National Lottery: 30 years of it probably not being you
With a new National Lottery operator taking over this week, we look at some of the ads that established the brand over the past three decades
31 January 2024
It seems extraordinary now, given the number of gambling ads that we're exposed to every day, that the concept of a National Lottery was such a controversial one. This week will see a new UK National Lottery operator - Allwyn, owned by Czech billionaire Karel Komárek — the first change of operator since its launch in 1994.
Pushed through by John Major's government, the National Lottery was launched in 1994 with the promise that while it would make a few lucky gamblers as rich as Croesus, some of the money raised went to 'good causes'. Of course it was the first factor that drove everyone to play it (and still does) but the 'good causes' figleaf has been used throughout its advertising and to varying degrees.
Saatchi & Saatchi was hired by the National Lottery's operator Camelot to deliver on the brand promise that "It could be you". Its first advertising was memorable for the giant God-like finger that selected each week's winner (back then it was a weekly lottery draw that had its live own TV show where the winning balls were picked from a variety of Camelot-themed machines that looked like tumble dryers).
The first live draw was held on 19 November 1994 and was hosted by Noel Edmonds. The winner scooped a price in excess of £5.8 million.
Live TV draws were not always a success - in 1996 the draw machine failed to start and in 2006 members of the group Fathers 4 Justice protested on the set causing the show to be taken off air for several minutes while the protesters were removed from the studio.
This 1994 Saatchi commercial - "A Star is Born" - won an Arrow at the British Television Advertising Awards the following year. Again, it helped establish the universality of the lottery and the possibility of winning big at a time when the country was still in recession.
In 1997 Camelot introduced a midweek lottery draw. Its launch was introduced with a guaranteed £10 million prize. It was the first of many new games including the 1999 release of Thunderball.
However by 2002 sales had begun to fall and Camelot renamed the main game as Lotto and the stylised crossed fingers logo was modified. The relaunch was backed by a £72 million marketing campaign including a series of television ads starring Billy Connolly and created by WCRS.
Connolly failed to ignite the public's imagination and sales continued to slide so he was dropped the following year. In his place, WCRS and Camelot chose to feature the good causes that benefit from lottery funding and promote its entire portfolio in one campaign. It succeeded in reversing the decline.
By 2004 further change was in the air when AMV BBDO was hired. The agency enjoyed a 14-year partnership with Camelot and was responsible for producing some of its most memorable work.
Its debut spot featured the Only Fools and Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack to promote the new European-wide EuroMillions competition draw.
In 2011 AMV and Camelot introduced a brand new character in the launch campaign for its new Tuesday EuroMillions draw.
It featured Hector Riva – a dashing, carefree European millionaire who wanted EuroMillions jackpot winners to join him in his whirlwind life of private jets, personal valets and lavish villas. He remained a mainstay of the brand for a number of years.
In 2015 there was a subtle shift from "It could be you" to just "Let's just hope it's not them" and a return to celeb-fronted ads, in a bid to get more people to play.
Overexposed celebrities of the time, including Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Jordan, James Blunt and Piers Morgan all took part in the tongue-in-cheek campaign.
In 2018 AMV's relationship with Camelot came to an end and the account moved to sister Omnicom agency adam&eveDDB. The live draw, which had ceased to be shown on the BBC in 2017, moved to ITV.
The late Keith Moor, who had spent over two decades at Santander, also joined Camelot as chief marketing officer in 2019 signalling further change was on the cards.
Adam&eveDDB's first spot was an emotionally-charged spot, set in a bleak Scottish fishing village. Later efforts showed linked back to its 'good causes' message.
In 2021 it launched its biggest brand campaign to date to remind consumers that every lottery ticket sold supports Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes competing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (which was delayed due to the pandemic).
The work featured sprinter Jonnie Peacock, wheelchair tennis player Jordanne Whiley, taekwondo athlete Lutalo Muhammad, discus thrower Dan Greaves, paracanoeist Emma Wiggs MBE and race walker Tom Bosworth. It used a voiceover from Dermot O'Leary declaring: "When you play a little, you help our athletes a lot."
Adam&eveDDB broke with tradition when it created an epic Christmas spot, inspired by the seasonal romantic film Love Actually., and directed by Oscar-winner Tom Hooper. "A Christmas love story" was a three-and-a-half minute film that followed the story of a chance encounter between a couple on a train as they leave the city to spend Christmas with their families.
While it wasn't the last campaign for the agency to make for Camelot - the operator had lost the contract to operate the National Lottery in March of 2021 - it was still somewhat bitter-sweet, having been ranked System1's most-liked film at Cannes Lions 2022.
Hooper was also drafted in to direct the 'Pockets' spot, which follows a couple’s enduring love and sense of hope over three decades. The story begins in 1994, on the night of the first-ever National Lottery draw, and follows a couple as they chase their Lottery dream over the next three decades.
Allwyn, the new operator, takes over running the lottery this week next year ending 30 years of Camelot's reign. Allwyn picked VCCP and Leo Burnett to work on the business following a lengthy pitch process.
Allwyn's God-like finger decided that Leo Burnett will develop campaigns for the National Lottery brand, work on the proposition from instant lottery games and link the games with good causes. VCCP, meanwhile, will oversee marketing communications for the Lotto and Set for Life games and manage rollover and jackpot-specific campaigns for draw-based games.
The company, which acquired Camelot, has also said that players will not notice any "big bang" changes, in the short-term at least. Allwyn boss Andria Vidler has promised new scratchcards and the introduction of gifting as the business is bedded in.
Maybe this means it could be one of us this time round. Fingers crossed.