Winning may not be everything, but trying to win sure is an undeniable force. Everybody loves a winner, because everybody loves to win. That’s what keeps consumers entering games, contests, and sweepstakes at a dizzying rate, and what compels all types of marketers to continue dreaming up new and enticing ones.
Money – cold, hard cash – is still the top prize, no matter how astronomical the odds. You know darn well that every time one of those Publisher’s Clearing House ads runs on TV, folks all over America are peeking out their windows to see if the prize van is driving down their street with a big, fat check. Don’t tell them their chances are, like, one in 200 million. Or how about those gazillion-dollar lotteries and Powerball games, with people lined up around the block to buy tickets the night before the drawing. They’ve got a better chance of getting on the national news live with Tom Brokaw while he’s reporting on the latest frenzy. And the proliferation of casinos is hardly lost on promotion specialists. They know that as never before we’ve become a nation of gamblers.
Of course, this is no great revelation, is it? What’s different today are all the ways and means of baiting the hooks. Technology is enabling marketers to do things they only dreamt of until now. So while there’s nothing necessarily revolutionary about a manufacturer and a retailer teaming up on a Labor Day sweepstakes to build a brand and drive traffic into a store, the possible methods of doing it have never been greater.
“We have found that retailers are adding strategic components to their promotions,” says Chris Sutherland, vp of corporate marketing, Aspen Marketing Group. The Evergreen, CO-based agency’s Schmidt Cannon International division specializes in retail promotions. “They’re doing things like capturing demographic or psychographic data by using sweepstakes. What’s new is that they are doing it. They may have thought of it 30 years ago, but then they only had a stack of [paper] entries. Now, with bar coding and electronic sweepstakes, things can happen to make it feasible to collect and analyze information.”
The Internet is a prime ingredient in the new high-tech mix, though not the Net as we may have known it. While everybody rushed to launch a Web site during the past few years, sometimes pumping millions of dollars into lavish ones without any tangible returns, now companies are actually doing things with their sites. Some marketers are running games, contests, and sweeps that can only be entered via a Web site – such as Snap!, a new Web browser, and Music Boulevard, which sells CDs exclusively on the Net – while others are using sites as an adjunct to more traditional methods of entry. For example, Nabisco is promoting its Air Crisps crackers with a sweepstakes to win trips to see either Blues Traveler or Lisa Loeb in concert. Customers can enter on the Net and by purchasing the products.
“There is a greater movement to online promotions,” says Paul Goldman, executive vp of Marden-Kane, Manhasset, NY, “but not because of the Internet itself.” In developing promotions for its Fortune 500 clients, including Xerox, IBM, Nabisco, and Campbell, “the online program just becomes an extension to the mainstream. It becomes one more facet. Where there has been TV, print, point-of-sale, and radio, now there is the Internet, too.”
Technology is manifesting itself in the winning business in other ways, too. Liazon Marketing, headquartered in Newtown, CT, is utilizing creative printing techniques for clients such as Primestar and Alamo Rent A Car. “What we can do today in the area of chance promotion using new technology is just remarkable,” says Liazon’s Mike Casale.
For example, Primestar, the satellite TV provider, was looking for a way to let its customers know that the service was being upgraded to 160 channels from 95 in a single day. “They were concerned about customer confusion,” Casale says. “So we developed a [scratch-off] game card that looked like a remote control to educate consumers about the change.” While the clever card, stuffed into billing envelopes, advised customers about Primestar’s switch, it also offered a chance to win a family vacation to Disney World.
Another trend in the games, contests, and sweepstakes arena is an emphasis by manufacturers to build brands rather than simply promote awareness for them. “Brand building is a key objective, though awareness is still important,” says Tom Conlon, coo of D.L. Blair, the Garden City, NY, agency that is one of the nation’s largest sweeps planners. Historically, such promotions would be designed solely to call attention to a brand, Conlon contends, but now that goal is often secondary or even tertiary. Building volume is essential.
Souper promo That was the primary goal Campbell set with a novel in-store, instant-win sweepstakes conducted last spring in conjunction with 135 Pathmark supermarkets and Catalina Marketing. “We were looking for a program that would encompass the entire Campbell brand,” says George Harris, a senior account executive for the company. Execs hoped the sweepstakes would also increase brand awareness by encouraging consumers to shop the entire store.
