This month’s cover story reports that sweepstakes are hotter than ever, up at least 15 percent, according to the fulfillment executives who mail out the prizes and should know. That hits us as a shocker. In a techno-charged age that finds us on the verge of making one-to-one marketing a reality, how can it be that consumers still slobber over an offer in which they have a one-in-10 million chance of winning a single “Grand Prize” – a term equal to “Holy Grail” in connotations of attainability.
But perhaps we misread the trends. Maybe this is prime time for sweepstakes. So many people today are making so much money on so many seemingly superfluous things. If, two years ago, you had taken a stock market flier on Trashcan.com, you could be among the New Millionaires today.
Of course, it isn’t that easy. There’s still the usual small percentage of smart, forward-thinking, and connected people making billions, and the rest of us grandeur- deluded Ralph Kramdens are still looking for the one, big score. And so people put half their paychecks into Powerball tickets, let their savings ride on penny stocks – and play sweepstakes. And heck, sweepstakes are free; you don’t even have to buy the stupid product to enter.
On page 8 of this issue you’ll find letters from professional sweepers reacting to an article we ran in June that gauged their effect on sweepstakes promotions. One woman wrote, “… this is an expensive hobby, so I enter only the sweeps with the big prizes.” That’s something to keep in mind when designing a sweepstakes – for the casual entrant or the habitual hobbyist. If your grand prize doesn’t conjure up consumer images of the Big Score or the Big Splash, go put your funds into FSIs.
Stuck for a sweeps idea? Here’s a few that hitch themselves to three of humankind’s most basic desires: wealth, fame, and power.
The Microsoft City of Millionaires contest. The latest tally on the personal fortune of Bill Gates is $90 billion. That’s more than a small town can spend in a lifetime, so why not enlist some burg to help get rid of some of it? In a supreme effort to hook the Heartland into the Internet, Gates issues a challenge to American towns with populations under 100,000: $1 million to each household in the city with the highest penetration of Microsoft Network subscribers at the end of the promotional period. Don’t pee off citizens with backroom deals designed to cram your Network down their throats, Bill, pay ’em off! That’s the American way! Even if the City of Millionaires promo costs you $50 billion, you’d still have $40 billion left and, knowing you, you’d most likely end up richer than before.
The Mug Mug sweepstakes. Earlier this century, the goal of ambitious-yet-wily capitalists was to make as much money as possible and remain as anonymous as possible. Later, it became okay to become rich and famous, so long as you were rich enough to hide yourself away with others of your ilk in exclusive neighborhoods and resorts. Today, people have some vexing urge to be just famous. (How else do you explain Real World and Jerry Springer?) A third-tier brand with a modest marketing budget could exploit this expanding human weakness for max exposure. How about Mug Root Beer? In the Mug Mug 2000 contest, people enter for a chance to be pictured in all Mug advertising and on all Mug Packaging for one year. In commercials, the winner appears in only quick-cut cameos; on packaging in Where’s Waldo-style hiding. Consumers will take microscopes to Mug cans and play TV spots back in slo-mo. Press and word-of-mouth will be huge, and Mug’s prize costs virtually nil. The Mug Mug sweeps could easily go annual. All because people suddenly seem to be content to be famous for nothing.
Go to Bat with Pat. If the President can lend out the Lincoln Bedroom to key contributors, why can’t Oval Office wannabes and regular citizens get into the act? Quad-rennial candidate Pat Buchanan, panicked already by the ungodly fund-gathering talents of George W. Bush, decides to go high-concept in order to catch up. Go to Bat with Pat brings influence-peddling to the masses by offering a Cabinet seat to the campaign contributor whose name is drawn out of a Humvee (the second prize) at the Inaugural Ball. It’s a no-lose situation, since Buchanan only has to award the grand prize if he wins the election. And what are the chances of that? (Oh no. We said the same thing about Jesse the Body.)