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By Byron La Fleur

Any customer who walks into a convenience store is quickly overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of different brands. But marketing to the customer doesn’t stop there. A tune plays in the background. The smell of hot dogs is in the air. Warm free samples beg to be tasted. Visual (sight) stimuli are at the forefront of marketing attempts, but auditory (sound), haptic (touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) stimuli are equally important in the path to purchase. The science behind sensory stimulation leads customers to have more fulfilling experiences with the products they purchase. For the lottery industry, understanding the theory to optimize non-visual stimuli can enhance their current and future products.

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The Senses and Purchases

How the senses affect purchase decisions is not a new realm of marketing. A recent surge in studies over the past few years suggests that consumer product companies have a newfound focus on sensory marketing.

Each of the senses alone can have a powerful impact on purchase decisions. For example, in a study from the TKTK University, Dr. Alan Hirsch showed that when customers were in a room with a floral scent, on average, they valued a pair of Nike shoes $10.33 more than when they saw the shoes in a scentless room. Even the temperature of a room has an effect on decision-making. In the TKTK study, Dr. Xun Huang correlated that when people are in a warm environment, they are more likely to bet on the “favorite” more often.

Music helps us self-regulate our emotions and moods. At the La Fleur’s 2018 Toronto conference, David Harris, Managing Director, Shed Creative Agency, Universal Music Canada, discussed how major labels produce play lists dubbed “Happy” or “Sleep” because listening to it evokes that state of being. Similar, a study by Dr. Clare Caldwell showed how slow music tempo caused diners to linger longer at a restaurant.

Although other senses do play a role, visual stimuli are of course paramount to consumers. Research from Kissmetrics found 85% of shoppers placed color as a primary reason why they buy a product. When polled, both men and women prefer the colors green and blue. When Heinz changed the color of their ketchup from red to green, it resulted in the equivalent of a year’s worth of ketchup sales in 90 days.

The Gaming Industry

Ketchup and shoes have little to do with the lottery, but the lessons from them have been implemented in the greater gaming industry. Casinos have always been on the leading edge of various stimuli to enhance the gaming experience. Flashing lights and a cacophony of sounds come to mind when thinking of Las Vegas.

In the mid-90s, another study by Dr. Hirsch uncovered that pleasant scents caused players to play for longer. Fast forward 25 years and each casino in Las Vegas is reported to have its own signature scent.

“The larger screens and more colorful cabinets of many slot machines are visually stimulating. Slot machines, which no longer pay out in coins, produce special sound effects that simulate the sound of coins falling into the tray. As slot machines have gotten flashier, seats have gotten larger and more comfortable, many with vibrations and movement to add to the machine’s gameplay. In addition to movement, sight and sound, some casinos even infuse scented sprays that fill their venues with pleasant fragrances,” Jim Logue, Managing Director, Gaming, Maryland Lottery and Gaming said.

Newer slots push sensory experiences further. The Sphinx4D uses haptic sensing technology to give the impression of touching a 3D simulated image.

The wealth of knowledge the casino industry has in enhancing the player experience is impressive. “We’ve learned a lot from the casino market in terms of player experience. They’ve been combining sound and visuals for so many years, and they’ve established so many best practices. There’s a lot of existing research around what they’ve done in the market, and we’re really taking advantage of it—and we can translate it to give the player a better experience,” Thomas Napolitano, Director, IGT PlayDigital Business Development said.

In comparison, the lottery industry’s traditional products are not as advanced. “Our industry has not gone all the way with applying sensory marketing as our products because we are making a considerable effort to avoid features that may lead to addictive playing behavior, so we want to adhere to our responsible gaming practices. But, in general, the more senses you can satisfy without promoting extreme impulsive behavior when you play a game, the better the experience,” Christina Boubalou, Senior Manager, Lotteries & Games, INTRALOT said.

So what has been done within our industry?

Instant Category

While the lottery does have limitations in what it can do, it does already offer sensory experiences to encourage players to play and enhance game experience. The instant category provides the most ubiquitous examples, which allow for two ways to stimulate customers: visual and haptic. The bright colors, fonts and logos are designed to be aesthetically beautiful and attract customers. The “pick up” appeal is an imperative element in the game. “Everything from the colors to how vibrant the logos are is what gets players to make their initial selection,” Napolitano said.

“You always want to answer that first question of: Does ticket art stand out? Does it get noticed? Is there a compelling proposition? Do I relate to the game?” Jeff Martineck, VP Instant Product Development, Scientific Games said. “The visual impact of the theme or brand is that initial first way we can engage players.”

A Kissmetrics report showed that 92.6% of people say the visual dimension is the #1 influencing factor affecting their purchase decision. People make a subconscious judgment about a product within 90 seconds of initial viewing. Up to 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

Martineck’s questions have to be kept in mind from the onset of designing the game. Answering them is both art and science. There probably isn’t a magic color, symbol or logo that uniformly makes a ticket sell better than all the rest.

