Companies betting on online competitions to aid visibility

Mark Osmun, PR director for Murphy-Goode Winery, recently discovered the payoff for stirring consumers' competitive - and creative - spirit.

Mark Osmun, PR director for Murphy-Goode Winery, recently discovered the payoff for stirring consumers' competitive – and creative – spirit. Earlier this year, Osmun crafted the “Really Goode Job” campaign that invited users to submit 60-second videos on why they should be considered for a newly created “lifestyle correspondent” position at the winery.

“Before the campaign, most people hadn't heard of us,” he recalls. “But we were able to define our brand through this.”

Since Tourism Queensland launched its popular “Best Job in the World” competition earlier this year, other companies, like Murphy-Goode, have piggybacked onto its success. It's not just “best job” contests that are rising, it's nearly all user-generated competitions, says Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research. According to a Forrester study from July, more than 20% of interactive marketers – including category leaders like Procter & Gamble, Nike, Coca-Cola, and Sony – have recently run campaigns asking for online content related to competitions.

This sudden saturation of user-generated contests has tempered the media's interest in covering them, but as long as clients keep realistic expectations about the number of contests taking place, these efforts frequently find niche success, Elliot adds.

“The number of entries alone shouldn't be the success metric, and I'm not sure it's even the best metric,” he says. “It's hard for a contest to succeed without a decent number of entries, but there's not a big difference between getting 200 or 2,000. You need to measure the reach of the videos and how much people are promoting them.”

Osmun says the Murphy-Goode campaign garnered about 2,000 entries and about $19 million worth of advertising through its 833 million media impressions. Most contests averaged less than 200 submissions, according to Forrester. Also, main-stream media outlets rarely report on contests, unless they are innovative or novel, or get a massive consumer response – leading to a chicken-or-egg dilemma.

“The media wants to hear about big outpourings,” says Randall Kirsch, a managing partner for Jackson Spalding. “And they want to see people interested. This participation will drive their interest.”

Building momentum
Last year, Kirsch spearheaded the “The Next Gretsch Greats” promotion for Gretsch Guitars & Drums. The campaign asked unsigned bands to upload their videos to MySpace to be voted on. The winners got musical equipment and a chance to perform live with established bands. Kirsch points out that, even without traditional publicity, these contests feed on themselves and build unexpected momentum.

“It was like we had 900 little PR firms working for us for free,” Kirsch adds. “They were driving people to the Web site.”

Aimee Grove, VP at Allison & Partners, says most of her clients are interested in consumer-generated contests. But she says duplicate campaigns won't gain traction, and instead advises clients to develop an original premise or invest in paid advertising.

“People think it's really cheap and easy,” Grove says. “Everybody sees one type of contest that was successful and everybody else wants to do something just like that. But it's not going to work if it's just copycat.”

Her agency achieved decent results with a recent YouTube jingle contest it created for Duke's Mayonnaise to help the brand's foray into social media become better known. The effort garnered 7 million impressions, about 400,000 votes, and 530 views on YouTube. While the results were moderate, she says they exceeded Duke's expectations.

“Duke's already had a cult following, so we could just build on that,” Grove says. “And there was some controversy about one of the contestants, so that meant more publicity.”

Forrester's Elliot adds, “These contests are a good way for companies to ease into social media because they can select finalists and just post those videos. They can also screen submissions pretty well. It really gives them control.”

LESSER-KNOWN VIDEO CONTESTS THAT WORKED

Access Group
The student loan provider conducted a “One Less Worry” video scholarship contest, asking law students to submit videos of their greatest worries about graduate school

CareerBuilder
Its “Vent Your Way to a Getaway” invited users to submit videos of themselves ranting about their jobs in order to win a getaway

Nestlé Butterfinger
Recently launched “Nobody's Going to Lay a Finger on my Butterfinger” contest, asking users to submit videos demonstrating how far they would go to protect their Butterfinger bars

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