the Illinois Lottery enters a new, marketing-driven era where the work will focus more on attracting more players with some emotion and — dare we say it — intelligence.

Agency credits: VP/creative director: Mike G. Williams; CD/copywriter/art director, Aubrey Walker III; producer, Jennifer Bluford-Watkins. 

Production credits: Director of production Craig Leffel; EP, Kipp Christiansen; directors Amanda Speva, Mark Pallman; producer, Tracy Spera; line producer, Donna Waxstein; DP Andrew Wehde.

Postproduction: Editor, Craig Lewandowski; online editor, Ed Nichols; design director, Donnie Bauer; designers Luis Mayorga, Jason Oberg; animator Mark Walczak; assistant design Tyler Nelson.

Graphics: CD Mike Ciacciarelli, animation director, Morgan James; Flame/composite, Glen Noren, effects director; Flame artist, Greg Huber; associate Flame artist, Corey Davis, Colorist, Tyler Roth. Audio, Joel Anderson.

Postproducers: Gretchen Praeger, EP/managing director; Katie Smith, senior associate producer.

To see the spot, click here.

Contact Lewis Lazare at