PETER YORK ON ADS No 93: NHS LOTO

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The Independent Culture
THERE are many worrying aspects to the NHS Loto ad, and many little mysteries. The form of it, for a start: it's a long "infomercial" of the kind you get on US cable-shopping channels. It's staged to look like a cheaply produced game show with "titles", a "set" and a "presenter". But he's the second mystery, this presenter. He says: "I'm Peter Marshall." Are we supposed to know him? Have I missed something? And why is his hair lavender? He looks like John Humphreys made up as Blake Carrington. And then he says: "Welcome to this NHS Loto commercial." I should point out here that there is obviously no humorous or ironic intent whatsoever in this production. Rather there's every possible attempt to reassure, by following the form of game shows and the National Lottery. But real shows have audiences and lovely assistants.

After he's welcomed us, Peter commands the Lottery-lookalike draw to take place. This raises another question: are we seeing the actual draw, or some kind of demo? How does it actually work? How do you enter? Has anyone entered? And how can you repeat a prize draw in an ad? Before addressing these concerns, Peter explains that 25p in every pounds 1 benefits NHS hospital projects; we see pictures of sick children. This too is worrying - is this an official part of the NHS budgeting process? Is it like a jumble sale that raises money for school textbooks? Then Peter says it's easy to enter, you simply call freefone for a player pack and choose your numbers. But do you play it over the telephone - or what exactly?

For all I know, NHS Loto is utterly admirable and completely copper- bottomed. But it doesn't look it: all the straining after familiar effects, after conviviality ("see you next week") and certificated authenticity seems much odder than the everyday surrealism of the run of British ads.

! Video supplied by Tellex Commercials.

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