The Illinois Lottery has shifted advertising from 15 billboards throughout the state to a single billboard in Chicago that is seen by about half as many people but is owned by one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's major campaign contributors.
The Lottery will begin advertising in July on the TriVision, a digital billboard alongside the Kennedy Expressway near North Avenue. The agency will pay $82,000 a month to display a sequence of three Lottery pitches on the billboard, which is seen by an estimated 420,000 people a day, according to R. J. Dale Advertising & Public Relations, the Lottery's advertising firm.
To pay for space on the TriVision, the Lottery canceled advertisements on 15 billboards in cities from Downstate Mount Vernon to Chicago with combined daily estimated circulationthe industry measurement of how many people see a billboard in a single dayof 817,000, according to figures provided by a Lottery spokeswoman. The 15 together cost the Lottery $87,000 each month. The Lottery is continuing to advertise on 20 other billboards statewide.
TriVision is owned by Chicago-based Mark IV Realty Inc., which donated $90,000 in billboard advertising to Mr. Blagojevich's 2002 election campaign. After deducting commissions for the Lottery's advertising agency, the two-year contract is worth $1.8 million to Mark IV, Lottery records show. Mark IV President John L. Marks did not return repeated calls seeking comment for this story.
Illinois Lottery Superintendent Carolyn Adams said she shifted to Tri-Vision because the billboard enables the Lottery to rotate advertisements for Mega Millions, New Little Lotto and the Appreciation Celebration promotion in the same location. The board's digital panel also will enable the Lottery to advertise the jackpots for two of its games, whereas the other billboards could display only one jackpot amount, Ms. Adams said.
"Adults who encounter (the billboard) are fascinated by the movement and usually wait to see what the next message will be," Ms. Adams said in a written statement.
Ms. Adams said in the statement that TriVision is equivalent to three separate billboards. She estimated that each driver would see at least two messages, effectively doubling the board's daily estimated circulation and making it a bargain for the Lottery.
Ms. Adams, appointed by Gov. Blagojevich last year, said in an interview she wasn't aware of Mark IV's campaign contributions, but wouldn't say whether she'd discussed the billboard with members of Mr. Blagojevich's staff. A spokeswoman for Mr. Blagojevich said that the governor's office had no part in the billboard decision.
The Lottery will spend approximately $2.4 million in the next 12 months on all its billboards throughout the state. Most of the other 20 tout the Mega Millions game and post the game's current jackpot.
Billboard advertising experts say audience size is a key factor in determining a billboard's price. But there is no uniform pricing benchmark for billboards.
"All things being equal, a bigger audience is better than a smaller audience," said Paul Sweeney, an analyst for Credit Suisse First Boston in New York. "You're reaching a bigger audience. It's as simple as that."
Analysts say that a sign's ability to engage viewers and reach a certain demographic, like commuters with high incomes, could increase its price. But Ms. Adams said the Lottery does not target demographic groups.
"Everybody over age 18 is a potential player," Ms. Adams said. "We make sure our reach extends throughout the entire state."
Don't forget Downstate
Jack Sullivan, who oversees billboard advertising purchases at media-buying agency Starcom Worldwide in Chicago, said TriVision is attractive for its large size and its location on a curve of a heavily traveled expressway. But he wonders if the Lottery could have held out for a better price, as some space on TriVision has been available for months.
"I don't know if that is that smart of a decision," he said. "I wouldn't cancel the other signs. They are still buying (lottery tickets) in Carbondale and Champaign. You shouldn't forget those people.
Governor Denies Involvement
Gov. Blagojevich on Sunday said he played no role in the Illinois Lottery's decision to switch the billboard advertising.
"I know nothing about the decision," the governor said Sunday.