4 Tips for Using Contests & Sweepstakes to Grow Opt-Ins & Drive Conversions

We’ve all heard a lot about gamification in marketing lately, and we all know that contests and sweepstakes are great games with broad appeal for consumers, but you might not know just how valuable contests and sweepstakes can be for your marketing efforts. Brandon Gaille has stated that projections for 2014 show that 70% of businesses will employ games in some form and of those, 45% will use sweepstakes, 8% will use instant win games, and 5% will employ photo contests. The reason? Simply put, people love to win.

Everywhere you look, you see contests and sweepstakes in marketing contexts. The prompt may ask the customer to answer questions, submit a photo, or complete a game of skill. You see this on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and webpages of course. With up to 70% of businesses engaging their audiences with contests, you may be wondering how you can get in the game.

And that is exactly what we’re discussing in this article. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work looking at some examples of successful contests from recent memory, best practices for implementing contests, and what you can take away from our examples.

Here is what this article will help you accomplish:

  • Know the “Official Rules” of contests and sweepstakes
  • Get customers in the game
  • Make it more than just a giveaway
  • Set and attain profitable goals for contests and sweepstakes

Let’s dive right in!


1. Know the “Official Rules” of contests and sweepstakes

Before we delve into contests fully, we have to mention laws that dictate how companies can use contests and sweepstakes for various purposes. These rules vary from one place to another, so obviously you will want to check with your local regulations before initiating any contest. [30 Second Guide to Australian Permit Requirements for Promotions]

Every contest or sweepstakes is accompanied by “Official Rules.” These can range from legal fine print to a few clearly-stated policies that the consumer should know. You have probably seen “no purchase necessary,” “contest open to US residents only,” or “must be 18 years of age to play.” These are common disclaimers that can apply to contests and sweepstakes. When in doubt about the legalities, proceed with caution and consult with legal consul before embarking on any promotional contest.

Also, since Facebook is an obvious venue for contests, be sure you keep in mind its most recently updated Page Guidelines for contests, which includes the following (taken from the official help topic):

  1. If you use Facebook to communicate or administer a promotion (ex: a contest or sweepstakes), you are responsible for the lawful operation of that promotion, including:
    a. The official rules;
    b. Offer terms and eligibility requirements (ex: age and residency restrictions); and
    c. Compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and all prizes offered (ex: registration and obtaining necessary regulatory approvals).
  2. Promotions on Facebook must include the following:
    a. A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
    b. Acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
  3. Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend’s Timeline to get additional entries” is not permitted).
  4.  Facebook will not assist you in the administration of your promotion, and you agree that if you use our service to administer your promotion, you do so at your own risk.

Twitter also has a complete set of guidelines for promotional contests that is worth reading before setting up a contest of any kind on that social media platform.

Contests vs. sweepstakes?

Before we go any further, it’s helpful to clearly define the difference between contests and sweepstakes. Though the terms are often interchanged, each is slightly different.

ConversionXL describes contests as follows:

“…contests are giveaways that have some element of skill to them. For example, entrants need to answer a trivia question, write an essay, or create a recipe to participate.”

In contrast, sweepstakes rely solely on luck to establish a winner (or winners). Sweepstakes, also known as ‘Games of Chance’ therefore have an added requirement: they must be unimpeachably unbiased and scientifically randomized – making them technically harder to implement.

For our purposes here, we are focusing on bona fide contests, but we’ll take a look at a sweepstakes along the way, too.

2. Get customers in the game


A brilliant online contest happened in late 2012, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films and the release of the 23rd film in the series, Skyfall, in October of that year. Sony Pictures partnered with Visit Britain to launch the “Agent UK” competition. The immersive experience invited would-be jet-setting Bond fans to compete in five online “secret” missions for a chance to win a high-value travel package. Offered in this contest were a travel to Great Britain, sightseeing sojourns, visit to the Aston Martin factory and a Martini-making master class.

SOURCE:  http://www.visitbritain.org/Images/bond-evaluation-infographic_tcm29-37726.jpg

As you can see from the infographic, the campaign – targeted at Visit Britain’s digital and social media subscribers – went awesomely viral and brought in 25, 573 data captures ( talk about driving opt-ins!) and put Visit Britain’s “Bond is Great Britain” campaign in front of 653 million sets of eyes. The corresponding video to promote the contest went viral and was viewed 11.4 million times on YouTube.

What you can learn from “Bond is Great Britain”

You may be wondering how you can approximate the runaway success of this campaign, given that you may lack the budget of the likes of Visit Britain, Sony Pictures, and their other partner, Aston Martin – not to mention access to one of the world’s most endearing film franchises of all time.

While you may lack those kinds of resources, you can learn a couple of valuable lessons from this contest.

  1. The contest speaks directly to Visit Britain’s target audience. As the video above explains, Visit Britain data shows that 40% of travelers like to visit film locations. Given that the Bond films hinge on 007’s travels to exotic locales and opulent lifestyle; a contest of this type is a great fit for the kind of customers Visit Britain is looking to attract.
  2. The “Agent UK” missions give an added dimension to world travel, no doubt encouraging opt-in participation.

