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Experience Prizes Keep Contests Alive

Contests, giveaways and sweepstakes have always been a great way to get a brand in front of a large number of people, but interest in the campaign usually wanes as soon as the winner is announced. To combat that trend, many contests have turned into hunts for the next online cewebrity, where the winner gets a chance to extend their 15 minutes of fame through the sponsor’s social channels (and on the sponsor’s dime) in exchange for extending the life of the campaign in the process.

The formula is simple: Mix one part love of contests with one part love of ‘reality’ entertainment, add a heaping spoonful of social media and you’ll end up with what I’m calling the ‘Experience Prize’.

Fiesta Movement

Ford was one of the first brands to experiment with adding the social media spotlight to their prize with the Fiesta Movement. In the Fiesta Movement, 100 winners (they called them ‘agents’) were selected from more than 4,000 applicants, and each was given a brand new Fiesta to drive for six months. Then, each month Ford would send the agents on themed missions, and the agents would complete, and then lifestream those missions with blog posts, photos, videos and status updates. Thus, the agents didn’t just win a car for six months; they won an experience prize that included ongoing interaction with the brand, and a series of unique trips and adventures in exchange for their willingness to share the experience with the world.

Queensland, Australia was the next to integrate social media into their prize, with one lucky winner spending six months as the caretaker of an island in what they called The Best Job In The World. During those six months, the winner explored the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and the world followed along through a regularly updated blog, YouTube videos and Twitter posts. Instead of just a trip, this experience prize included a job title, roles and responsibilities, and the jealousy of thousands of people around the world.

Live Off Groupon

Groupon took the concept of the experience prize and evolved it into something else entirely, as their experience prize is more like an experience challenge. The contest, called “Live Off Groupon”, challenges one person to attempt to survive for one year with nothing but a laptop, a cellphone and an unlimited supply of Groupons. If he can last for twelve months, he wins $100,000, and if he can’t, he still gets to take home a pretty good chunk of Internet fame as a consolation prize.

Old Spice Internship Challenge

Lastly, Old Spice added sex appeal and competition to the formula for their experience prize, with Gretchen Bleiler and Anastasia Ashley hosting an Internship Challenge. While the two women act as ‘internship mentors’, the two winners get to go to Switzerland or Fiji, where they will compete with one another in various challenges spread out over five days. Each challenge gets documented with photo and/or video evidence that is then uploaded to the Old Spice blog and Facebook Page, where a winner will be selected by those following along to receive an extra $1000 per challenge.

The key benefit of the experience prize is that it finds people who are likely to be loud, far reaching and influential voices online, and then gives them the tools and the exposure they need to amplify their voice even further. This turns the winners into mini cewebrities, or enhances their current cewebrity status, and lets them use that status to promote the brand (and themselves) for an extended period of time.

In addition, another benefit of the experience prize is that the world can follow along as the winner essentially test-drives the sponsor for an extended period of time. Whether it’s an actual test drive, as in the case of the Fiesta Movement, or a test drive of the benefits of a service, like the Groupon challenge, it’s a chance for the rest of the world to watch as the winner uses the service in excruciating detail, and then shares that experience in the most entertaining way possible.

So what are the challenges that a brand faces when putting on a contest with an experience prize?

For one, the prize needs to be worth the effort required to enter, win and then use it. If the goal is to find an online personality that will engage others and be worth watching for an extended period of time, then you need to fish with the right bait. If the prize is too small, you either won’t receive many entries, or the entries that you do receive won’t be from the right type of people. Large prizes also tend to spread via word of mouth, as one person tells the next about the great prize that they can win by just entering a contest, and the result is that you can keep your promotion costs relatively low while still reaching a large audience.

The second challenge is that it can be difficult to transition the success of an experience prize campaign into the success of other social efforts. Unlike an online ad buy, which can drive traffic to a social channel that can then be used for a number of promotions, an Experience Prize often lives on its own microsite, and is not integrated into a larger social effort. While this can be mitigated by hosting part of the contest on a channel like Facebook, it’s important to remember that a few extra YouTube videos and tweets from the entrants aren’t suddenly going to turn your brand into an ongoing social media success story.

Lastly, there needs to be a concentrated effort to build buzz and excitement around the contest before the entries are due, because the quality of the entries will determine the quality of the content that the campaign creates. Whether it’s with voting, targeted ad buys, YouTube videos entries or a full blown social media bombardment, word of mouth is key, and the campaign must be easy enough to share that entrants will willingly help to promote it to their friends.

Despite the challenges, a well-run contest with a unique and interesting experience prize can generate a ton of buzz for a brand, and can keep the excitement alive for months after the announcement of the winner.