A winner every time

'Wow!' That's the jaw-drop response any marketer should be going for when concocting the kind of breakthrough contests that are fast becoming a key element in promotional strategies. In fact, some argue that contests are actually edging out some of the more routine premiums and incentives programs.

‘Wow!’ That’s the jaw-drop response any marketer should be going for when concocting the kind of breakthrough contests that are fast becoming a key element in promotional strategies. In fact, some argue that contests are actually edging out some of the more routine premiums and incentives programs.

‘There will always be people who enthusiastically clip coupons,’ says Josh Cobden, VP of Toronto-based Environics Communications. ‘But the elusive young adults with money, [whom] so many marketers are trying to reach, are bombarded by offers of every kind. So to get them to stop and take notice, the message and the offer have to capture their imagination by being truly innovative.’

And that’s why ‘contests are the fastest growing part of the marketing discipline,’ says Tony Chapman, president of Toronto’s Capital C Communications. ‘They have the ability to excite consumers, excite a sales force, sell incredible volume and build brand equity – and that’s the sweet spot every marketer dreams about.’

Lisa Leach agrees. As VP of sales and client services at Marco Sales & Incentives of Paris, Ont., she says she’s seeing such ‘a significant move toward [running] contests, especially in the past 18 months,’ that her company is now working on more than 500 of them annually.

All this makes sense to Claire Rosenzweig. As president of the New York City-based Promotion Marketing Association (PMA), she characterizes sweepstakes-style contests as ‘a very dynamic and effective promotional tool…that creates excitement and anticipation around a brand.’

According to Rosenzweig’s data, Internet-based efforts are the fastest-proliferating facet of contests – increasing by 18% over the past year. ‘This doesn’t surprise me,’ she says, ‘because that one-to-one online interaction between the consumer and the brand is so effective. Everybody loves to win and, with interactive [contests], there’s the potential for doing so instantly.’

So what does it take to prompt big wows, drooling consumers and jet-propelled brand awareness? Big bucks or big imagination, together with fantasy prizes that can’t be bought in any store.

Big bucks

In the lotsa loot category, excitement was a dead-bang certainty when HGTV dangled the chance to win, and help design, a fully furnished $900,000 dream home. Or when Labatt offered a top-of-the-line cottage. Or when Hallmark and Weall & Cullen celebrated this Mother’s Day with a contest whose winner’s back yard was personally designed by gardening guru Mark Cullen. And wild enthusiasm will be a given this November, when KFC’s Chicken Scratch II contest awards a whopping $1 million each to its top five winners.

Big imagination

But big budgets are by no means the only way to create big wows, as attested to in the round-up of cool contests on page 20.

Dunlop Tires, for example, managed to prompt a phenomenal flood of media hits with its controversial ‘Tired of Your Name’ contest this spring, even though the prize was a measly $25,000, to be shared by an initially undetermined number of winners. In the end, four Canadians whose surname is ‘Dunlop’ won $6,250 each by legally changing their names to ‘Dunlop-Tire.’

‘It was a grand slam for the client in terms of publicity and that was the objective,’ explains Environics’ Cobden, ‘because the Dunlop brand had virtually fallen off the radar in the last 20 years and we were hired to launch a brand awareness campaign to change that.

‘With this goofy contest, we ended up with coverage on everything from CNN, BBC, Canadian Press, Reuters, Broadcast News, National Public Radio to hundreds of others. Conan O’Brien mentioned the contest in a monologue, the Globe and Mail did an editorial, Adbusters [magazine] and academics weighed in, and there were numerous letters to the editor. An MPP named Garfield Dunlop even issued a statement saying he would not change his name.’

With a similarly modest budget, says Cobden, Telesat Canada attracted widespread media coverage and some 35,000 entries in a contest whose prize was not money but celestial immortality. It was the opportunity to name the company’s first direct-to-home satellite and to have the winner’s own name painted on it as well. ‘It was a low-cost prize from the client’s end, but one no other organization could offer.’

So contests can be as old-fashioned as the ‘Ms. Washington Apple’ beauty competition launched throughout the Far East last year by fruit marketers in Washington state to increase their market share in that lucrative region. Or they can be as up-to-the-minute as tapping into the currently prevailing Wrestlemania, which Frito-Lay did by offering up a VIP pass that included the chance to walk a favourite wrestler into the ring at a top match.

Pushing the buttons

But whatever style a marketer chooses, the psychological buttons to hit are identical. Quite simply, they are the dreams, desires and aspirations of the targeted consumers.

A good example of this is the ‘Famous Auditions’ contest staged at Famous Players cinemas this summer. The logic was that people who love movies would also love starring in one, says the chain’s VP of corporate communications, Nuria Bronfman.

She says that some 10,000 people entered the contest, either online or by turning up to strut their stuff for video cameras set up on Hollywood-style sets across Canada. Many were elaborately costumed and all quoted their favourite lines from movies as disparate as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Dude, Where’s My Car? Although the winner of the grand prize – a trip to Los Angeles and a starring role in Famous Players’ next radio commercial – was actually to be chosen by a ballot draw, participants gave their best performances because their videos were to be screened by casting directors.

Famous Players chose not to hook up with a lot of strategic partners for its auditions contest, but many other marketers are finding strength in numbers – leveraging each other’s equity to concoct and showcase imagination-grabbing contests.

