New York State Lottery

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New York State Lottery

1 Broadway Center
Schenectady, New York 12301-7500
Telephone: (518) 388-3300
Fax: (518) 388-3368
Web site:



In October 2001 the New York State Lottery unveiled a new advertising campaign promoting its flagship Lotto game. The campaign embodied a sense of fun and community and was embraced by the state's residents. The new television and radio spots featured everyday New Yorkers singing along with the bubbly pop song "If I Had a Million Dollars." The fact that the participants were consistently off-key only added to the charm of the spots. A second part of the campaign used real New Yorkers musing on camera about what they would do with a million dollars, while the jingle played in the background.

Conceived by the New York branch of ad agency DDB Worldwide Communications Group, the campaign was intended to reacquaint people with Lotto and encourage those who had stopped playing to give the game another try. By promoting Lotto, the New York State Lottery also hoped to increase the sales of its instant and other jackpot games. In addition to the television and radio spots that relied on real people singing, there were print ads under the headline "If I Had a Million Dollars" that included pictures of people with text saying what they would do with the money.

While it was difficult to determine if Lotto sales had increased because of the "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign, there was an abundance of anecdotal evidence that indicated the ads were effective. And though the spots won no major awards, the New York State Lottery was pleased with the work done by the agency. The campaign continued until the spring of 2003.


With profits earmarked for the state's education fund, the New York State Lottery was launched in 1967 as a raffle-style game. At the time, other than racetrack betting and church bingo, there was no legal gambling on the East Coast, leaving the New York State Lottery to compete against illegal numbers games and bookies. Then in 1971 the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, billing itself as the "New Game in Town," launched operations to allow people to bet on horse races at off-track betting shops. Casino gambling arrived in Atlantic City later in the 1970s, followed by gaming run by Native Americans in Connecticut. With the increase in competition, the New York State Lottery introduced its flagship product, the twice-weekly pick-six Lotto, in 1978. After a slow start it gained in popularity during the 1980s when large jackpots, in New York as well as in other states, received a great deal of news coverage. But state lotto games were increasingly jackpot driven, and without a large payout at stake the game became stale to players. Moreover, big jackpots became less newsworthy over time, eliminating much of the free publicity the games had previously enjoyed.

In response the New York State Lottery introduced a number of other games, including instant scratch-off and daily games and even one, Quick Draw, that held a drawing every four minutes. New York did a better job than most states at holding the line on diminishing Lotto sales and more than made up for the drop in Lotto revenues with increased sales from new games. While smaller states banded together to create a super lotto game, Powerball, in New York Lotto remained very much the key product, with its promotion benefiting the other games. The success of the New York State Lottery during a time when many businesses were chasing scarce entertainment dollars was to a large extent explained by the efforts of its ad agency, DDB, as well as its large marketing budget. In 1995 the state spent about $42 million on television commercials alone, and with $3 billion in sales New York's lottery was the largest in the country.

DDB won the New York State Lottery account in 1988. As mandated by state law, the contract ran for three years, with the possibility of three one-year renewals. DDB held the account for the next decade, during which time the agency coined several memorable themes, including "All You Need Is a Dollar and a Dream." Even more successful was the award-winning "Hey, You Never Know" campaign. Humorous spots showing how people would change their lives if they won the Lotto included a tollbooth operator who paid everyone's fare. In the opinion of some, however, the ads fostered false expectations and did not deal frankly with the true odds of winning an instant fortune. Also coming under fire was the introduction of Quick Draw, a fast-paced game that many thought was open to abuse by problem gamblers. In a move that critics called hypocritical and an effort to gain a political advantage, Governor George E. Pataki insisted that the New York State Lottery amend its approach because "[it] fostered false expectations with bold promises of easy money," according to Raymond Hernandez in a New York Times article from August 21, 1996. "Hey, You Never Know" was shelved in favor of "New York Lottery, It Makes Us All a Little Richer," which was more in the line of a public-service announcement. Fantasies were replaced by depictions of modest winners and praise for the Lottery's contributions to the state's education system.

