The pitfalls on the way to an effective contest

12 May

promotionCanadian companies spend over $200 million a year on contests and promotions. Some have become a part of our culture (Roll up the rim…), while many others flop their way into oblivion.

There are some reasons why I’m wary of contests:

Contests add another layer to the messaging. Now on top of the ad telling me about the new store opening and all the reasons why I need to shop there, it has to explain how I need to cut something out of the ad and get a special PIN somewhere online and drop both off at the store for chance to win such-and-such a prize. Information overload!

Contests extrinsically motivate behaviour. Many studies show that external rewards reduce motivation when the reward is removed. Do you want people using your business because they’re intrinsically motivated to do so (eg, they like your brand, or value your service), or because you’re bribing them with an enter-to-win?

Contests bring in professional contest seekers. A small portion of the population send in a much larger percentage of contest entries. Many play contests full-time. They don’t give a lick about your brand, they’re gaming the odds and as soon as the contest is over, you’ll never see them again. Do you want to be using your marketing dollars to potentially fund their paycheck?

I never win contests. I am a cynical, unlucky person, so contests do not motivate me. Contests make me think that product prices are inflated to fund the prize. There must be others like me?!

That said, when contests work, they can work wonderfully. Some tips for contest success:

Keep them simple. Make it easy to enter, and make sure contest logistics don’t detract from the campaign messaging.

Make the prize relevant. Choose a prize that makes sense for your brand and campaign theme, instead of falling back on the hot electronics item du jour (iPad2).

Bring in a media sponsor. They often offer discounted/free space to promotions they support. Great additional exposure.

Make it newsworthy. Copeland’s zombie internship contest got great publicity internationally. If the contest was “Write a 250-word blog post about why you’d make a great intern”, media wouldn’t have looked twice. So stay on brand, but be creative and different. Keep in mind what constitutes a good story in journalism.

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4 Responses to “The pitfalls on the way to an effective contest”

  1. Reg May 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    I’d add that a good contest is driven by specific goals and outcomes, including measureables, i.e. why are you doing the contest anyway? For example, do you want to drive additional/new traffic to your website? If so by how much (what does success look like?)? Foot traffic to the store location(s)? Data/leads capture (and this one can be a boon or a waste of time — lots of ‘dummy’/irrelevant data can result if you’re not relevant)? And if you’re capturing those leads, what’s your follow up plan, e.g. a ‘lead nurturing’ program? Mentions? Tweets? PR?

    All might be worthy goals, but setting targets, and measuring them, can help determine if the spend and effort are worth the return.

    I’ve been involved on a number of contests, some great, some dogs, but some of the most successful have resulted in real, meaningful outcomes based on the targets — and in some cases some unexpected positive benefits as well.

    A contest CAN be useful and propelling in any number of ways, but it can be a colossal waste of time and money if not well thought through, beginning to end (and even beyond the end…).

  2. Shane May 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Reg. Yes, setting goals and measuring results is key.

  3. "L" May 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    In addition, contest should leave a good impression with your audience. Whether they actively partake in your contest because they love your products and this is an incentive to get more value or more of your stuff, or they find a personal benefit in being part of your campaign. A contest should really be making a connection with the customer and not just a mass giveaway/marketing campaign.

  4. Shane May 13, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Great point, L. Thanks for your comment.

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