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contest.jpgBy B.L. Ochman
Video contests by companies hoping for viral buzz and Google juice are as plentiful as mosquitoes on a humid summer night. But, like their insect counterparts, most video contests suck.
While the rare video contest gets as many as 1,000 entries, many – like Denny’s recent disastrous effort – get less than 10 entries. Apparently, 48 Denny’s breakfasts over the next four years wasn’t a big motivator.
Contests can backfire. Just ask Chevy. Why are you a Republican in 2008? got this horror show entry, this charming Gotta Fuck the Democrats video, and this one. And they’re not going away. Because on the Internet, content is forever. They may take them off YouTube, but they’ll pop up on other sites. Count on it.
How to make your video contest succeed:
o Define success What do you want? Brand awareness? A lot of entries? Buzz in blogs? To drive traffic to your website? Sell product? Decide what your goals are so you’ll know when/if you meet them. Sounds elementary, but most companies don’t do it.
Here are some things you can measure:
* How many people are will learn about your brand?
* How often bloggers are talking about you and your contest?
* Are your keywords getting better placement because of the contest?
* How many people are engaging with you looking at the videos?
* Are people commenting on the videos?
o A big cash prize isn’t the only thing that motivates people to enter a video contest, but it doesn’t hurt either. Think about three $20K prizes rather than one $60K prize.
o However, even if they don’t care about your brand, people will work hard for a truly huge prize. That doesn’t necessarily mean your brand will benefit. There was just about no coverage when Freestyle watches gave away $100K in a video contest that was under-promoted. Nonetheless, a total of 3,331 entries were submitted by contestants, ages ranging from 13 to 50, and roughly 100,000 page views were received on Freestyle’s Loop’ profile.
o The contest should relate to your brand. Inexplicably Honda is having a contest about do-it-yourself projects, ranging anywhere from home improvement to electronics to odds & ends and more. The prize is $15K. WTF?
o Don’t have a video contest unless your brand has true evangelists who love your products or cause. Firefox, Apple, most beers, some movies, TV shows (MadMen, Sopranos, etc.) and bands have evangelists. Denny’s doesn’t.
Neither does Cowboy Troy. His Hick Chick YouTube Contest’s prize included backstage access to go on stage with Cowboy Troy during a concert and $1,000 spending money. (Total Value of Prize is $3,000) Cowboy Troy and John Rich judged the top 5 videos. Entered videos must be your version of Cowboy Troy’s “Hick Chick” song. Entries? None.
o Don’t host the contest on YouTube, but do have a YouTube channel for the video entries. You give up too much creative control when you host a contest on YouTube or, but you save on what can become huge bandwidth charges if your videos are uploaded there and the contest really is a hit.
Have a contest site, and don’t immediately take it down when the contest is done. Take advantage of the search engine juice by leaving the link and the winning videos online. If you do the contest annually, include the year in the URL.
o Set a time limit on the damn videos! 30 seconds to no more than 2 minutes. Professionals have trouble being interesting for 30 seconds. Don’t think amateurs are going to be interesting for 10 minutes! They’re not!
o Don’t have some big ad agency handle the contest. Few agencies have a freaking clue about online marketing, let alone how to promote a contest through social media.
areuavirus.pngLook for a company with a track record running successful contests. Hint, there are less than 10 such companies on the planet and many are small. (that’s us!) has a very successful track record.
o Promotion to drive traffic to the site is where most contests blow it. (See “Don’t have some big ad agency handle the contest.”) Among the marketing tools that can drive traffic to your contest:

– blog advertising
– social media including Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc, etc.
– blogger outreach
– seed it: email customers and subscribers to tell them about your contest
– don’t count on a press release to bring traffic. It won’t
– invite people who’ve had good entries in other contests to enter yours – think about paying them to create sample videos
– go where advanced amateurs are –, etc. – and invite the best ones to enter the contest

PETA despite its frequent lunacy, is a master at driving traffic to its contests. The winning video in PETA’s Veggie Video contest received 258,275 views in the first three weeks and is now up to over 320,000 views and more than 1,000 votes, PETA Marketing Manager Joel Bartlett told MarketingProfs’ Ann Handley in an interview (sub required).

PETA as an organization has embraced social media in a big way, using blogs, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, and lots of word-of-mouth initiatives. They have 200,000 Street Teamers teams for garden variety guerilla marketing, and an email list of almost 800,000 youth to jump-start their campaigns.
JibJab has a list of more than a million people who want to be notified of their latest videos, which helps their work go viral quickly. And of course, they do great work.

Bartlett said, “If you let people participate in your brand, they will become brand warriors..putting video online, buying online ads, pitching it to bloggers, making an interesting Web feature, providing our activists with tools to promote the idea, facilitating people taking action, emailing something to our supporters, sending a bulletin to our friends on MySpace, updating Wikipedia with relevant information, etc.”

Bonus Links: Here’s another contest, via Adrants, from Saturn, that’s getting no entries. “Do Saturn a Favor and Kiss Its Astra”
And this may be the worst press release ever written announcing a “viral” video contest.
The only thing worse than the video announcing this contest, and the entries, is the fact that they are giving away some poor, hapless puppy. Isn’t that illegal? It should be.
This contest announcement video may be the worst ever broadcast:

Are You a Virus Cartoon, Hugh Macleod