The two-week promotion kicked off with a half-page circular ad from Pathmark that offered consumers a chance to instantly win prizes by purchasing any three Campbell brands, soups as well as Franco American and Prego products. At checkout, when the items were scanned on Catalina’s instant-coupon equipment, shoppers were automatically entered to win prizes ranging from the grand prize of a $7,500 Pathmark gift certificate to point-of-sale, cents-off coupons. That way, Harris maintains, everyone was a winner. “Pathmark was very pleased with the results,” says Rich Savner, director of public relations for Pathmark. This was a first for the supermarket chain, he adds.
Although the prizes weren’t huge, the structure of the Campbell-Pathmark sweepstakes plays into the current mindset of consumers who merely want to win something. “There is a better understanding on the part of marketers that consumers are looking for the fun and involvement of games, contests, and sweepstakes, of playing them and the prize payoff,” says Jeff McElnea, president of Einson Freeman, Paramus, NJ. “While cash is still king, it’s more intriguing if there is a dream experience. That comes from a sharper understanding of the consumer needing more gratification and dream value.”
Recent examples of those types of promotions include the outrageous X Prize, a contest offering $10 million to the first private group to successfully launch a spacecraft into sub-orbit, as well as a tie-in consumer sweepstakes to win a ride on the vessel (see box on p.58); Triarc Beverages’ “Win Nothing Instantly” Snapple game; and the expanded repeat of last summer’s Coca-Cola ATM MasterCard Card instant-cash contest.
“The whole gaming area is unique and has to be executed carefully to have its impact,” says Shelley Rosen, senior vp of Simon Marketing, a division of Gloucester, MA-based Cyrk-Simon Worldwide. “I have always felt that innovation is linked to consumer relevance. What’s on the minds of consumers? Everybody needs a break, to feel like they’re escaping.” But she adds that, at themoment of truth, the consumer has to think “I can win. It could be me.”
A combination of excitement, innovation, and ease of entry is what Rosen admires in the Coke-MasterCard game, which offers consumers the chance to win more than 2.2 million cards, carrying cash values of $20, $40, and $100, with the purchase of specific Coke products. (Internet watchers might note that Coca-Cola, one of those companies that initially invested a small fortune into a glitzy Web site, now has a much more subdued one, where you can’t enter the ATM promotion, but can learn more about it.) “It’s exciting because of the instant accessibility,” she says. “The reality is that unless a [gaming promotion] is interesting to a consumer, it’s not worth the investment.”
Creating excitement for products and services is no longer the objective of packaged goods manufacturers only, says Bernie Miller III, president of Columbian Advertising in Chicago. The agency’s clients include financial services and retailers, such as Sears, Roebuck and Wachovia. “Just recently, we do see that we have several of these types of programs on our radar screen. I think that everybody out there is looking for ways to add value from a marketing standpoint.”
And if you think that axiom holds true today, just wait until this time next year when the promotion world will be in an unprecedented tizzy trying to come up with ways to latch onto the new millennium. Every tried-and-true trick in the book will be hauled out, and innovators will be wracking their brains for more twists.
Keep this in mind, though, says McElnea, when looking ahead. “It’s important that promotion innovators think in terms of all media, terrestrial and cyber, and the connection of those media, so the consumer is passed from their computer to TV to bus shelters to point-of-purchase.”
Even if winning is probably a primordial desire, it’s always a brave new world out there when coming up with ways to get the job done.
While American Family Publishers continues to mail millions of magazine subscription solicitations with alluring sweepstakes announcements, legal action to change their promotional practices continues.
As reported in the May issue of promo, Florida, Connecticut, and Indiana had filed suits against AFP, its spokesmen Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, and TCS, claiming that AFP mailings violate various state laws. Paramount in the actions were that AFP misled recipients into believing they had won upwards of $11 million sweepstakes prizes, and that by subscribing to magazines their chances of winning would be better.
