The opening scenes look more like a tease for a bank-heist film than the beginning of a commercial. In the dark of night, trucks roll into an empty Copley Square, and security guards with terse expressions, wired earpieces, and blue Lottery-branded jackets stand sentinel as workers in neon vests wheel pallets of what appears to be shrink-wrapped cash into the open space in front of Trinity Church.
Then they assemble $1 billion into a massive mound of money in the shape of Massachusetts.
The eye-popping production was the work of the Massachusetts State Lottery, which sought a creative way to advertise the record amount of money the agency generates and sends to cities and towns in the form of local aid.
“We wanted to show people how much a billion dollars really is,” explained Sid Murlidhar of Connelly Partners, the ad firm behind the stunt. “And so we really wanted to put that to scale . . . to really convey that idea. And so we thought, what better way to do that than to build an outline of the state of Massachusetts using bills?”
It definitely got attention. In the commercial, a series of rapid cuts shows befuddled pedestrians taking selfies and gawking at the sheer size of all the stacked loot — 40 feet long and, at some points eight feet high.
“So that’s what a billion dollars looks like,” says one. “Real money,” another exclaims, while a third says, simply: “Wow, that’s a lot of money.”
Except, of course, the money wasn’t real.
Even though it was fake, getting $1 billion of it was no small task. The phony bills were ordered from the same companies that Hollywood production studios use. And after tinkering with a few different mixes, the producers settled on a combination of $20, $50, and $100 bills. They had to adhere to strict federal guidelines about how fake money is made.
“It has to be slightly bigger than the actual bills,” Murlidhar said. “And a little bit of a different color so that it’s clearly not a real bill.”
Getting the size and shape of the blocks of fake money to correctly mimic the topography of Massachusetts was not so straightforward, either.
“Toward the coastline it’s lower, and as you get into the Worcester Hills, the stacks of money gets higher,” Murlidhar said. “Then it gets back lower, and as you get into the Berkshires, it gets back higher again.”
To minimize the number of bills, the money was stacked around hollow boxes. Without the boxes, the map would have required 30 million fake bills.
A lottery spokeswoman said gawkers at the filming were told the money was fake, if they asked. After the shoot was finished, much of it was given to local theater production companies, and the remainder was destroyed, as required by law.
Max Jungreis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MaxJungreis.