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Are Contests Still an Effective Enterprise Marketing Tactic in 2016?


Of all marketing tactics, contests and sweepstakes are one of the most omnipresent. Brands offer excited participants a prize in exchange for an entry, which can be anything from a photograph and social media shares to a video pleading for viewers’ votes. The value of the prize(s) typically pales in comparison to the value of all the marketing buzz and brand awareness generated by the feeding frenzy that occurs when people hear the word “contest.” But as we trend toward new content delivery methods and new ways of engaging with brands, do contests have a lasting place in the marketing world?

One Shot, One Opportunity

IKEA recently made waves in a very IKEA way—by releasing an app that only lets users take one photo, ever. Of course, that sounds ridiculous in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, but it’s also perfectly anachronistic and delightfully Scandinavian. In the era of free publicity, releasing an app that incites confusion and outrage is a great way to get people talking about your minimalistic furniture brand.

But the app wasn’t just developed as a critique on the state of photography in the modern world. Instead, it’s part of a contest promoting a new series of art-quality photo prints that IKEA is unveiling this summer. And the winner of the app-based contest will be featured alongside professional photography giants, with 1,000 prints of their image given away for free. Of course, this raises questions about the value of exposure as a price, but that’s a different question.


All You Have to Do Is…

Brands run contests in a variety of ways. On social media, where followers and interactions are worth their weight and gold and (debatably) can’t be bought, running contests that encourage entrants to do a variety of things like follow, tag, comment, or share content creates an ecosystem of interactions. There’s no question that this can work if it’s done right, but is this one of those marketing tricks that will eventually lead to fatigue?

So much depends on whether users feel like they’re going through motions for the sake of winning something free or whether they’re contributing to part of a lasting relationship. Turning contests into conversations is essential for the brand that’s seeking more than just a month-long spike in activity.

Don’t Stunt

There’s a reason the term “PR Stunt” has a bit of a pejorative ring to it—stunts are best left to the professionals who step in to do something crazy and improbable then collect their checks and head home. Unless your brand is built on your target demographic doing ridiculous stuff all the time (Red Bull), stunts are only good for momentary blips of increased relevance. To fit into a lasting content marketing plan, contests should help the audience join in on a conversation—which is why the IKEA example is so impactful.

Lots of us agree that digital photography has cheapened the sense of photography as art. IKEA hasn’t asked us to cheapen our Instagram feeds or Twitter accounts with generic-looking reposts; in fact it’s gone the opposite direction—download this app and use it one time, then join part of a movement that’s interested in creating things that last and look good. Sound familiar? Even if the longevity of some of the brand’s furniture is a bit dubious, it certainly stakes its claim on style and quality without pandering to fleeting trends.

I have to admit that the whole thing is rather brilliant—without the brand saying much about it or asking us to go far out of our way to enter a contest, it simply created a crowdsourced, collaborative competition that subconsciously reinforces its brand values. Not bad, IKEA.

Get Branded

Just like brands can generate frenzied publicity by offering prizes in exchange for engagement and exposure, high-profile individuals can also offer brands unique trips to the spotlight. Nick Symmonds, an Olympic sprinter in 2012, made international headlines for auctioning off ad space on his own body. In a fitting twist, the space was purchased by brand and social media strategy firm Hanson Dodge Creative. Symmonds agreed to wear a temporary tattoo of the brand’s logo during his events at the London Games. The catch—corporate sponsors are not allowed to demonstrate their logos on individual athletes.

In a classic twist of great storytelling, the piece of tape that had to cover his tattoo generated more media buzz than the tattoo ever would have. Contests and campaigns that break the mold are memorable, and they don’t even have to work exactly as expected to work well. Innovative content, whether it’s delivered as a contest or a competition, always gets its 15 (or more) minutes.

olympic sprinter

The Grand Prize

According to Kickoff Labs, new contest campaigns acquire a 34 percent audience increase on average, which is enough to get excited about. Even if there’s a ton of attrition after the campaign ends, you end up with a statistically significant increase in audience engagement. It’s one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book, but there’s a good reason for that. People like an opportunity to engage, especially if there’s a potential reward—and that’s unlikely to ever change.

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