The PA Lottery Has Brought Back Gus the Groundhog

The lottery's much-maligned (and loved?) spokeshog, Gus, made his return to TV airwaves yesterday. Also returning yesterday: The “Snowfall” Christmas ad.

Yesterday was November 1st, which means one thing nowadays: The start of Christmas season. No longer do businesses wait until Black Friday to plaster the airwaves with Christmas ads; we go from spooky to Santa literally overnight.

This causes hand-wringing among many people, though I don’t really mind. I like the Christmas season, so it’s okay if it comes a little early. Oh, no! The enjoyable holiday about good will toward all lasts a little longer! What ever will we do?

In Pennsylvania, November 1st means the start of one of the state’s weirdest traditions: The Lottery’s “Snowfall” ad. I wrote this time last year of the fondness of the ad, first shot in 1992 and updated, shot-for-shot like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, for HD in 2012.

That ad was slightly tweaked this year, as the lottery has renamed several games. But yesterday also saw the lottery bring back one of its most iconic, hated (and loved?) characters: Gus, Pennsylvania’s second-most famous groundhog.

Gus, a takeoff on Punxatawney Phil, starred in ads promoting Pennsylvania Lottery scratch-off tickets for about eight years. He caused some grumbling, as any animal puppet promoting a game intended for adults would be. The lottery wouldn’t make plush dolls of him, despite several requests. The Pennsylvania Lottery eventually axed him in 2012. His creator was angry about Gus’ firing, saying the puppet was a reliable driver of lottery ticket sales.

But, get this: People actually missed him. The Pennsylvania Lottery said in a statement that Gus’ fans actually brought him back. “In the years since, we have continued to hear from players who told us how much they missed Gus and wanted him to return,” Lottery executive director Drew Svitko said. “Simply stated, Gus is a Pennsylvania Lottery institution.”

The lottery even said in its statement that “the people have spoken.” So, yes, it’s all your fault that Gus the groundhog is back.

One of those fans, incidentally, was former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who near the end of his second term as governor said that “Gus is a tremendous spokesman, and he’s Pennsylvania’s ‘second favorite groundhog.’” So, yes, perhaps we can thank/blame Rendell as well.

“When we opened the doors this morning, Gus loped in, dropped his suitcase, loudly proclaimed, ‘Keep on Scratchin!’ and headed right to his desk,” Svitko said in an actual press release. And now I’ve quoted it, too, making it worse. If you get fired, are you just allowed to show up at the door of your former employer several years later, shout your catchphrase and resume your duties? The Pennsylvania Lottery must be a really weird place to work.

The Gus ad that aired yesterday was an old one, with a take-off of “Jingle Bells.” If they’re shooting new ads, though, it could be good for Philly people in the business, as the PA Lottery often shoots its ads in the Philadelphia area. Ed Rendell was right: Gus can be good for the Pennsylvania economy!

Here’s the new 2015 “Snowfall” ad.

We shall close with the ad’s famous four holiday words of wisdom: What a great gift!

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