In Panama, a country of only 3.8 million people, gambling is part of the popular culture. It allows people to realise some of their dreams, pay their debts, or solve financial problems. It also acts as a “salve,” as we say in Panamanian, in that it offers fun and another life amidst so much need.

Our initiative goes back to the story of a person who revolutionised the Panamanian market. In 2012, there was a riot in a female rehabilitation center during which some of the inmates began to flee. That day in prison, there was a woman named Nilka Denny, who was originally from the neighbourhood of San Miguel, Calidonia, one of the big growing areas of Panama Red.

Though she didn’t flee, she told the media of the dire conditions and illness the prisoners suffered. That day, a common woman who dared to say what she felt on television became famous with her plea to the prison director, Angel Calderón: “Calderón, help us! You can do it.”

The expression on her face and gestures that she made became popular in minutes. Social networks popularised the phrase. Now she was no mere victim; she was “Calderón, help us!”

In March of 2014, Panama was in the middle of elections and the atmosphere was tense. There was anxiety among the population about the new administration, especially with regard to the economic situation of the Panamanian people.

As the No. 1 selling newspaper in Panama, Crítica identifies with the lower classes and aims to reach the mass market of Panamanians who are seeking answers on what is happening nationally.

Therefore, the newspaper decided to use the “Critilocura” promotion, which transformed the newspaper into a lottery ticket, giving readers the chance to win daily cash.

We had used the promotion before, but now we were faced with the reality of the technological era. To impact the entire market, our initiative needed to reach not only our readers, but also our advertisers, potential readers, and those who had ceased to believe in the role print media.

I was excited to take the Critilocura campaign to another sphere, setting a precedent that no one would forget. To come up with a jingle, I began humming tunes and even dancing in the office. But something was missing. I knew that a key figure who represented all of Panama needed to dance to the sound of that jingle.

At that moment, Nilka Denny came to mind. She, her history, and her way of being — as an ordinary person from the popular districts of Panama — made her a natural choice to lead the campaign. Nando Florez, the newspaper’s creative director, agreed with me.

As a result, Nando and I started our search for Nilka Denny, knowing she had left prison the month before. We made contact with one of her sons, with whom we agreed to meet in San Miguel, Calidonia.

When we arrived at his house — an apartment located in a “multi,” which is how we refer to condemned buildings — we were surprised that Nilka Denny herself opened the door. After some discussion, this woman who had lived her life in the world of drug dealing agreed to be the star of an advertising campaign.  

We invested the same amount of money as we had in previous years, but in a different way.  The basic promotion was like a daily lottery with a number published on the front of each newspaper. For this campaign, we kicked off a multi-media campaign with a TV commercial shot in Nilka Denny’s neighbourhood, featuring the people with whom she had grown up.

On May 19, our team initiated a tour around the country, announcing ahead of time where we would be. In each location, we held challenges that allowed people to earn money instantly. In turn, we encouraged people to keep buying newspapers to win the daily lottery.

All of this was captured on video. It was like “the adventures of Nilka” — a beloved personality who people wanted to know better after the prison incident in 2012.

The campaign quickly became a trending topic in social media. For a month, in all of Panama there was talk of nothing but the Critilocura and its emblematic character. Newspaper staff helped Nilka along the way, giving her the chance that society had denied her up to this point.  

Her story touched our readers and followers at the human level, which resulted in the strongest growth in years:

  • Our circulation increased by more than 20%.

  • We produced more than 10 videos of the “Tour Critilocura” along with other video interviews starring the unusual and beloved Nilka.

  • We also saw an increase of thousands of followers in a month on our social networks, which revolutionised the market and competition.

The image of our brand once again proved that Crítica leads the market in circulation, audience and popular fame, not only over other newspapers, but also other media. During the tour, there were more than 300 winners of cash and prizes, 100 of whom were rewarded for having a newspaper in hand when Crítica’s crew scanned the streets for loyal readers.

The big stories like Nilka’s are changing lives, reviving products, and breaking all the paradigms.

Currently, my friend Nilka Denny works as a community reporter for an entertainment programme on a telechannel in Panama. It was through the Critilocura campaign that this woman’s life changed completely.