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Back in 2006 our contest lawyers consistently lectured that a public vote amounted to a lottery…and was therefore not a legal way to judge a contest.  In other words, the public could not be trusted to vote objectively.  They might go to the contest site, vote for their friend without viewing the other entries, and leave.  (News alert:  that, of course, is exactly what we all do.)

As other contest companies came into the space it was clear they were getting the same advice because all contests seemed to be structured essentially the same:

1.  invite entries, then
2.  use judges to select “finalists”, then
3.  put those, and only those, up for vote by the public, then
4.  have the judges vote again (as if they were going to wake up and change their score), then finally
5.  combine the judges score with the public vote in some equation to determine winners.

Somehow this awkward formula made the lawyers feel they’d struck a balance that would keep everyone out of trouble.

But times have changed.  It seems that more and more contests are foregoing the judging panel and going directly to the public vote.  Even the ongoing Pepsi Refresh campaign has seemingly abandoned the Judging and gone with a straight public vote.

So what does it mean?  In effect, that there is extremely limited oversight and many differing opinions on what’s “right” out there.  I still advocate that our clients follow the Judging Panel method, especially because we leverage qualified, high-profile judges to help drive awareness.

But it’s also clear that contest structures need to be simplified, to improve the experience for everyone involved – sponsor, entrant, and voter.

So here’s the final verdict:  The day of Gonzo contesting is coming, and it will be Madison Avenue dollars driving changes in the law, not the other way around…you heard it here first.