By John Gorman, D.C. Lottery

The seminal moment for me in the lottery industry happened in November 2009 inside a King Kullen grocery store on Long Island. I was standing in front of two instant ticket vending machines sitting side-by-side near the store exit. My eyes were methodically scanning the rows of scratch tickets, looking for something that jumped out at me, something new or different that I thought would work in DC.

As I surveyed the usual panoply of colors and themes and call-outs they all seemed to blend into one another. They all seemed to be trying harder than the next one to be noticed: “Look at me! No, over here – look how pretty I am! You can triple your winnings with me! But you can win a new car with me!”

I had gone through this exercise many times before. If I found one or two ideas that I thought would work in DC I considered that a success. I always felt the experience of seeing scratch tickets in their natural retail environment was more effective than viewing them on a computer screen.

On this particular day something special happened. As my eyes darted from ticket to ticket I was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks by a black display card behind the plastic dispenser button. I had never seen anything like it before. It was simply a jet black square accented with the name “Black” in elegant scripted gold font.

After that I never saw the rest of the tickets. My curiosity piqued, I put $5 into the machine and pressed the button. Out came a scratch ticket that didn’t look anything like any other scratch ticket I had ever seen before. There were no exciting colors or explosive call-outs promising all sorts of riches.

It was just a black ticket with beautiful gold accents. It was minimalist. It reminded me of the American Express black card. Elegant. Classic. Understated. It was the anti-scratch ticket. I thought it was beautiful.

I smiled to myself. All of these other tickets were trying so hard to be noticed and here’s this black ticket that almost seems as if it were trying to not be noticed. And that’s why I noticed it. Genius.

As I held it in my hand I didn’t know at the time that it would go on to be one of the biggest selling instant tickets in lottery history. And then I mentally tipped my cap to the New York State Lottery for taking a risk like this. I put twenty more dollars in the machine and bought four more tickets to take back with me to DC.
The $20 Black ticket was launched in DC six months later and it still stands today as our most successful instant ticket ever.

That was the moment that changed my perception of what scratch tickets could be. Up until then I had spent my first year as the DC Lottery’s Strategic Development Specialist – the guy responsible for the instant ticket portfolio – trying to master all of the traditional design elements that make for a successful instant ticket.

I spent countless hours building an historical database of DC Lottery tickets and assigned thirty-six different variables to each one in an effort to try to identify the alchemy behind the perfect instant ticket. What is the optimal blend of attributes and features that cause some tickets to be more popular with players than others?

This exercise, while fruitful in many ways, had one draw back. It was an exercise in what had been done, not what could be done. It was a deep dive into brilliant dynamic colors and promises of life-changing rewards but until I saw the Black ticket for the first time I didn’t truly realize the possibilities this product line presented.

More than any other game in our portfolio, instant tickets offer the most creative marketing possibilities. They are the blank canvas upon which we can apply ever more innovative and imaginative designs.

After the Black ticket I began to think about scratch tickets differently. The Black ticket was successful precisely because it broke the rules of what we thought a scratch ticket should look like. It expanded the boundaries of what I had been taught were the best practices of “pick-up appeal”.

I now approached the instant ticket development process with more confidence in taking creative risks. I found myself looking for inspiration in different places; magazine ads, album covers, posters, beverage bottles, the US Mint, and packaging from all sorts of random consumer goods, even Pop Tart boxes.

One day I came across a magazine ad for Armand De Brignac Champagne. The bottle design featured a distinctive brushed metallic spade on a stark black background. The iron spade was accented with an interesting etched filigree pattern. It was striking and luxurious, and immediately conjured up similarities to the Black ticket.

Using this champagne bottle as inspiration we created Golden Spades, a $5 scratcher that featured a gorgeous, intricately patterned golden spade in the display area set against a jet-black background and printed in full UV to provide a brilliant glossy sheen. Golden Spades went on to index at 120 in DC and has since seen success in several jurisdictions.

The success of Golden Spades, inspired by the design of a champagne bottle, and New York’s Black ticket, inspired by a Lotus race car, led me to become ever more curious about what other design approaches the lottery industry can “borrow” in the development of new instant tickets.

A great example of this approach is the direction we took in the design of the DC Lottery’s $5 Chuck Brown scratch ticket, which launched in May 2016. Chuck Brown is a local legend in DC. Known as the “Godfather of Go-Go”, Chuck invented the musical genre known as Go-Go music and rose to prominence in the 1970’s with his hit song Bustin’ Loose.

