THE LATTER DAYS OF THE LOTERIA? THE END OF DON CLEMENTE?
“Don Clemente, Buenos dias.”
Although I’ve never met her, I have an image of María firmly in my mind. She answers the phones at the sales office for Don Clemente, the original mass producers of Mexico’s iconic Lotería game whose presses have been running non-stop since 1887 cranking out millions of these games. María’s voice is smoky, almost sultry, like a film star from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. In my head this receptionist is a combination of María Felix, Isabela Corona, and Dolores del Río (for those not acquainted with these stars, they are definitely worth a look-up). She is usually quick to be professionally cheerful, but over the past few months the lilt has been missing from that raspy voice of hers.
While María is quick to point out that my company is probably the #1 seller of these picture bingo games in the United States – and I do sell untold crates of these games – my orders are not enough to stop a downward trend the company has seen in the past few years. As Mexico and the rest of Latin America go increasingly digital, it seems that interest in this once highly popular game is diminishing. The Lotería is seen as an older person’s game and a relic from another time. It’s losing ground to the likes of Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto V.
I knew something was going on when this company started cutting its product lines. Historically, they have sold all sorts of games from finely made decks of Spanish playing cards to Serpientes y Escaleras , which is similar to the Chutes and Ladders game, but with more interesting pictures and situations. They’ve also sold party supplies like confetti and streamers. Competition from China and the easing of trade restrictions in Mexico have cut into a lot of Don Clemente’s other businesses. I’m concerned about their core, though, which has been a staple in my business since Day 1 and has represented an enduring fixture of Mexican popular culture.
In a phonecall before Christmas I promised María that we would put our heads together to come up with some plans to revive the sagging sales of the game. She said that the future of the game might be in the United States with an increasing Hispanic population and with many Americans wanting to learn Spanish. I really couldn’t come up with many ideas other than to promote the game more through my business which I have already been doing. Should the company create a phone app? An interactive multi-player internet game?
I’m aware that cultural trends ebb and flow and what is hot one year is not hot the next, but when something that seems so entrenched in a culture is fading away, I can’t help but feel kind of sad. I will continue to sell these games as long as my customers want them, but I have a feeling that one day soon I will call the Lotería sales office and the rich voice of María will be replaced by a mechanical “this number is no longer in service” message.