The Lotto Players

last year

‘Lotto’ is a Registered Trade Mark (an RTM). This means that the word ‘Lotto’ is protected in UK law as being a ‘Badge of Origin’ and as a ’Sign’ which is capable of ‘Graphically Representing’ ‘distinctively’ and ‘without confusion in the mind of the average consumer’ the goods or services for use with which it is registered. This registration allows under penalty of law, protection to the RTM holders from unauthorised copying of the word for the same or similar uses, and/or against any harm economically such copying might do towards the persons holding the RTM rights in this word ‘Lotto’.

‘Lotto’ is the Badge of Origin of The UK National Lottery; and as Badge of Origin it guarantees to a buyer of a ticket, which ticket allows a buyer a chance to win millions of £; it guarantees a buyer of that ticket which bears the word ‘Lotto’, that his/her ticket originated from the business which runs The UK National Lottery.

As a ‘Sign’ the word ‘Lotto’ distinguishes that ticket bought by a buyer to be a genuine bona fide UK National Lottery ticket. The ‘Sign’ ‘Lotto’ is used by the owners of its RTM rights in the marketing, advertising and sales of tickets. Where that ‘Sign’ is seen by a person, say, outside a newsagent’s or a grocer’s shop, that person can trust that genuine tickets can be bought there.

RTMs, as ‘Badges of Origin’, and ‘Signs’ of this sort, are some of the most valued possessions of Commercial Enterprises: people like you and I know them better as Brands. These Brand names are worth £ billions as intangible assets of their owners (who are known as ‘holders’).

‘Lotto’ is a word which in a distant time but within living memory still, in the UK was associated with the game known better today as ‘Bingo’. The game has other names, such as ‘Tombola’, or ‘Housey-housey’; most of which names have gone along with ‘Lotto’ as a signifier for ‘Bingo’ into the ‘deep backward and abysm of time’.

And so ‘Lotto’ as a signifier of a game like The UK National Lottery, was at the time of its adoption and Registration as an RTM by its holders, relatively free from association with the game of ‘Bingo’ and so available to be picked up and newly associated with a National Lottery enterprise.

Let’s take a look at the word ‘Lotto’, and see what might have been the appeal of such a word to this enterprise that it should choose ‘Lotto’ to be its ‘Badge of Origin’ and ‘distinctive’ ‘Sign’.

A word here first on those persons and companies who are employed by such enterprises; to provide for them what are esteemed good and effectual Badges of Origin’ and ‘Signs’ to be aimed at their consumers: the thinkers-up of Brand-names.

Such thinkers-up are themselves highly-esteemed within the circles in which they move; and are consulted at huge fees to their clients so as to come up for them with that just-right ‘Badge of origin’ or ‘Sign’ which, as Leonard Cohen has it is ‘the card that is so high and wild you’ll never need another’.

So we should look then at what resides inherently in the word ‘Lotto’ which encourages its RTM rights holders to believe it to be such a ‘card’.

‘Lotto’ then has a distant history of gambling behind it as its provenance as a word in the English language. I mentioned ‘Lotto’ used to be a name for ‘Bingo’. Older players of The National Lottery would remember this to have been the case; or at least would be bearing a ‘residual memory’ of the word having been once connected with recreational laying out upon risk. This section of the population then, who wishes to play on a small stakes, high prize, little chance, gamble would be well on the way to being hooked and in the net by the sight or sound of the word ‘Lotto’.

Now in South Wales where I live there is at least a regional tendency for language to be used by ordinary people loosely and colloquially. Here in South Wales there is an added complication with the residual effects of a once widely-spoken Welsh language being still in play socially. Welsh has not been spoken hereabouts as a commonplace language for perhaps a hundred years or more; the encroachments of coal mining and iron smelting and of The Industrial Revolution generally in the nineteenth century largely has caused this demise of Welsh being spoken in South-east Wales. The same factors effectively destroyed the natural beauty of the landscapes and the pasture to boot.

But elsewhere in Wales the Welsh language still goes on quite strongly; in North Wales and in Mid-West Wales there are large, perhaps majorities of inhabitants who use the language in their day to day lives. These places remain largely rural and agricultural areas, untouched relatively by the steel mills and pitheads.

(Today those mines are closed and the steel industry is almost entirely moved on; but the scars upon the landscape and upon the descendants of the peoples who worked them largely remain. I am adding all this seemingly-diverting material because indeed it does bear on my main arguments.)

Residual Welsh language then. The people roundabouts me have a habit, and it might be nationwide across the UK that this habit occurs, I do not know for sure; but here in South Wales ordinary folk will add to a word of one syllable which is in common usage, a word say like ‘drink’; an ‘o’ to make it colloquially ‘drinko’. Longer words, particularly people’s names and shop-names like say, ‘The Corporation’ public house will be called ‘The Corpa’, or a shop called ‘Wilkinson’s’ will become ‘Wilko’s’.

