Over the course of my 12-year career in marketing, I’ve created, executed and publicized a number of consumer promotions. Most of them are digital, these days. Clients often ask me if promotions are worth it. “Are we getting the right type of consumer to participate,” they wonder. They want to know if promotions have a positive impact on their brand and their business. While it is hard to directly attribute sales revenue to a digital promotion, I wanted to address this question by showing “how” promotions are carried out matters.

While I consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about creating promotions, I must admit I that don’t consider myself one likely to actually enter sweepstakes. To see what promotions are like for those on the other side, I set out and spent a week behaving like a “sweepstaker” – entering as many CPG promotions as I could find. In turn, what I learned is that the quality of the promotion general equates to my perception of the brand. Here is a recap of my journey and what I learned along the way.

Where to begin, where to begin?! Without a coach, I decided to turn to Google to determine the best way to become a sweepstaker and I landed on About.com. The site has a whole section dedicated to Contests, Sweepstakes and Lotteries. There are lotteries!? This is awesome! The suggested first step is to figure out what information I’m willing to share on an entry form – including what email address I will use. The experts say that it’s best to have an email address dedicated just for promotions. Step One – Done!

Next, About.com advises signing up for Roboform. It’s an online tool that saves your password and additional information for easy contest entry. I skipped this step, but it’s good to know this tool exists!

Once the administrative stuff was out of the way, the pros recommend creating a contest strategy! Who knew this was going to be so formal? My strategy is to enter 25 Instant Win Games created by consumer packaged goods companies. After scouring popular coupon sites, I realized that September is not a great season for Instant Win Games. Summer is over, the back-to-school promo period is done and it’s too early for the holidays. Two hours later, I settled on a list of about 15 Instant Win Games and decided to enter each daily for a week.

Now that my journey is over, I wouldn’t consider myself a pro, but I have a few key takeaways for CPG companies planning IWG (that’s what we in the biz call Instant Win Games).

  • Prizes, Prizes, Prizes: Be sure to clearly state what prizes are available. That might seem like an IWG-101 statement, but it was often difficult to tell what I was actually entering to win on several websites. Clear copy is important. And make sure that your prizes offer a good value. Consumers have an ROI goal as well. For instance, I skipped a promo that was a lot of work to enter when I realize all I could win was a $5 gift card. Consider giving everyone a “backup prize.” A brand coupon will do. I loved that the Go Reese’s promotion offered us “losers” a 15% off coupon code for Fanatics.com to purchase sports apparel – which was in line with the promotion’s theme.
  • Make it Fun! Fun equates to positive brand engagement time. Boring results in a negative brand experience that halos to the actual brand and product. So, it is important to do it right. For instance, one game I encountered was called “Closet Shuffle Instant Win Game.” After playing a few memory-style matching games, I expected the closet game would involve matching outfits. I was disappointed when I just hit a button and clothes on a rack separated and told me I wasn’t a winner. Use the Instant Win Game as a way to take consumers through a story that matches your larger campaign idea. To enter the Keurig Perfect Cup Sweepstakes, you select a pod and a digital Keurig machine brews your “perfect cup” to tell you if you are a winner. I also LOVED the Banquet’s Meal of Fortune promotion. The online game is tied to a bigger integration that brand is running with the show Wheel of Fortune. The online Banquet experience is an actual game of Wheel of Fortune and consumers can get extra plays with a code from the TV show.
  • Encourage Purchase: Anyone can enter the Cheetos Project TP promotion but you get another entry if you add the numbers from the barcode on the product package. In past promotions for our clients, we’ve seen an average of 11% of unique entries come from on pack codes.
  • People Don’t Read The Rules: Don’t expect consumers to read the rules. Prepare for questions! Anticipate that consumers will reach out to your brand on social media sites and to customer service to ask questions and make sure everyone is prepared with answers. Consider adding a “Contact Us” form to the promotion website. I only read the rules on one promotion because I was directed to the legal jargon to find out how to receive a free code to enter. Based on our experience, we’ve found that sending a registration confirmation email can also help cut back on questions.
  • Contesters Are Smart… and they Network with Each Other: I used several popular contest and coupon websites to search for Instant Win Games. It became very clear that these people know what they are doing. They read the rules for consumers like me and summarize the promo end date, prizes and entry frequency. Many sites also have community message boards where people discuss promos, share game codes and comment if they have won the promo and if they have received their prize. On several boards, I saw that consumers had questions so they would reach to the brand and then paste the brands response. If you are part of the team running the promotion, be sure to be consistent with your responses knowing that people can and will share your response! Your promotion and how you interact with consumers matters.
  • Avoid Long Promotions: When I found out that I didn’t win several games, I was happy to be entered for a chance to win the grand prize. Until I found out that some promotions are running for a year! A YEAR! In looking at past promotions we’ve worked on for clients, we have seen that shorter promotional periods and daily giveaways resulted in more unique promotion registrations. In fact, a promotion that ran for one month had four times the unique promotion registrations than two promotions that were more than three months.

Perhaps the biggest learning for me after spending a week as a sweepstaker is that I really do feel a deeper emotional connection to the brands whose promotions I entered. This comes back to a major point – a fun promotional experience equates to positive brand interaction time. This time helps build long-term brand equity. I ended up spending real time with each brand and, as a result, would consider buying each company’s products. In fact, I actually did buy one brand that I don’t normally purchase this past weekend – all because they had invited me to “play.” Ultimately, I believe that promotions should not be the focal point of a campaign, but they have a role to play in the marketing ecosystem and help foster relationships with consumers due to the deeper experience they afford. Done right – they help build the brand.

I now understand why people can get into being a sweepstaker. It’s fun. And it can pay out. And you learn a lot about the brands you are interacting with. While I wasn’t an instant winner this time, I’m still holding out for some great grand prizes (fingers crossed).

And, hopefully, what I learned about entering promotions can help you develop a winning strategy for your next great promotional idea!

Brandi Smith
Brandi Smith
Senior Social-Digital Strategist

A strategic communications professional with 10+ years of experience, Brandi has managed a plethora of award-winning public relations and social media campaigns on behalf of CPG brands. With an emphasis on consumer lifestyle, food, beverage and fashion clients, Brandi specializes in leading the integrated planning and execution of brand management strategies designed to generate both consumer awareness and engagement. Throughout her career, Brandi has served clients such as Kellogg’s, Kimberly-Clark, Jim Beam and White Wave Foods while employed at Ketchum.

After living in Chicago for a number of years, Brandi returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh. She holds a B.S. in Public Relations with a second concentration in Sport Management from West Virginia University.