Strategy Session: 7 Ways to Win at Sweepstakes
I probably shouldn't be sharing this—but I've become extremely wealthy. Or at least, I will be in the very near future.
Apparently, my email address was entered, without my knowledge, in the (you pick one) U.K. Lottery Sweepstakes, the Netherlands Lottery and the Sierra Leone Grand Lottery.
Amazing and against all odds—I've won all of them.
Of course, there are still some technical details that have to be arranged, and it may require a small investment on my part. But that's the problem with sweepstakes these days-even the legitimate ones feel like scams.
Yet they remain an extremely powerful marketing tool—if they are used correctly. Let me give you some examples:
What Would You Do With $10,000?
Edgars is one of the largest department store chains in South Africa, with more than 3 million store card holders that it mails to every month.
Back when I worked with Edgars for Ogilvy & Mather, my challenge was to come up with a fresh sweepstakes (or sometimes two) each time the store mailed.
But there were a few challenges:
1. The prize had to be very modest (about $10,000 in those days). We just couldn't afford to give away too much every single month.
Sweepstakes are especially challenging these days. When you see lottery prizes of $100, $200 or even $300 million, it's much harder to get anyone excited about the dollar value of your prize.
2. The prize had to be flexible. It's no good giving away an all-expense paid, three-week vacation if the winner simply can't be away from work or her family that long.
Plus, we didn't want to have to actually book you on a trip—which would have required a lot more work than we were prepared to do. Also, we might incur liability.
If we sent you to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and you were stung by a sea wasp (the deadliest jellyfish in the world), we may be legally responsible.
3. The prize had to combine both fantasy and reality. This was an important point. If you won $10,000 in a sweepstakes, what would you do with it?
You would probably love to take a fabulous vacation, or redo your entire wardrobe, or buy a state-of-the-art 72-inch TV with DVR and a home-theater sound system.
But you'd probably end up doing the responsible, boring and grown-up thing—and pay off your credit cards, your mortgage or replace an old appliance.
However, "Announcing the $10,000 Pay Your Bills Sweepstakes" probably won't get a lot of response.
4. Finally, we had to come up with a new sweepstakes, with a fresh approach and fresh prizes, month after month.
How Would You Solve It?
Our solution was simple—but very effective. Every month, I came up with a new fantasy theme.
For example, my favorite one was "The $10,000 Great Adventures Sweepstakes." I sold the fantasy of the sweeps (which is very important), including the most exciting stock art I could find and copy that read something like this:
There are only a few Great Adventures left in today's civilized world. And now you can choose any one of them.
You can snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, and watch exotic fish of incredible colors and sizes swim right next to you.
You can travel to the Galapagos Islands—and experience amazing animal life including giant tortoises, swarms of iguanas, and sea lions and their babies.
You can spend a week on Broadway in New York City, enjoy the best seats at all the latest shows, stay in a magnificent hotel and dine in fabulous restaurants every night.
However, we didn't actually have to book any of these trips.
The winner simply received a $10,000 check from Edgars. We wished him "good luck with your great adventure!" and that was it. What he actually chose to do with the money was his business.
It was a formula that worked month after month for more than three years.
However, we also took advantage of special opportunities that came our way and turned them into sweepstakes, too.
The Leather Couch
There was a time that one of Edgars' fashion photographers purchased an exquisite Italian leather couch for one of our shoots.
Edgars didn't sell couches, and it didn't know what to do with it afterward. So Edgars asked me to include it in one of our sweepstakes: "How Would You Like To Win ... A Couch?"
"Win a couch" didn't seem very exciting to me-unless you needed one and had very specific tastes, so the challenge was to make it more interesting.
I trimmed the photograph, so it only showed a small, hard-to-identify section of the couch and called the sweepstakes "You Tell Us."
The copy read something like:
Edgars' top photographer took a photograph of our top prize-but he may have been too close. You tell us what he was shooting at-and you could be a winner.
I also included a few obscure clues in the copy. It was a tremendously successful promotion, and I learned an important lesson that I'll share with you at the end of this article.