In the Welsh language a number of commonplace nouns end in the suffix ‘io’ – just as the English word ‘radio’ does. Many words naturalised from English into Welsh adopt this ‘io’ ending in their Welsh manifestations; so that ‘phone’ becomes ‘phonio’ and so on. This can still be the case across Wales where Welsh is spoken today.

So that, even though the trend might be UK-wide, in my area I believe there is a stronger impetus coming from a residual use of Welsh in South East Wales, which I believe tends towards curtailing to one syllable and then to suffixing many English words with these ‘io’ ‘a’ and ‘o’ endings.

‘Lotto’ is a gift to the ordinary people around about who are the generators of this linguistic trend of curtailing syllables and adding a suffix. ‘Lotto’ after all is phonetically the word ‘lot’ with an ‘o’ added to it. In the minds of people then ‘Lotto’ might easily be associated with the construction ‘a lot’.

A ‘lot’ besides being ‘a huge amount’ is also in other incarnations ‘a stake in a draw’ or ‘a person’s burden or fate’ or else even a person’s ‘chance elected task’ as in ‘we drew lots for it and the lot fell to me.’

‘Lot’ is a word reeking in so many of its senses with the ideas of fate, chance, choice, luck, fortune, so that the word ‘Lotto’ is able to exploit all this odour of opportunity nestling within chance.

(‘Lotto’ as a name of course has a semblance of a sort to the business it represents; that business being a ‘Lottery’)

So the word ‘Lotto’ is a good choice of Brand name for the UK National Lottery then? The bosses who run the Company behind it thought so; and probably paid a few £ millions to the Consultancy which came up with that name. But what does the fact signify that the Lottery Company chose that name ‘Lotto’ out of probably a few dozen options laid on the table before them by their Consultants? It probably signifies a great deal of things.

It’s what I call, in perhaps a rather jaundiced manner, The LCD factor at work. The name ‘Lotto’ chosen for the National Lottery is aimed at and crafted so as to aim at the Lowest Common Denominators amongst the lottery-ticket buyers. It is a downwards-appealing name and as such is a considered and deliberate attempt to draw in the people from the lower social classes within society. For the lure and the bait to be able to do this it thought that it has to be as basic and uncomplicated, obvious, direct; so plain and dull; painfully unsophisticated.

The UK National Lottery has been called openly by its detractors ‘a voluntary tax on the poor’. Voluntary because the poor people elect to buy its tickets; many of them religiously weekly; and having superstitious sets of numbers and certain shop outlets and particular times of day and lucky birthdays etc by which to try to scry the runes and awaken Fortuna to their orisons.

I have written elsewhere about what it is like to be poor; about how the phrase ‘grinding poverty’ is just so apt. Being poor is a disqualification; especially in a highly developed industrial society wherein one needs money to breathe the air and to think thoughts even. Being poor is called penury; and it is penury because the disqualifications of being poor in their effects imprison a person; make a person greatly unfree; and a person feels that unfreedom as a great and weary burden upon every moment in their lives. When you are unable to have the extra slice of bread you fancy; when you are constrained to not spend that coin but save it for the gas meter to cook a meal later; when the tinkle of a few coins in your pocket when you dress mornings is a music of relief to your ears; then you know you are enchained and enslaved by our system of exchange and political science.

I see almost daily young mothers with two or maybe more young children; one in a pushchair and say two more with a hand each on the rails of that pushchair; and she will spend several £s on Lotto lottery tickets; which money she cannot afford and would be better spending the money on a box of chocolates or a cup of tea and a sandwich. The young mother is aged before her time and not well-dressed nor kept; she is in a frazzle keeping her children at peace; she is not aware of others around her; she is placing all her life’s hope – for this week at least – on this (reckless and fruitless) gamble so as to be able to go home and on Saturday night sit on her sofa and enjoy a few minutes urging the TV presenter to draw out her numbers.

This is a tax on the poor; this desperate need of people to have a tiny and remote ‘blowhole’ with which to feel some little freedom for a few minutes dreaming one might be free of all this ‘grind’ and say instead in the Caribbean, or at Stringfellows enjoying life in spades.

Even the dreams of such people are earthbound; and for the most part being able to enjoy the lifestyle of the people whose large earnings come from the likes of them, the ticket-buyers; is their best shot at imagining happiness for themselves.

Now I am going to write a little about how The National Lottery is marketed and advertised.

