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Online Contests Target Advertisers, Users

Sep 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Among the marketing tactics CBS used to promote last week’s premiere of its new sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” was a monthlong contest on video-sharing site Break.com.
But there was a twist: Rather than encourage visitors to submit videos, the site invited users to “pimp up” their profile page on Break.com to win, taking the lead from the show’s theme of two geeky guys trying to become cool.
The decision to eschew video submissions for the Break-CBS promotion was deliberate, said Break CEO Keith Richman. That’s because contests have become de rigueur in online video. Virtually every major video-sharing site, such as YouTube, Revver and Break, has solicited user videos by dangling the prospect of a prize. Also, many television networks and advertisers have jumped into the user-generated video world via video contests for online viewers.
Some sites and networks now are looking to strike a different chord with their contests.
Talent searches have become a staple of online video since the medium graduated from red-headed stepchild status last year to a meaningful advertising vehicle. As Web sites angle for their share of the projected $775 million in ad revenue that should flow into Web video this year, they look to contests to lure advertisers and users. Contests also solve one of the big problems with Web video — they separate the wheat from the chaff.
But brands must make their talent searches stand out in a now-crowded business.
“You have to match your campaign with the right opportunity,” said Keith Richman, CEO of Break. “Advertisers are also very specific, and no one really thinks they can win. Everyone is giving $5,000 these days, so the prize has to be so Willy Wonka-esque. We found it’s harder to get people motivated to do stuff.”
The prize for the CBS-Break contest was a 50-inch high-definition plasma TV and a Sony PlayStation 3. Those are not “Willy Wonka-esque” prizes, Mr. Richman said, but they fit with the level of output users made in tweaking their profile pages. The contest also fit Break’s marketing goals, since it coincided with the launch of a new profile system for the site.
“This is not ‘Go film a 10-minute video.’ The prize fits with the effort they have to make,” Mr. Richman said.
Break is the eighth-most-visited video-sharing site and lured nearly 4 million unique users in August, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.
Contests also can help new services gain viewers. Upstart Internet-TV service Babelgum and new video site Crackle are using contests to entice viewers and talent. Babelgum is dangling a $27,000 payout to each of seven winners who submit their short films, while Sony-owned Crackle offers pitch meetings with Sony executives for talented video creators.
Major Prizes
Then there’s Ourstage.com. Its monthly music competitions offer attractive prizes, such as the chance for aspiring musicians to play at a major music festival.
Online video site Veoh Networks lets aspiring digital stars submit their material for consideration by agents at United Talent Agency. Last year, NBC encouraged users to post their own “The Office”-themed promos on YouTube; the winning entry appeared on-air on NBC.
Also, Revver offered a contest last year with Warner Home Video timed to the DVD release of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” asking entrants to submit videos re-enacting scenes from the movie.
Brand advertisers have launched online video contests, but some backfire. A Chevy Tahoe contest famously spun out of control when viewers submitted ads mocking the car as a gas guzzler, while Heinz’s YouTube contest on creative things to do with ketchup generated mostly boring entries.
But for every Chevy Tahoe, there’s a Doritos. The chip maker offered a monster-sized prize: The winning ad in its contest late last year ran during the Super Bowl.
The key to user-generated video contests is to set guidelines and make them entertaining, said D.J. O’Neil, creative director and founder of Hub Strategy, a San Francisco-based digital marketing agency. “Yes, contests have been done before, and like anything else, if there is a really good idea it doesn’t matter if the format has been used,” he said. “But you need to come up with a promise and a reason for it to exist.”
However, brands should evaluate the costs. There’s a misperception that user-generated contests are cheap to produce since viewers do all the work. That’s not true, Mr. O’Neil said. Costs include creative design, production, the awarding of the prize and any production elements a marketer needs to supply.
Brands should compare the costs to traditional CPM models, weighing the expected reach of a user-generated campaign against traditional campaigns, he said.
Hub Strategy launched a campaign earlier this month for Slingbox, the set-top box that moves programming from the television to a user’s computer. The rules of the contest are simple: Submit a comic video that features the Slingbox. The winner gets the chance to headline for a night at the Improv comedy club in Los Angeles. Viewers may vote on the winner through the end of October at standupandsling.com. The first 50 people to submit videos also receive a Slingbox. The contest cost significantly less than $500,000, Mr. O’Neil said.
To determine if a contest is worth greenlighting, a site should assess the marketing potential, said Peter Clemente, chief marketing officer for online TV network ManiaTV, which is running a Mazda-sponsored talent search to find a new online host.
Mr. Clemente said he evaluates each contest opportunity based on the return on investment, such as new impressions, new registrations for the site’s newsletter or a new online host. “If there isn’t an ROI, my team shouldn’t be wasting their time.”
Contests can drive usage substantially on a site. When Break ran a promotion with NBC Universal this summer soliciting user submissions related to the movie “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” the winning video generated more than 250,000 streams on the site.
The biggest benefit a contest offers for a brand is consumer engagement, said Daphne Kwon, CEO of ExpoTV, a video-on-demand and broadband network focused on video reviews of products. In August, ExpoTV partnered with Charter Communications in St. Louis asking viewers to submit videos of products they use to “beat the heat.” The approved submissions were posted on Charter’s VOD service and the grand prize winner received a camcorder and video editing software.
Be judicious with contests, Ms. Kwon said. “People think if they just put up a site and give away something, user-generated videos will come. Consumers are crazy about contests and marketers are desperate to get into user-generated video.”
But when done well, a contest can make the difference not just for a site, but for someone’s career. “This Web 2.0 phenomenon has made it so if you work hard and are good at what you do, you can make it,” said Benjamin Campbell, founder and CEO of Ourstage. “That fundamental dream of democracy and capitalism is one of the tenets of this new Web 2.0 world — this dream of being able to be good at what you do and to be recognized based on that.”

34 Comments

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