The Arizona Lottery which was deemed "essential" alongside other state lotteries across the U.S. early in the pandemic — reported a record $1.09 billion in sales in its fiscal year 2020 despite the global COVID-19 crisis. Executives attribute the strong results to a marketing pivot made early in the pandemic that flipped the narrative of the lottery to focus on its extensive community give-back programs at a time where they were arguably more important than ever.
“We were uniquely positioned to activate this strategy earlier than planned as it became more important to our community and consumers during the pandemic,” says Chelsea Smeland, account supervisor at AZL’s agency OH Partners.
The decision to shift away from game features began with OH Partners exploring ways to ensure AZL’s future growth. “We have a fantastic, incredibly loyal core player base, but in future planning, we envisioned developing relevant and emotional connections as a means to grow and retain brand enthusiasts,” explains Smeland. “Not only were people craving an uplifting message and a sense of community, but we knew other entertainment options would be limited due to social distancing restrictions.”
AZL was also inspired to move in this new direction by seeing “how many brands have responded positively during the pandemic to help those in need,” says Chris Rogers, deputy director of marketing and products, Arizona Lottery. “Giving back to communities that support our mission has been a long standing brand promise for lotteries across the country - whether that means supporting education, environmental conservation or health and human services.”
Also OH Partners identified give back messaging as a theme that would particularly resonate among younger audiences.
The resulting creative visually transformed lottery scratch-off tickets into a representation of some of the programs that are funded by these purchases, including education.
The media budget was adjusted to align with the states stay-at-home requirements.
OH Partners conducted an audit of its media tactics and spend level as soon as the stay-at-home order hit in March. The firm realized it was “too soon” to go dark and pull media completely, says Smeland.
Instead, AZL pulled back on OOH knowing there would be fewer people on the road, in public spaces, at events, and upped digital with the understanding that more people were at home and online. Adds Rogers, “The pace at which we increased our social media engagement was staggering.”
Additionally, OH Partners invested more of the budget on its in-retailer advertising partnerships since its products are accessible through many so-called essential businesses like convenience and grocery stores. These budget shifts may be here for a while, says Smeland.
She adds that being proactive was helpful and agency leaders prepared for everything to change at the drop of a hat. “If we were waiting for more public statements or news that would impact our approach, we’d often run through ‘what if’ scenarios in preparation,” she states. “This was important in giving all parties time to think about the possible outcomes rather than just reacting to news as it became available.” She adds, “Stay agile and authentic.”
The campaign helped AZL realize the highest performing sales weeks in May - June and experience its highest performing July in the lottery’s 39-year history. That was quite a bounce back after April, when sales were down more than 30% with a gain of more than 48% in just four weeks.
“Lotteries are uniquely positioned to highlight the positive impact of their beneficiaries, and audiences are ready for encouraging messages,” says Rogers.
AZL plans to continue the “Gives Back” messaging says Rogers. His advice for other lotteries seeking similar success stories during challenging times is “Start today. This is a great opportunity to showcase the wonderful work you do in your communities. Don’t be afraid to spend money. In fact, increase your media allocations in areas that make sense for your audiences and business.”
This is a well done pivot - one that probably would have worked well for a lot of industries (yet, from what I've seen, most never did it). Too many agencies still do the set it and forget it mentality - so - well done OH Partners.