Before I do I want to say that The National Lottery is being used as the ‘target’ of this article not because it alone in my own view is pernicious, but because it is also a clear and magnificently potent and open example of the effectual causes of the conditions and lifestyles we live in; of us being Capitalist victims of Capital. The National Lottery writes large so many dead-ends and empty promises for our lives as we live nowadays; that it is my best weapon of choice which I am able to find at the moment.

The National Lottery has an image design which accompanies its Trade Mark. This image is of a pen-drawn smiley face in mid-blue ink on a white background; and the face doubles in a certain view of it as a thumbs-up sign of pleased approval. This image appears on nearly all marketing materials for The Lottery. Billboards and stand outside shops; hoardings carry it; TV ads show it, and so on; with accompanying slogans; one that springs to mind being ‘Play Here Now!’ and another ‘Play a little – live a Lotto!’

The directness and lack of sophistication of this advertising and marketing is like a brick wall hitting your face; it is likewise LCD. The ‘Play Here Now!’ item has overtones of the US military with its call to attention ‘Now Hear This!’ Of course the advertising is always upbeat; and it is always trite, trivial and inconsequential, light and feelgood. Brash rows of lights flash and primary colours abound on the TV ads. Humour and quips are their currency also.

The advertisers either really know their stuff or else have a dreadfully low opinion of the people who feed their money-making machine.

Since Lotto arrived on the scene a great array and variety of related ‘tickets’ have been introduced so as to ‘diversify’ the brand and the customer base; so as to hook in more people to be rinsed. There are ‘instant win’ tickets which very rarely win instantly. There are fruit machine tickets and there are numbers based tickets and on and on.

Generally speaking in Britain today a person is able to place a wager on almost any public event taking place here or abroad. Soccer matches are used by Bookmakers.

One is able to place bet on a draw of which team plays which team in certain tournaments; on the half-time score; on the number of goals in the match; on the minute a goal is scored; on the name of the scorer of a first goal; on the number of goals a player will score; on the number of fouls or the number of corner kicks; on and on and on………..

The money laid out in such bets accrues to the Bookmakers. The National Lottery Lotto game however is a Registered Charity here in the UK! Many stately homes and works of art and public buildings and so on owe their continued presence in the UK in good state of repair to the millions of lower class folks who weekly spend more than they can afford to spend on Lottery and associated draw tickets. Thus in many instances we see the poor subsidising the better off. Even The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London has received charitable monies from The National Lottery Fund; grants to help fund opera productions or to refurbish the interior.

Now I find this especially riling and pernicious. Watching opera live is the sport of only the most privileged in Britain; of professional people and people of education and means. The opera houses inevitably never make ends meet and are necessarily state subsidised; as items of national prestige and as artistic endeavours. An opera production can cost tens of millions of £ to stage for a few weeks only.

The set of persons whose habit is to attend and enjoy these productions are well able to pay more towards financing their pleasures in this regard. I would say with some confidence that most people in the UK who are not professional persons or who have no independent wealth and means; which is I would say well beyond 80% of the population, have never, and will never in their lives, set foot in an opera house to watch a live opera. Just as in the same way it is said that Winston Churchill never stepped on a bus in his entire 80 years lifetime.

It is affront enough to ordinary folk that a form of high entertainment afforded to and affordable by only a very few, a narrow sector of the population, is effectually verboten for most others; and yet many of these very verboten persons are very materially contributory toward the upkeep of that exclusive affair.

In this way the lower orders are kept within the lower orders and are allowed to maintain some slim but palpable hope and expectation of advancement. The appeal is to the LCD and the appeal to the LCD works; because it has the effect of legitimising the enterprise in the eyes of Lotto ticket buyers, and the whole sordid soaking of the poor it entails. The RTM ‘Lotto’ and its surrounding marketing and advertising say to the poor: it is OK, it is good for you to have a flutter, no harm in it, and you never know ‘It could be you!’ Go on – have a go.

As for the LCD factor; this is the order of the day for us all here presently. Today it was announced that in Trafalgar Square, London, the fourth plinth in the square was unveiled with a new statue on it; a 7 metre tall giant thumb giving passers-by a British ‘thumbs-up’ gesture. The artist (?) who made it said: he wanted something upbeat and universal which would cheer everyone up who saw it.

These ideas which he expressed about why a large thumbs-up beg many, many questions.

But I want to close by saying only that a large, thumbs-up emblem of this kind, is an insult to the people of the UK. The level of pitch at which such a statue is targeted is derisory, and trite and trivial and worst of all, it encourages the entertainment of carefully contrived mediocrity and plain blandness as being able to fulfil the aspirations and functions of high art, and as I wrote recently concerning that great Victorian sage, Matthew Arnold, of being able to represent ‘the best that has been thought and said in the world.’

The original article is located at our anomalist design blog: http://blog.anomalistdesign.com/the-lotto-players/

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