We had originally developed two scenes for the ticket, each which featured a picture of Chuck Brown and used 45 records and guitars as play symbols. The final art effectively captured the energy of the man and his music. With Chuck Brown a particular favorite amongst our core players we knew we had a hit on our hands with this two-scene ticket.

But I kept feeling that something was missing. There was an opportunity to do more with this licensed product, to do something really special to connect with our players. But what?

One day I’m in my office, playing Chuck Brown music, and looking at a table full of Chuck Brown pictures, album covers, and other memorabilia. My eyes kept getting drawn to images of the concert posters that used to adorn the lampposts of neighborhoods all across DC back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.

There was something unique about those old posters. It was the throwback printing technology that gave them their distinctive look. Printed in wood type with neon colors and a distressed patina the posters seemed like an iconic symbol of a bygone era.

We used these old posters as inspiration to design a third scene for the Chuck Brown ticket. Our goal was to make the scene look as much like an old Go-Go concert poster and as little like a scratch ticket as possible. 

One day, as the launch date for the Chuck Brown ticket approached, we had Debbie, an account rep from one of the radio stations we work with, over for a meeting. We knew she had grown up in Washington, DC and we wanted to show her the art for the Chuck Brown ticket.

I’ll never forget the moment we put the concert poster scene on the table in front of her. Her reaction was so spontaneous, so pure. “Oh my God!”, she exclaimed. This looks just like the posters I used to have on my wall when I was a kid. I love this! This is a scratch ticket?”

That was the only focus group I needed. It was validation of the hypothesis: that through instant ticket art we can connect with people on a personal level not just a material level. At that moment Debbie was not reacting to the chance to win $50,000 or that the game featured a “win-all” symbol.

She was reacting to the unexpected. She had an expectation of what a scratch ticket is supposed to look like. She did not expect that it would look like this or that for a brief moment it would bring back a childhood memory. The emotional connection was primary. The lottery was secondary.

That is the creative space that is most interesting to me now as a product developer and marketer. What else can we do with these little pieces of mini-art? What other connections can we make? How can we reach new market segments?

The next step on this creative path for the DC Lottery will be the launch of our most ambitious instant ticket yet, “Neighborhoods”. We have developed a series of twelve collectable scenes each which feature a different neighborhood in Washington, DC.

Inspired by the many local DC artists who each have their own distinctive design approach, our Neighborhoods ticket will leverage the pride and passion the DC residents have for their city.

In terms of design direction, our goal was to create a ticket that looked more like art than ad. We have stripped out as many of the traditional lottery call-outs as possible. We wanted to create a ticket that someone would literally hang on their wall as a piece of art if it weren’t a scratch ticket.

One of our strategic goals with this launch is to capture the attention of the Millennial demographic. We don’t have any problems developing products that are popular with our core players. Rather, our marketing challenge has been that the lottery is largely irrelevant to the younger generation. We’re just not cool.

A product like Neighborhoods is designed to overcome that hurdle by tugging at their heartstrings. The Millennials flock to the big city with a sense of wanderlust. Neighborhood art is so popular because it allows them to wear that pride on their sleeve, to celebrate their hometown and their own special place within it.

We will be running a series of twelve different TV spots each which feature a different neighborhood. Our guiding principle in the creative direction of this campaign is that this is the Lottery’s love letter to DC. The spots are designed to make an emotional connection between the viewer and their city through this product.

The first time they see the commercials and the ticket art they’re not going to immediately think “lottery”. We expect them to have the same reaction that Debbie from the radio station did when she saw the Chuck Brown concert poster ticket for the first time, “Oh my God! This is a scratch ticket?”

We’ll find out in due time if we have achieved this goal.

To be certain, the traditional instant tickets with their bright colors and exciting themes will continue to serve as the foundation of this important product line. Our core competency is gaming and players buy scratch tickets with the dream of winning money. We will continue to sell that dream. But there are still many people that aren’t swayed by our current tickets. To continue to increase our bottom line, we have to expand our player pool. We aren’t going to reach these new players by increasing the prize amount or changing the hue of red on the ticket. We’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked. We need a new strategy. They don’t want to daydream about their own private island. They want an experience that they can relate to today. With Chuck Brown, we cultivated the experience of remembering the iconic poster in their childhood bedroom or the sound of their first D.C. Chuck Brown concert. With Neighborhoods, we will ask them to remember how amazing the D.C. neighborhoods they walk through every day are.

We want to wow them with art, and have their D.C. pride push them to purchase. If we can tap into that pride, then maybe we can extend it to the lottery. We are, after all, the D.C. Lottery. Every ticket purchased makes the city a little bit better. And that is something to be proud about.

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