Now attorneys general for two more states, West Virginia and South Carolina, have filed similar suits. “Ed McMahon and Dick Clark have filed motions asking that their charges be dismissed, claiming they are not directly responsible,” Tom Landess, public information officer for South Carolina AG Charlie Condon, told promo in mid-July. “We are waiting for response from AFP. They haven’t stonewalled us. We have a discovery process underway.”
Stonewalling by AFP, however, seems to be the operative phrase in the other states’ actions. “At the beginning, we talked to attorneys for AFP and told them the main thing we were interested in was a customer list [of people receiving AFP mailings],” says Barbara Allen, managing deputy AG for West Virginia. “They have refused. The discovery [process we are working on] will be a tooth-pulling process. I understand other states are experiencing stonewalling.”
“They are stonewalling in not producing records of how much money people have spent to buy magazines,” asserts Gary Betz, special counsel to Florida AG Bob Butterworth. “It’s my opinion that they must have a lot to hide.”
At presstime, AFP had not responded to queries from promo.
Each of the states’ suits seek restitution and fines for individual violations, which, considering the millions of mailings, would amount to billions of dollars. Meanwhile, any number of class-action suits have also been fil ed. Together, the actions could conceivably bankrupt AFP, or at least lead to a protracted legal entanglement. In the meantime, the mailings continue.
Although these attorneys generals are serious about taking on AFP, what they really want is for AFP to stop misleading people, especially those most likely to be confused by the solicitations. “We’re always agreeable to a settlement rather than a trial,” says Betz, “but there has been no discussion [by AFP] with Florida about any settlement. Like [other states], we want restitution and a big fine. We’re not into writing the documents. They know what’s deceptive. I don’t think they have to sell their magazines this way.”
That sentiment is echoed by both Allen and Landess. “We’d like to see AFP dramatically change its promotional material,” says Allen. “Tying in sweepstakes and getting people to buy magazines is a bad setup. There are ways to do it that would avoid scrutiny.”
Says Landess of South Carolina: “Our primary purpose is to prevent this company from preying on the elderly and the disadvantaged to the degree that they are hoodwinked into buying things they can’t afford.”
Now here’s a high-flying contest. Be the first one to launch your own spacecraft, with at least one human passenger aboard, to a minimum altitude of 62 miles, then return to Earth – and do it twice within two weeks. The reward for your sub-orbital venture: $10 million.
It’s called the X Prize, established by a nonprofit foundation in May 1996 as a way to encourage privately funded space tourism and commercial travel. The X stands for a number of things, including past eXperimental aircraft, such as the X-15, eXploration, and even the Roman numeral X, as in $10 million.
But wait, before you rush out to the garage and start cannibalizing the lawnmower for parts, consider the less technical, if still out-of-this-world component of one of the most unusual promotions ever. By applying for X Prize Platinum Visa cards offered by First USA, consumers will be entered in the Your Ticket To Space Sweepstakes to win a grand prize that would make even John Glenn envious: a ride in the winning vessel.
“This is not just some kooky thing. It’s going to happen,” says Steve Werner, director of communications for the X Prize Foundation, located in St. Louis, referring to the aviation competition. “We’re way ahead of schedule, with 15 teams from around the world competing.”
Werner expects tests of some of the crafts to begin as early as this fall, with the first launches blasting off by 2000. Realistically, he doesn’t anticipate a successful sub-orbital flight for another six or seven years.
Much more predictable is the Visa sweepstakes, which besides the space flight (or $100,000 if the winner chickens out), will award nearly 1,000 prizes annually for up to the next 10 years, or until the X Prize is won. Every time one of the six different X Prize cards is used, the cardholder is entered in the sweepstakes, which will hold drawings every three months beginning in September. Each drawing will feature a first prize including a flight on a MIG 25 jet, plus more than 200 other prizes, ranging from a telescope to a NASA cap. The sweepstakes can also be entered once by calling 1-877-U2-SPACE or through the X Prize Web site at www.xprize.org. First USA is soliciting card applications through direct mail and special events.
Outrageous as the X Prize may seem, the foundation modeled it after similar aviation competitions dating as far back as 1904. Indeed, for making the first transatlantic flight in 1927, Charles Lindbergh was awarded the $25,000 Orteig Prize, offered in 1919 by Raymond Orteig, a New York hotel owner.
OK, back to the garage.