Sweepstakes, Contests and Instant Win: Learn How to WIN

Sweepstakes, contests and instant win games are excellent ways to engage your customers, build brand loyalty and gain valuable leads for your business.  While they all seem very similar, there are big differences and it is important that you choose the type of promotion that will help you reach your goals and maximize your investment.  It is also very important to understand the laws, rules and regulations regarding each promotion to make sure you are conducting your promotion legally.


So what is the difference?

The main difference is that contests are games of skill while sweepstakes and instant win games are games of chance.   While each of these promotion types can help you achieve your marketing goals, there are distinct benefits to each that are important to understand before you decide what type of promotion is right for you.



Key Benefits: Easy to Implement, Cost Effective and Low Barrier to Entry

Sweepstakes are one of the oldest forms of prize-based promotions around today.  Sweepstakes are won by random drawing and while there are many ways to hold these types of drawings, the consistent element is that the winner is always selected 100% by chance.


Generally, entry into a sweepstakes is free and typically requires one to enter minimum personal information such as name and email address in order for a chance to win.  Once entered, entrants may have the opportunity to share the sweepstakes via social media or email in order gain extra points (aka bonus  entries) into the sweepstakes.  If you choose to incorporate social share, be sure to follow the rules of the social media sites supporting your promotion to avoid problems or the social site may shut down your promotion.


A fun addition to standard sweepstakes is to require people to upload a photo or video in order to enter.  However, we do highly recommend that any user generated photos or videos are moderated before they are published on your sweepstakes site, to prevent any unsavory or embarrassing content reaching the public eye.



Key Benefits: User Generated Content, Increased Engagement and Brand Awareness

In contests or other games of skill, the participants will be required to register for the contest and enter a photo, story, song or video.   Typically, it is the skill exhibited by your entry that will be voted on or judged in order to win a prize.  You can gain even more traction if you allow people to enter multiple times during the campaign period, which generates even more content and social share activity.


In addition to gaining valuable email addresses, contests are another great way to gather a lot of user generated content.  You can require entries to include a specific hashtag that promotes your brand, or have people show your product in a photo to enter, but it is important you make sure you are doing it legally.


Instant Win Games

Key Features: Fun, Instant Gratification and Super Engaging

Instant Win Game (IWG)is another game of chance but differs from a sweepstakes because entrants will know immediately if they have won a prize.  There are countless types of games available, such as a spinning wheel of prizes, 3 by 9 or Plinko.  Creating a fun and engaging instant win game goes beyond picking the right game to entice your audience.  Prizing is very important too, because unlike a sweepstakes where there is typically one grand prize, IWGs often have many prizes to help entice people to enter because they feel they have a better chance of winning.  You can also post daily winners on your website and social media sites to gain even more traction for your promotion!



Each one of these tactics can help you grow your email list, social media presence, gain brand awareness and increase customer loyalty.  They all can provide exposure in various outlets and can get people excited about your company, service or product.  If you want something cost effective that is quick and easy to implement, then a sweepstakes is your best bet.  If you want to reach the millennial demographic, then an instant win game with fun, exciting prizes like Go Pro cameras or iPads is a popular way to go.  If you have a skilled, specific audience (think Guitar Center or 24-Hour Fitness) and want user generated content (e.g. testimonials) to drive your brand message, then a contest can be a great option.


But no matter which type of promotion type you decide to launch, it’s vitally important to have a good set of Official Rules developed by an attorney that understands promotional law and a solid privacy policy in place before you get started. This will give your promotion the solid, legal foundation required to ensure a smooth campaign, regardless of anything that may come your way.



Federal Trade Commission – Endorsement Guides

Christian Brantley, APR

Contest Factory

Senior Director of Marketing and Business Development

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