“When I first got started as the instant ticket product manager for the DC Lottery, I built a database of scratch tickets in Excel that identified 39 different variables for each ticket,” John Gorman, (Former) Managing Director, Chief Marketing Officer, Maryland Lottery & Gaming Authority said. “One of the variables was color. But because most scratch tickets have more than one color, I broke this category out into two variables: primary color and secondary color. I got 140 tickets entered before I gave up. When that was all done, I filtered the 140 games by highest indexing down to lowest indexing and then tried to identify any key variables that were correlated with the higher indexing tickets. When I looked at color, I didn’t find any conclusive insights. Honestly, the colors of our highest indexing tickets were pretty much evenly distributed between yellow, orange, red, green, purple, etc.”

One reason a single color doesn’t universally do better is because not all players are stimulated in the same way. Some studies have shown that women respond to colors, like purple, differently than men do. But segmenting by demographics alone might not be the best strategy. “We don’t segment on demographics.  We segment on motivations, and as such we’ve categorized all consumers into six  segments. We responsibly design games with this in mind,” Martineck said.

One of the advantages of having the counter space for multiple games is that lotteries can appeal to a large range of players at once. “With so many instant games on sale in a market at one time, we can reach all of the motivational segments. If the portfolio is managed correctly, there’s something for everybody at every time,” Martineck said.

Unlike the visual elements in the game, the haptic stimuli occurs after the purchase of the ticket. The feel of scratching the ticket is important for the overall player experience.

To create an even more compelling experience, chemicals can be added to the ticket to tie the haptic stimuli with the visual elements on the ticket. For instance, the D.C. lottery sold a Wizards scratch ticket that felt like a basketball.

What is important to note is that players may not always be aware of these haptic stimulations. “Appealing to the sense of touch enhances the connection with the game  and makes the experience richer, as our customers are finding with our LuxVelvet™ and LuxTouch™ finishes,” Martineck said.

Draw Games

Lottery games printed from a terminal make it harder to provide impactful stimulation to customers. In the past when drawings were aired on TV, visual and auditory stimulation could be added to the show to enhance the game experience. Now that most people get the drawn numbers on their phone, this additional stimulation is lost.

Stimuli can be added to the game experience with devices around the point of purchase. Even older terminals have the ability to produce sounds. Many jurisdictions require it as a security feature. “Ostensibly, one of the main reasons we put in speakers was: if you have a winning experience, it plays a little tune. It is a little celebratory audio experience for the consumer. But to some degree, it was a little bit of fraud prevention. You’re getting another visual or auditory cue that you need to pay attention,” said Paul Riley, VP, Innovation & Lottery Transformation, IGT.

Another device is jackpot signs. “From a visual perspective, how do we stand out in the clutter? Digital signage. And lottery is very lucky, because we’ve been doing digital signage before many retailers realized how valuable it is. It is an unbelievable medium to have,” he said.

The lottery industry’s early push to connect digital signage to the terminal infrastructure to show jackpot amounts has certainly been a powerful tool in generating excitement. Perhaps the most notable example is instant terminal games like Fast Play and Print N Play. This category of games has existed for some time but had limited success.

“The game was almost invisible until progressive jackpots. Players definitely reacted to that product after that mechanic was implemented,” Scott Hoss, Sr. Marketing Manager, INTRALOT said.

“The visual stimuli of seeing the jackpot is a big part of that reaction,” Fivi Rondiri, Corporate Marketing Manager, INTRALOT said.

The category is evolving. Canadian lotteries’ Watch-n-Win category is a fantastic case study of utilizing external devices to drive sensory experiences. Poker Lotto, the first iteration of the Watch-n-Win category, was originally rolled out in Ontario.

When a player purchases the game, an animation plays on a monitor near the terminal. This not only enhances the player’s sensory experience, but also piques the curiosity of other store patrons, providing excellent sensory marketing.

“When we launched Poker Lotto, we made sure to keep the transaction time short and made sure the audio experience was stimulating to the customer. We also made sure the sounds wouldn’t irritate the retailer. We only had sound in short bursts and made sure to link the sounds to a transaction where the retailers were making money. Before launching the game, we had focus groups with retailers and showed them what we were planning to do. They got it and loved it,” Adam Caughill, Director, Lottery Business Development & Innovation, OLG said.

Keno and its cousin games, like the Lucky One and Xpress Sports (virtual sports), have latent potential that static paper products can only dream of. Fantastic visual and auditory stimuli enhance the player experience. Particularly for products like virtual sports, the game can imitate the world’s most exciting live events all year round. The problem is that retailers, whether they are convenience stores or restaurant bars, usually don’t want additional stimulation.

A Loud Problem

Auditory fatigue is a huge problem across the gambling industry as a whole. In slot machines, a player might listen to the same sounds for longer periods. If the game sounds are shrill or high pitched, it can lead to negative sensory experience for the player. “Audio fatigue is a very real experience that can turn people off a game. If it’s too gritty, it can actually cause anxiety in some players,” Napolitano said.

In the past, the lottery has not needed to be concerned with audio fatigue. Most games don’t innately have sound and are not designed to be played repetitively in a single game session. For instance, a winning tune from a terminal might only be heard over the course of several days and multiple play sessions.