Our Most Successful Sweepstakes
One holiday season, we came up with the idea of "Edgars Will Wipe Your Account Clean." We promised to take 100 card holders and simply cancel all the outstanding charges on their bills if they won.
Besides being a highly popular sweepstakes—it had an unintended effect that none of us could have predicted.
In the weeks while the sweepstakes ran, people spent more on their Edgars store cards than they ever had in the past-boosting store revenues by millions of dollars.
The reason: Imagine how you'd feel if you won the sweepstakes, and you only owed Edgars $17.25?
So people spent more, with the hope of winning more. This became our most successful sweepstakes and one of the only ones we repeated (by popular demand) year after year. Some credit card companies have copied this, but I don't think it's ever worked well for them. I think it's because we were working in a smaller market, and people really thought they had a good chance to win.
7 Ways to Win at Sweepstakes
The examples I've used were all business-to-consumer, but we've had good success with business-to-business sweepstakes, too. My sweepstakes experience also includes being a actual prize.
When I did a series of seminars for Australia Post in 2008, registrants could win "Alan Rosenspan in your Boardroom for 2 hours."
I assume second prize was four hours.
Here's what I've learned about sweepstakes and how to make them work as effectively as possible.
1. Sweepstakes are all about fantasy. The prizes have to be above and beyond the ordinary, preferably something that money can't buy.
When we did a sweepstakes for Quaker, the grand prize was a free trip to Hollywood. But that's something anyone can get on her own.
So we included a few extras you couldn't get—including having breakfast on the set of the most popular TV show at the time, and meeting the actors and crew. We called it "The Best Seats in the House" sweepstakes.
2. Sweepstakes need an exciting theme. One of the sweepstakes I did that failed was for Scotts LawnService. It was called "The Great Outdoors Sweepstakes," and we offered $10,000 to spend on anything for outside your home.
I guess the idea of new lawn furniture or a great grill just didn't excite people.
3. Sweepstakes need to seem "winnable." That's why modest prizes often work better than more expensive prizes-people have to feel they really have a chance to win in order for them to take part.
For the same reason, multiple winners always outpull just one winner.
4. Sweepstakes benefit from involvement devices. If all I have to do is enter, then I assume everyone will. If I have to solve a simple problem, guess at a prize, or even remove a sticker and see if I've won, I will be more intrigued.
By the way, there are also legal benefits to doing this. Making people actually do something turns a sweepstakes into a "competition," which is usually easier to get approved.
5. Sweepstakes are all about credibility. I have to believe that I can win, that others have already won and that all prizes will be awarded.
If you're doing more than one sweepstakes, it always helps to list previous winners on your website, or even in your promotion.
6. Sweepstakes prizes need to be personal. I have never seen a business-to-business sweepstakes succeed, unless the winning prize was personal rather than for the business.
The only exception is for small businesses, where the owner benefited.
7. Don't forget your customers. Many companies use sweepstakes to attract new customers. There's nothing wrong with that.
However, I would strongly recommend that you include your existing customers, and let them know about it. So instead of (A) not being able to enter, which they'll resent, or (B) having to enter just like everyone else, why not make them feel special and enter them automatically?
The Hidden Benefit of Sweepstakes
Finally, there's a hidden benefit of sweepstakes that make them even more appealing—especially in this economy.
They are a great way to control your fulfillment costs. No matter how many people respond, your costs are about the same. If you are giving away the latest Apple laptop, and 50 people enter, you are giving away an Apple laptop.
If 5,000 people enter, you are still just giving away an Apple laptop.
On the other hand, if you are offering a premium, your costs can go up quite dramatically, if responses go up. That may be fine with you-but it's worth considering. I hope this article has been helpful to you, but I really have to get back to my email. I have a really good feeling about my chances.
Alan Rosenspan is president of Alan Rosenspan & Associates, a direct marketing consulting and creative firm. For additional articles and a free newsletter, please visit www.alanrosenspan.com.