Sweepstakes, Games, Contests: Back to Work

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff


Traditional brands regain the spotlight as spending rises 9.0 percent.

Games are still afoot.

Marketers spent an estimated $1.5 billion on games, contests, and sweepstakes in 2000, up 9.0 percent from the year before. Of the three tactics, sweeps accounted for about 63 percent of activity, games 27 percent, and contests 10 percent, according to PROMO estimates.

Growth slowed in part because dot-coms retrenched, scaling back from 1999’s breakneck spending. But don’t expect a stall-out: As the economy weakens, industry experts anticipate little if any softness in games, contests, and sweeps because they play a key role in many integrated marketing campaigns. And traditional marketers have replaced dot-coms in carrying the momentum online.

Last year saw a continued evolution to fewer, bigger campaigns; more interactive sweeps using the Internet, pagers, and novel gamepieces; and a flurry of on-pack-to-online efforts. Spending for online services grew about 25 percent, according to PROMO estimates. That includes online execution (such as judging or storing the winning number) for offline campaigns.

“Tactical use of technology helps execution,” says Marc Wortsman, executive vp of Marden-Kane, Manhasset, NY. “Even if a promotion doesn’t have the Internet as its entry point, it can use it as a judging point.”

Packaged goods and other traditional marketers have adopted Internet overlays almost universally because “it’s an accepted medium,” Wortsman says.

Last year also saw a flurry of on-pack-to-online promos such as Kraft Foods’ Game of Life (get gamepiece on pack, check online to see if you’re a winner). Such sweeps drive site traffic, but also save money on postage, seeding, and security.

Online sweeps also can require consumers to divulge information before entering — a boon for databases. Watch for more sweeps offering extra entries as perks for supplying info. Kellogg’s Be the Ultimate Pokémon Master sweeps in fall 2000 gave kids an extra entry for each e-card they sent to friends. Gillette Co.’s April 2001 launch of the Venus razor included an online sweeps offering extra entries for serving up friends’ e-mail addresses.

As such viral marketing grows, privacy legislation becomes a prominent concern. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect in April 2000, requiring online marketers to get signed parental consent before gathering personal data from kids 13 and under. Now the Senate is considering the Teen Privacy Protection Act and the broader McCain Bill to extend restrictions.

Lawyers and sweeps experts are no longer worried about legislators cracking down on sweeps in general following the Deceptive Mail Act, although some think marketers may balk at the Act’s opt-out requirements.

Play Time

That old bugaboo, “clutter,” also kept sweeps spending steady last year. “In an environment that’s more difficult to get noticed, the need for effective, attention-getting devices continues to increase,” says Bob Hamman, president of SCA Promotions, Dallas.

That has prompted novel gamepieces that make consumers interact with the brand in order to play. Witness Coca-Cola’s It Could Be Your Next Coke summer blitz using cans with false tops, which peeled off to reveal instant-win prizes.

Watch for brand-sensitive interaction to become a core element of sweeps strategy. That will fuel more novel ideas for offline and online play such as CCL Label’s Wash ’n Win water-activated gamepieces for Wisk.

Marketers also spent more on instant-win games in 2000 (mostly to distribute more gamepieces) and contingency games.

Prizes got cooler, too, with a wave of exclusive concerts for winners (Sting for Best Buy, Third Eye Blind for Beck’s), private parties for a winner’s school or hometown, and do-it-yourself trips.

Games and sweeps have evolved to motivate sales reps and retailers. “There’s more emphasis on combining [consumer, trade, and sales] elements to better drive business,” says Bob Borman, vp-general manager with Gage Marketing, Minneapolis.

As strategy gets more sophisticated, a handful of leading marketers have engaged sweeps agencies in addition to traditional fulfillment houses. “It’s not a huge move, but people are seeing a difference in the depth of the discipline,” says Borman, whose agency proactively pitched its sweeps expertise to boost business 17 percent last year. “It’s about how to use the tools effectively and how to execute properly, rather than just looking at execution.”

Savvy marketers are even pre-researching prize pools: Gillette’s online sweeps for Venus asks entrants to pick from four grand-prize trips and tallies preferences.

Insiders are confident that budgets will keep rising this year, even as marketers scale back in-house staffs and scrutinize spending. “There may be more careful spending, but it’ll still be pretty aggressive,” Wortsman predicts. “[Clients] want more explanation and justification for their dollars,” adds Michelle des Lauriers, director of the FAC Services Group at Frankel, Chicago.

More small companies will take the plunge, too. “Once they peel the onion apart, they’ll see there isn’t a big mystique to running games, contests, and sweeps,” says Terry Cunningham, president of Bozeman, MT-based Cottonwood Enterprises.

Adds Len Daykin, senior vp at Melville, NY-based Don Jagoda Associates: “We see nothing on the horizon, short of the next Depression, that will quiet this growth.”


  • Spending on sweeps, contests, and games rose nine percent Spending hits $1.5 billion, but growth slows.
  • Many opt for fewer, bigger games.
  • Online tools assist back-end services.


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