Visit Britain’s contest highlights how you should be thinking when it comes to contests. What’s important and interesting to your audience? In our example, Visit Britain was looking to attract an audience common to that of Bond films, and the result was a perfect match.

The desires of your audience should dictate what you offer as a prize in a contest. Simply offering an arbitrary prize (think of the many, many contests offering an iPad as a prize) won’t be effective unless your offer immediately appeals to your target audience, you might not get the right level of participation. The best prize is something your specific customer will absolutely want – and that might be slightly out of reach. Your contest puts the prize within reach, and that makes it worthwhile to participate.

3. Make it more than just a giveaway

Anyone in business management can tell you that employees are often motivated by non-monetary incentives. This logic carries over into marketing as well.
EggoContestThe early temptation for many marketers is simply to give something away – anything, whatever. That’s a bad idea. Just as Visit Britain created an immersive contest from start to finish, asking participants to complete secret missions with extravagant travel as the ultimate prize, a household name, Eggo, gets fans in the game by making its “Eggo Your Way” contest much more than simply a giveaway.
Fans are asked to post their Eggo waffle recipes via social media to compete for a cash prize in the amount of $10,000 – as well as Eggo recipe dominance, later being featured on the company’s Facebook page.

Note that Eggo’s contest is asking for engagement – making waffles, sharing recipes, and drumming up conversations around Eggo. The submitted recipe winners are showcased (notice that the 2013 is featured in the accompanying photo promoting this year’s “Eggo Your Way” contest).

We’ve recently discussed social proof on this site, and if you have followed along with that article, you will recognize that the submitted recipes involved in the Eggo contest can serve as social proof – as Eggo is clearly harnessing in its showcasing of prior winners.

What you can learn from “Eggo Your Way”

This kind of contest steps outside of a traditional giveaway in ways that are meaningful to Eggo’s audience.
Preparing waffles at home conjures up images of family and heartwarming images of messy kitchens and syrup-coated hands. A marketer of breakfast foods is wise to seize upon that kind of deep connection to customer motivation with a contest like this one.

What connects with your customers’ on a motivational level? Is it recognition? Is it altruistic giving? Is it monetary? Adding $10,000 to the equation certainly helps, but the recipe submission aspect makes the contest more engaging to watch – and engage in – than simply giving away money alone.

4. Set and attain profitable goals for contests and sweepstakes

And now we arrive at our sweepstakes example – a company that saw surprising results, to say the least.

IDEON, a company that makes luxurious lounge chairs and tables, executed a 12-week sweepstakes to increase awareness and market perception, as well as announce a new partnership.

The company released the results of the campaign and the final numbers are striking. The results (taken from the Rhythm Interactive website) were as follows:

Sweepstakes Goals

  • Increase brand awareness for IDEON and Online Design Tool
  • Announce new partnership w/ Maharam
  • Build database list


  • 59.84% referral rate
  • Averaged 3.6 friend invites per registrant
  • Increased the IDEON subscriber list by 24.7%
  • 43.35% unique open rate and 5.02% click thru rate
  • 31.08% referral conversion rate
  • 12.97% of registrants created an account with a Maharam design on the Online Design Tool
  • 22.7% from the initial IDEON subscriber list registered

To enter the contest, all visitors had to do was watch a video explaining IDEON’s new design tool application, after which, their information was captured and they received an entry into the sweepstakes.

What you can learn from the IDEON sweepstakes

This sweepstakes ultimately helped spread a piece of content – an explainer video. Getting the word out about content can be a big challenge. By incentivizing its audience to watch the video with a sweepstakes, the company was able to grow its subscriber list (24.7%), its click thru rate (5.02%), its referral rate (59.84%), and its referral conversion rate (31.08%), on top of other gains.

Remember the goal of the 7 Levers of Business framework to make seven 10% incremental increases to double your profitability? Following IDEON’s example will go a long way toward helping you pull the levers of Traffic (new leads and referrals interested in your contest or sweepstakes), Opt-ins (contestants providing you with contact details), and Conversions (contestants informed well enough to make a purchasing resulting from the contest itself). Contests and content can come together to create similar results for your business, with careful planning and clear objectives in mind.

Wait! One more example before you hit the road…

We are big believers in the power of strategy, so we want to share with you a phenomenally successful contest example. Like the Visit Britain example, this one has to do with tourism. It also far exceeded its goals, much like the IDEON example.

One of the most successful online marketing contests was the “The Best Job in the World” campaign from Tourism Queensland.

Here’s what happened.

Goal of campaign:

  • Attract tourists to Queensland.


  • $1.2 million

The prize:

  • One lucky winner was offered the job of a lifetime – a job on the beach (at the Great Barrier Reef) worth $140,000.


  • 34,680 job applications accepted,
  • $380 million estimated publicity stemming from the competition,
  • 20% increase in tourism

Let’s focus on the two most compelling numbers here. With a budget of $1.2 million, the estimated $380 million in publicity resulting amounts to a staggering return on investment (ROI).That’s a whopping 316.67% return.
The bottom line?

Contests and sweepstakes are resources you can’t afford to look at as optional novelties (as companies often do). The results found in the examples in this article tell you the true story of just how valuable contests and sweepstakes can be for your business.

Get your customers in the game, have some fun, and grow your profitability at the same time with engaging contests and sweepstakes!

Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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