As required by law, in 1998 the New York State Lottery account was put up for review. DDB lost out to Grey Worldwide, an agency headquartered in New York, not because the Lottery was disappointed with the work DDB had done over the previous decade but because of Grey's low bid. Grey continued to focus on the more modest aspirations of winners in its "Will You Be Ready If It Happens to You?" campaign. At the time DDB lost the business, art director John Staffen had proposed the idea of using an upbeat song by the Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies, "If I Had a Million Dollars," in an advertising campaign. He had to file the plan away for three years, until 2001, when the New York State Lottery account was again put up for review. In DDB's pitch the "If I Had a Million Dollars" idea was one of three submitted in the agency's successful effort to regain the lottery business. The two parties then agreed to pursue a campaign promoting Lotto based on the song.


The finalists for the New York State Lottery account were asked to demonstrate how they would "increase awareness and consideration of the lottery among lapsed players." Thus, according to DDB management supervisor Mary Collopy in a 2005 interview, the intention of the "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign was not necessarily to drum up new players. Rather, the hope was either to motivate people to play more often or to encourage people who had formerly played Lotto to try it again.


The New York State Lottery faced direct competition for people's gambling dollars from a number of sources, including the lotteries of neighboring states; off-track betting; casinos in Atlantic City, Connecticut, and upstate New York; and unregulated gambling on the Internet. But indirectly the New York State Lottery was vying against all forms of entertainment, with everyone trying to gain a share of the limited amount of money consumers were able to spend to amuse themselves. As a result, the state was forced to spend huge amounts of money to promote Lotto and its other games to remain competitive.


The "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign was designed to appeal to people on a number of levels. It tapped into what had made earlier DDB campaigns successful, encouraging people to daydream about what they would do if they won the Lotto jackpot while steering clear of the excesses of previous campaigns. As Staffen explained to Stuart Elliott in the New York Times, the song had "such simple charm and innocence, begging you to dream, without getting to the rational side: 'How much would that new house really cost? How much would the maintenance be?' " Just as important, wrote Elliott, "the trappings of wealth described in the lyrics are far more down-to-earth than evocative of 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' … 'It's about what you'd do for others, not for yourself,' [worldwide account director Leo J.] Mamorsky said, which helps diffuse any perceptions of the song—and the campaign—as paeans to greed … For instance, the singers proclaim that the windfall would enable them to 'buy you furniture for your house (maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)'; or 'build a tree fort in our yard.'" It was expected that the marketing of Lotto, the flagship product, would then drive sales of the state's other games of chance.

More than the charm of the catchy pop song was the use DDB made of it, filming everyday New York residents, from upstate to the streets of the Bronx, singing the lyrics delightfully off-key. Once the right to use the song on television and radio and on the Internet was acquired from Reprise Records, Barenaked Ladies' record label, DDB hired the New York production [email protected] to travel across the state to film anyone willing to sing. Elliott wrote in the New York Times, "People were stopped without notice at sites ranging from barbershops and town squares to diners and farms. The film of the resulting spontaneous performances—some accompanied by dancing, hand gestures and even a warbling dog—was edited as it was shot in a mobile facility on a laptop computer." According to Collopy, DDB made minor changes to the song: "It was basically the 'needle drop.'" A few of the volunteer singers, however, offered up their own lyrics, which found their way into the spots.


The song that anchored the "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign for the New York State Lottery was written by the rock band Barenaked Ladies in the 1980s. Not until it had built a following through incessant touring was the Canadian group signed by a major record label, Reprise Records, in the mid-1990s. "If I Had a Million Dollars" was their first single released by Reprise.