But retailers have to listen to that winning sound over and over again. Since there is nothing for them to win, the auditory cue isn’t necessarily connected with any positive association with winning. It is no surprise that they can find auditory cues very annoying and seek to turn them off.

Turning off sound is a dire consequence of selling lottery products through a third-party retailer. Auditory stimuli is one of the most powerful sensory cues to enhance the winning experience—but it annoys the major partner. If turned off, it pacifies the retailer, but the player might miss out on an enhanced winning experience. It’s a catch-22.

“We played around with some adding sounds. For instance, having the ITVM whistle at people passing by. But, to be honest, we know that our retailers will not be happy to have some of those features,” Rondiri said. “When it comes to the retailer environment, we just don’t have as many chances.”


Players’ expectations for entertainment products are evolving. Games like Angry Bird and Words with Friends provide wonderful sensory stimulation, and are setting the status quo. If lottery products innately cannot add additional stimuli and the environment they are sold in cannot be expanded to fill that void, then it creates a problem.

One solution is probably obvious. Whether it is a fully functioning iLottery platform or a second chance promotion, mobile provides players with a fully immersive experience. “Targeting sound in sensory marketing creates a very personalized experience, working best when you play on your cell phone or your computer rather than when you do it at a gas station,” Boubalou said.

Mobile gaming is already the predominant medium for Michigan’s iLottery sales with over 70% of bets coming through the mobile channel. The ease of play—combined with high definition animations and sounds—all add to the quality of play. “It creates a memorable experience. Players feel like they are getting a more comprehensive play experience rather than just revealing a result,” Victor Marmorstein, Digital Games Program Manager, Michigan Lottery said.

There is no risk of auditory fatigue to retailers. Keno animations once relegated to the bar are now in the palms of players’ hands.

But while mobile solves old problems, new ones arise. Eye and audio fatigue can be detrimental to players. The Michigan team is cognizant that eye fatigue might be the biggest issue. Recent research has shown that blue light causes sleep issues and can be bad for the eyes. “A lot of the design elements that we come up with for games have a darker color scheme. The animations are very high quality, but are subtle as well. We don’t want to have an overwhelming flash or strobe effect, that could increase eye fatigue,” Marmorstein said.

Auditory fatigue is also a problem. For Michigan Lottery, the problem is mitigated because two-thirds of players turn the sound off. This shouldn’t discount the powerful impact of sound, however. IGT research has shown that it is the vital feature for one segment of players.

“There are players who turn the sound off for privacy reasons. But another group of players… when they are playing on mobile, they’re doing multiple things at once; they’re just kind of listening while they’re playing. They’re tapping the screen, but they’re not really looking at the animations or the colors. It’s the sounds that draw them back into the game. When you have that near-win experience, that’s when their eyes go back to the game,” Napolitano said.

Finally, the current technology poses a problem. A game’s file size increases the more sounds, animations, and haptic feedback are in it. In turn, this increases the download time for games. It also decreases the battery faster. “We’re always cognizant of load times, and it’s something we’re always trying to improve to create a better play experience,” Marmorstein said.

This last problem should be solved because of Moore’s law, which states that technology will be replaced every 18 months. Download speeds will increase and batteries will become more efficient.

But Moore’s law will also bring about new features to be implemented. For instance, the Nintendo Switch game console has haptic feedback that is so precise it can mimic the feel of ice cubes bouncing in a glass. “As that technology gets included into smart phones, there are a lot of cool features that we could leverage,” Marmostein said. “I think having these little subtleties are what brings a game to life.”


It would be remiss to exclude a note on responsible gaming. After all, many sensory experiences are subliminal to players, whether they are game mechanics or marketing efforts. This could be construed as a negative narrative by lottery detractors.

The reality of the situation is that a lot of companies use subliminal marketing as previously discussed. From the BMW M5 which features a recording of the motor that plays over the sound system (even when the car is off) to AMC theaters pumping the smell of popcorn into the lobby, these marketing attempts are ways to connect with a consumer using auditory and olfactory devices. They are no different than any advertisement on TV which uses visual stimulation to connect with consumers.

As for sensory game mechanics, video games and smart phone games have long set the stage of what players expect from digital entertainment. Players will expect the same experiences from the lottery industry as well.

“The sensory cues have the ability to bring additional emotion into the experience. That deepens the relationship that the lottery has with their consumers. It’s delivering more entertainment and more experience to the player and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about trying to encourage someone to spend more than what is appropriate but responsibly ensuring the long-term relevance of our lotteries around the globe by making the experience for the consumer better,” Martineck explaining. “In doing so, they’re going to be happier.”

The lottery industry needs to always be cognizant of people who have potential addiction problems.

“The impact of these new campaigns on at-risk and problem gamblers is an important question. We do not have much information or research, but what we do know is that there are genetic factors and psychological traits that increase risk for gambling problems, and these factors could also affect the reactions of people with gambling problems to sensory marketing. So we call on those who are promoting such marketing as well as lotteries who adopt it to work with us to test its impact on vulnerable populations,” NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte said.