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Update: Do fuzzy puppet ads market MN Lottery games to kids?

  • Blog Post by: Jeremy Olson
  • November 9, 2012 - 11:04 AM

Update: The puppet master behind the lottery ads chimed in late Thursday with a simple answer to this question: "No!" Gordon Smuder of The Puppet Forge, based in Minneapolis, said there certainly was no intent through these ads to market the Minnesota Lottery to kids. And he pointed out the wealth of puppets used in adult marketing globally (such as the CarFax Car Fox) and in movies and shows targeted to adults.

Interestingly, he disclosed that Lottery officials were at least somewhat concerned of the perception. Smuder said in an email that the ads were ready to go in late 2011, but that the release was delayed because The Muppets movie had just come out and they wanted "to avoid any connection (however nonexistent) to that family film in the minds of the public."

(Original Nov. 8 post) Minnesota Lottery ads featuring Kent Hrbek, Bert Blyleven and a band of fuzzy puppet animals are hilarious, I think. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of the lil' critters with big ol' Hrbek -- or maybe it's the fact that I grew up when the Muppets were big, Hrbek was hitting homers and Blyleven was serving them up.

But a question on the Lottery's Facebook page does raise a compelling question: Do these critters market to kids just like Joe Camel marketed cigarettes? Wednesday's post by Eric Anderson of Chaska:

"Aren't ad's like this aimed at children with all the happy, singing muppet like creatures? If one were to be consistent with the attacks on 'Joe Camel' it should be the same here."

There are reasons for the concern. While the lottery is for adults 18 and older -- a fact displayed clearly at the end of these TV ads -- the Minnesota Student Survey (page 27) indicates there are underaged players. In 2010, 12 percent of 9th grade boys and 7 percent of 9th grade girls indicated that they had purchased lottery tickets or scratch cards. The numbers jumped to 38 percent and 25 percent of 12th grade boys and girls, respectively, though presumably some of those high school seniors were of legal age to play.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission addressed this marketing issue in 1999, when it recommended that "animated characters used in lottery advertising should not have any association with television programs and movies geared toward children." Of course, these critters are generic and not associated with any shows. Hrbek and Blyleven are household names for Minnesota adults, but "most children probably wouldn't even know who they are," said Ed Van Patten, executive director of the Minnesota Lottery.

Minnesota law is mute on the specific issue of marketing to kids but prohibits lottery ads "with the intent to exploit a person, a specific group or economic class of people."

Van Patten said the issue didn't come up when the ads were released last spring, and that he didn't hear any concerns from viewers until a couple questions popped up this week on his organization's Facebook page. He stressed that these ads certainly weren't marketing to children, nor were they technically marketing the lottery games to anyone. They instead promote the fact that the lottery since it's inception has raised $2 billion for the state of Minnesota -- and that much of the gains have gone to environmental projects. Hence the woodsy animals.

"I really didn't see them like that," Van Patten said of the child marketing concern. "It was just an economical way for us to let people know we do support the environment."

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