As the "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign neared its launch date, the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001, forcing a postponement. Like all marketers, DDB and officials at the New York State Lottery had to reassess how to advertise in the new climate. In the first week of October the campaign was presented to focus groups, asking people to sing along with the song as if they were going to appear in the commercials. The results were highly positive according to lottery officials, who said that to the participants the campaign suggested community, fun, and entertainment. As Mamorsky explained to Elliott, "The Lottery is part of the fabric of New York … To me, this campaign really helps reinforce that the spirit of New Yorkers, from Buffalo to Montauk, is strong and alive."

The "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign was introduced on October 30, 2001. In addition to the television spots, DDB produced radio commercials, billboards, and signs for use in bus shelters and subways. The print ads that appeared in New York City were developed by stopping people on the street with the offer of a free lottery ticket and a drink. Their pictures were taken, and they were asked to write down what they would do if they had a million dollars. Participants signed waivers and were promised that, if they appeared in a Lotto ad, they would be paid $200.

The campaign was well received on all fronts. At worst New Yorkers perceived the jingle as a pleasant annoyance in their lives. Several weeks later DDB built on the campaign's success by working in a second phase, which was introduced on February 25, 2002. Instead of singing along, people were asked in impromptu inter-views what they would do if they had a million dollars. The music to "If I Had a Million Dollars" played in the background, providing continuity with the first phase of the campaign. Because they were not asked to sing, more people were willing to participate, resulting in a great deal of material. The agency ultimately had 17 rough cuts to choose from in crafting what were mostly 15-second TV commercials.


The "If I Had a Million Dollars" campaign ran for 18 months. According to Collopy, DDB believed that Lotto enjoyed an increase in sales as a result of its effort, but this could not be firmly established. In 2002 the New York State Lottery became part of the multistate Mega Millions game, and as a result sales were combined, making it virtually impossible to determine what part the campaign played in growing lottery sales. The ads did not win awards, but at the very least the agency's reputation was enhanced. In reviewing the year in advertising for the Wall Street Journal in 2001, Suzanne Vranica and Vanessa O'Connell wrote that the campaign catapulted the New York office of DDB "into the same league as DDB's gifted Chicago branch that masterminded the original 'Whassup' commercials on behalf of Anheuser-Busch Cos."


Dana Fisher, one of participants in the "If I Had a Million Dollars" print ads, became the subject of a "Talk of the Town" piece in the New Yorker. A visiting scholar at Columbia University studying global climate change, she firmly believed that automobiles were the main cause of global warming. When she stopped at a Lottery table while shopping, she wrote down that if she had a million dollars she would start a foundation to deal with global environmental issues. Weeks later Fisher was told by a number of people at Columbia that her first name and picture were displayed on a bus shelter ad exclaiming that if she had a million dollars she would "buy a car and a cute driver to go with it." Given that she was about to sign a contract at Columbia and receive a grant from the Earth Institute, she was dismayed that her appearance in the ad was being spread by E-mail throughout the school. Fisher complained to DDB, which then made a sticker with her actual quote to paste over the offending line.


Elliott, Stuart. "A Winsome Campaign for the Lottery." New York Times, October 29, 2001, p. C10.

Hernandez, Raymond. "Benefits to Education Stressed over Wealth." New York Times, August 21, 1996, p. 1.

Lentz, Phillip. "Lott O' Options Hurt Lottery Flagship." Crain's New York Business, August 29, 1994, p. 3.

"New York Lottery Has New Ad Agency." New York Times, August 1, 1998, p. D14.

Sampley, Kathleen. "DDB Gambles Pays Off." Adweek, June 25, 2001, p. 6.

―――――――. "You Never Know." Adweek, December 17, 2001, p. 16.

Thomaselli, Rich. "NY Lottery Breaks Second Ad Wave." Advertising Age, February 25, 2002, p. 6.

Vranica, Suzanne, and Vanessa O'Connell. "2001: Year of the Hard Sell—Struggling Ad Agencies Fought to Grasp Nation's Psyche through Toughest of Times." Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2001, p. B1.

                                                 Ed Dinger

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New York State Lottery

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New York State Lottery