HGTV’s dream home was one of the most multi-partnered contests to date, teaming the network with General Motors (which kicked in a Buick Rendezvous) and furnishing suppliers including Bassett Furniture, Bissell, Hunter Douglas, MasterBrand, Office Depot, Owens Corning and Whirlpool.

Why do it?

So much for the ‘how’ of sponsoring contests. The ‘why’ should be as constant as it is obvious, say top marketers including Coca-Cola Canada’s Joanne DeVisser, national brands promotion and innovation manager.

‘Whatever you decide to do and whatever prizes you give out must make sense for the brand and be consistent with what your brand stands for.’

DeVisser cites her company’s ongoing Web auction, and especially the top prizes, for which Coke owns the exclusive rights, as an example. Consumers bid with the 100-point credits they obtain from behind every label, so the more products they buy, the more credits they have to bid with. Then the cumulative grand prizes for the top bidders are such Coke-exclusive treats as trips to European events like a DJ rave party in Spain and the world’s biggest street party in Switzerland.

Another example of creating a contest that effectively complements a client’s brand character is the ‘Ultimate Road Trip’ designed for Molson Canada by Toronto’s Encore Encore Strategic Marketing, says Encore VP and partner Rick Shaver. Nirvana for hockey nuts, the top winner and three buddies will be flown to all six games of next season’s NHL playoffs, with deluxe accommodations, limousines and VIP arena passes. ‘What could be more relevant and compelling than that for Molson Canadian beer consumers?’ asks Shaver.

All in all, say the breakthrough contest experts, if handled correctly, the real grand prize winner of any contest will be the marketer that sponsors it.

Creative contests that broke through

* Just this week, the wizards at Coca-Cola flew young contest winners to England for a Harry Potter-style adventure at a castle redesigned as a dead ringer for Hogwarts.

* Hallmark celebrated this Mother’s Day with a contest whose prize was the privilege of conferring mum’s name on a new species of rose.

* To promote its Viva laundry detergent, German manufacturer Henkel is currently offering a winner the chance to appear on La Otra, Mexico’s top soap opera.

* In the ‘Many Happy Returns’ sweeps, Valpak and H&R Block paid a U.S. winner’s federal income taxes for a year.

* Meow Mix currently has a contest whose top prize is the chance to become the voice of a star feline character on Meow TV, a half-hour U.S. cable show that will feature ‘squirrels, bouncing balls, little fish swimming by, and all the things that cats love to watch.’

* Loews Cineplex Entertainment, Coca-Cola and Entertainment Weekly magazine are offering director wannabes the chance to make a 30-second movie trailer to be shown on all 1,400 of Loews’ U.S. screens.

* Stock market aficionados vied for the grand prize of a $200,000 E*Trade account in a contest sponsored last fall by Canada Dry and E*Trade Canada.

* The aspiring TV star whose two-minute, weather-related video is judged the best will win a reporting stint on the U.S. Weather Channel’s Atmospheres show, including filming in an exotic location.

* The winner of a best essay contest will become the first consumer to drive the pace car at the next Indy 500, thanks to General Motors, which is running the contest to showcase its Olds Bravada, which the winner will wheel around the race track.

* An aspiring comedian won a chance to hit the comedy circuit and perform on stage with Janeane Garofolo, courtesy of Cool Mint Listerine and the Icast Comedy Web site.

* A Michigan family chosen as ‘the Flintstones of technology’ won an ‘e-makeover’ from Dell Computers.

* Last Christmas, Sears USA promoted its gift cards by staging ‘The Funniest Gift You Ever Returned’ contest, with not only a top prize of $5,000 but a $1 donation to the American Red Cross for each entry.

* Taking penultimate best contest status, over the upcoming Labour Day weekend, the winner of a MuchMusic contest will host a taping of an Ed the Sock show at his or her cottage.

* And, finally, the winner of Strategy’s impromptu ‘Wacky Wow Award’ is the recent ‘Messiest Eater Contest,’ which offered $25,000 for the grossest video of a baby chowing down. The sponsor, logically enough, was Pampers’ disposable bibs.

Tips for creating killer contests

* Choose grand prizes that not only spark wish fulfilment fantasies, but which only your company is capable of conferring. Paramount Studios did both by promoting the Titanic premiere with a contest offering winners the chance to dive to the actual shipwreck site in the mini-submarine featured in the film.

* Give consumers a decent chance of winning, rather than creating ill will with one-in-a-gazillion odds.

* Build in an engaging media component to drive consumer awareness and generate publicity for your brand.

* Plop your company name into the contest moniker to ensure that whenever your contest is mentioned, so is your company.

* Put together strategic partnerships, co-brand your contest and leverage each other’s equity.

* For online contests, build in elements that require contestants to keep returning to your Web site and buying more of your products to maintain their eligibility.

* Make sure your contest rules are clear and unambiguous. Macy’s found this out the hard way a few years ago when the department store chain was sued by the winner of a contest that seemed to guarantee a young girl the chance to play the title role in Annie on Broadway, but wound up only awarding an audition for the part.

* Lock in the fulfilment of your prizes as early as possible, and have them pre-booked or waiting in a warehouse.

* If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, stick with a successful contest as long as it keeps producing the desired results. Research contends that marketers get bored far faster than consumers do.