Content Marketing and The Scratch Off Lotto

Content marketing is storytelling that creates valuable content to attract a consistent audience, and drive that audience to take action that is profitable for the company.

On a recent walk down Mission Street in San Francisco, a friend (Jay Zalowitz) decided to buy a scratch off lottery ticket, and it struck me that what we had in our hands was actually an effective piece of content marketing.

The original ticket purchased on Mission Street

The lottery is common target for criticism. Many feel it is detrimental for both the states that run them, and the people that win them, but the fact remains that state and provincial lotteries generated 70 billion dollars of revenue in 2014.

Scratch offs have everything content marketers strive to achieve, and these bits of paper often accomplish that on less than 10 square inches. Engagement, and a call to action are immediately perceived, and an effective retention strategy is never far behind.


A powerful story is one where the audience takes the narrative and runs with it, so that the relationship between storyteller and audience becomes collaborative. The best writing gives the reader some credit, it assumes the reader will be able to put some of the pieces together herself. Scratch off tickets do this very effectively.

When I look at the California Lottery’s Classic Poker ($5) ticket, I’m being told a story about a simple poker game. I have seven hands, and the dealer has one. That’s 35 cards to the dealer’s five. I don’t know what the cards are, and I don’t know what will happen if I win. It’s up to me now – in order to truly see the story through I must participate and scratch away, digging through a paywall of removable ink to reveal the rest of the story.

This is effective storytelling because I’m being asked much more than I am being told, I am being engaged by the lottery, not talked at.

Call to Action

WIN UP TO 5 TIMES YOUR PRIZE! Reads some of the copy on my Multiply Your Money ticket from the Pennsylvania lottery ($3). This isn’t a suggestion of the possible outcome, it’s a command.

MULTIPLY Your Money – From the PA Lottery

While this kind of direct call to action may seem graceless or tacky – the Call Today! ads and the supplications from youtubers to views to like, comment, and subscribe – they’re very effective.


Views, likes, and shares are awesome. In many ways they are the currency of the content marketer, but they aren’t worth much if you aren’t converting one-time visitors into a loyal audience.

The retention strategy of scratch off lotto tickets could be easily summarized as: Tease. I used four lottery tickets for this experiment, one from California, and three from Pennsylvania, and every time I came as close to victory as possible without actually winning. On one, I even won a free ticket.

My winning BACON BUCKS ticket from the PA Lottery
My winning BACON BUCKS ($1) ticket from the PA Lottery

The tease is that I came so close this time, it’s probably in my best interest to try it again – and with the free ticket (a common prize on most scratch offs) they’ve dramatically increased the likelihood that I will play at least one more time.

Gross, but True

The house always wins. We all know this, even avid lottery players must know this on some level, but even as someone scratching off these tickets for the purposes of ‘research’ – I was engaged, drawn in by the tease. Scratching off the Classic Poker ticket, when I revealed two-pair twice, only the next best hand to the dealer’s three of a kind, it just felt like bad luck. The reality that this wasn’t an actual card game, but a piece of content that had been crafted by a group of human beings escaped me. It recalls the Tom Fisburne quote, “The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.”

Credit: Tom Fishburne - @tomfishburne
Credit: Tom Fishburne – @tomfishburne

The lottery is criticized for good reason, and for many content marketers, it may feel icky to compare ourselves to a practice largely seen as deceptive and manipulative, but just because we might not agree with the end product, doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from lottery tickets.

What do you think? Have you found examples of content marketing in unexpected places? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @artmapinc.