Denver agency CACTUS sent us their latest work for the Colorado Powerball Lottery, and it is truly sad. The agency’s mission was to combat “jackpot fatigue” and “convey that winning even the smallest Powerball jackpot is big enough to change your life.” Watching the spot, you can’t help but feel like they succeeded. But the happiness their ad offers is fleeting, because winning it big has the potential to ruin your life — especially if you’re already unhappy.
I won’t spend too much time here because the argument that gambling is bad for society isn’t worth rehashing. But watching this spot, where a man is chained to something and is only set free when he wins the jackpot, is depressing. Why? Because Powerball is selling false hope, one ping-pong ball at a time.
There’s no question whether or not the agency should have taken on this project — everyone’s gotta eat. But the tactic they used, playing on the notion that your life will suddenly become freer after winning even a small jackpot, is wrong from a sociological/psychological standpoint.
It’s wrong because the odds of winning are so low; because a man with a decent looking house, a job, and clothing on his back should find happiness in other ways. You never see lotto ads where happy people win it big (OK maybe they exist). And this is a problem because the ad makes winning feel meaningful, which it is not, unless you’re of the mindset that money = happiness.
In a way, this spot is an extreme example of most kinds of advertising, and so we aren’t here to lay blame on CACTUS. It’s truly a nice, worthwhile effort. They succeed in doing what many campaigns cannot — evoking emotion in a way that compels the viewer to want to win. But the only reason people don’t buy lotto tickets is better judgment— the odds of winning are terrible; money isn’t going to solve the deeper problems; life is more than what you buy. So much more.
And we’ve grown accustomed to hearing that this or that product will make this or that part of your life better. The reason this ad is so striking is that it promises to rid the winner of that big, ominous chain. But it probably can’t, unless some super-happy guys wins it. Let us know when that happens.