With hometown heroes Bert Blyleven and Kent Hrbek, the Minnesota State Lottery starts a new advertising campaign this week touting its homegrown contributions to taxpayers.

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Created by the Minneapolis ad agency Olson, the lottery spots emphasize, in song and banter, the organization's $2 billion contribution to the state treasury since the first lottery ticket was sold in 1990.

"It's just a feel-good piece to let people know the good that comes from playing the lottery," said lottery executive director Ed Van Petten in a phone interview Monday.

Van Petten said the advertising campaign was in the works for several months and was not designed to address any exterior issues at a time when casino and charitable gambling is an object of scrutiny in the Vikings stadium debate.

The ads started appearing on television during prime time Monday night and will continue to run, along with radio spots, until the end of the agency's fiscal year on June 30. It's a media buy budgeted at $480,000.

Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame pitcher Blyleven and two-time World Series champ Hrbek appear in separate ads sitting in a mythical northern Minnesota cabin surrounded by animal puppets with musical instruments singing the praises of Minnesota living.

The performers, which include a skunk, bear, squirrel, loon, gopher and a deer finish the song with "Every game the lottery has, for the cities, outstate and open lands, Minnesota's got back $2 billion you see, because you play the lottery."

At the very end of the Blyleven spot, one of the animals says, "Circle me, Bert," a reference to Blyleven's practice of circling fans during broadcasts of Twins games.

In the Hrbek piece, the larger-than-life Bloomington native admonishes a pie-stealing bear behind him, "Paws off the pie."

"We wanted the spot to be as uniquely Minnesotan as possible. One way was to get well-known Minnesotans in the spot," said Olson creative director Mark Andersen. "We asked ourselves, 'Who do Minnesotans recognize and like?' And Bert and Kent came to the top of the list."

In a synopsis of the spots provided to the Star Tribune, the Olson agency said its assignment was "to develop a branding campaign for the Minnesota State Lottery that makes people feel good about playing the lottery by enhancing its overall image and positioning it as a good corporate citizen."

Of the $2 billion that has flowed between the lottery and the state, about $1.2 billion has gone into the general fund for a variety of spending programs while $800 million has gone into environmental programs.

Olson is nearing the end of year two in its three-year plus extensions advertising contract with the lottery that is valued at just shy of $1.1 million a year.

Distributed by MCT Information Services