PR TECHNIQUE: SWEEPSTAKES - They're not just fun and games.Sweepstakes can win large-scale publicity at minimal cost. KimberlyKrautter looks at how to put the pieces together

Everyone wants to be a millionaire, but unless you've got the

fastest fingers, you've got to pass the fries or at least pass your name

and address to have any chance of seeing a fat check or a trip to


Executed correctly, sweepstakes and contests offer a more substantial

engagement process with constituents than information-based


They provide a thematic conduit between media relations, special events,

point-of-purchase promotions, websites, and advertising.

It's about participation. For magazines and networks, contests can allow

the audience to feel involved in making the news. For companies like

Cover Girl cosmetics and tween retailer Limited Too, the tactic provides

consumers a more visceral experience with the brand.

"We find contests to be a great way to form lasting relationships with

consumers in a manner that is consistent with the spirit of the Cover

Girl brand," says Cover Girl manager of global external relations Cheryl


This summer, Limited Too's "Passion for Fashion" campaign invited girls

to six city malls to parade as their favorite pop stars and meet Olympic

figure skating champ Tara Lipinski. Attendees drawn at random competed

in games on stage, and the winners jetted off to a compete in a grand

finale event in Manhattan that included backstage concert passes to meet

boy band O-Town, as well as a chance to win a $2,000 wardrobe and

$5,000 scholarship.

The contest was a way of drawing the girls and their moms to view fall

fashions in time for back-to-school purchases. Celebrity elements

ensured coverage by tween magazines, and a mass of local kids onstage

lip-synching to their favorite pop songs brought out the local


"The bottom line is you're training the consumer where to buy the

product, and you are stimulating them to try it," says Lee Duffey, CEO

of Duffey Communications. "That takes a strong incentive."

Sweepstakes provide that incentive in one of three forms: contests,

"collect and win," and random draws. They are regulated by a set of

simple federal guidelines made far more complicated by state-level


According to the Federal Trade Commission, managing the elements of

prize, consideration, and chance determines whether the promotion is a

sweepstakes or an illegal lottery. The nomenclature is simple: "prize"

is something of value to be awarded, "consideration" is something of

value given up by the consumer in exchange for entry, and "chance" is

the element of randomness in awarding the prize. Often, that is where

the simplicity ends.

FTC regional director John Mendenhall says one of these three elements

has to be eliminated for the promotion to be considered a legal game -

otherwise, it's gambling. Some use the "no purchase necessary" caveat,

but determining a winner on the basis of a skill is another way to get

around the "chance" rule.

When sweepstakes require consumers to provide personal contact

information for entry, the FTC looks upon this as a quid pro quo, and

has not yet set any specific privacy guidelines dealing with the use of

that information.

"Usually, if the prize is significant enough, the consumer is willing to

give up a certain amount of privacy," says Mendenhall. However, with

sub-committee hearings set to convene on Capitol Hill, the heyday of

this loophole may be waning.

Collect-and-win games are popular with soft drink, fast food, and candy

companies. Consumers uncover food wrappers and soda caps in search of

words, letters, or codes necessary to compete for prizes. However, the

degree of difficulty in winning such games recently landed McDonald's in

PR trouble.

For the last decade, America's number-one fast-food chain partnered with

Hasbro to present the Monopoly game. Peel-off stickers on food wrappers

corresponded to a color-coded series of "real estate" on the Monopoly

game board, with escalating prizes associated with each block of real

estate. This year, distribution of game pieces was restricted to a few

select food items, none of which were part of the standard value-meal

orders, thus increasing the difficulty to collect and win. McDonald's

had even more problems when it was discovered that an employee of its

promotions firm had rigged the contest.

According to web-based consumer watchdog Planet Feedback, consumers were

less concerned about the fraud than the onerous game rules. 51%

complained about restaurants running out of cups and packages with the

game pieces, whereas only 28% addressed the scandal.

"They got creativity disease," says Duffey. "Too may cosponsors with

competing brand messages, and too restrictive an entry policy hurt


Despite the news value of some contests, it is important to remember

that the sweepstakes itself should not be the story that's pitched.

This year, Cover Girl partnered with to promote Outlast

lipstick. The contest allowed women to create personalized lipstick

"looks" online and win luxury spa vacations and shopping sprees to help

them "outlast" their daily strife.

The success of this promotion was based on the news value of the product

innovation, as well as the simple entry process. Women's magazines

covered the new product extensively, and mentioned the sweepstakes in


Consumers only had to give their contact information for entry in the

random draw.

In the end, the idea of getting something for free is the driving force

behind sweepstakes. Successful ventures are those that tap into the

psyche of the target to ascertain what he or she most desires at the

moment, and creatively associates that desire with the brand's



1. Do use a sweepstake to hype a new product or a product innovation

2. Do hire a law firm. Make sure your sweepstakes is compliant with

rules in all 50 states, or you could land your client in legal hot water

3. Do get insurance to guard against professional sweepstakes entrants

and frivolous lawsuits

1. Don't overcomplicate. Alliances help pay for prizes, but competing

brand messages can confuse

2. Don't catch creativity disease. Make your participants think, but not

too much. Entry options should be easy and well-communicated

3. Don't forget that the sweepstakes should only be one element of a


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