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 The Times tapped an emotional meme so powerful that no prize was necessary to generate 3,000+ entries…but can you do the same for your brand contest?

Concept is king; at least, the nytimes’s release of results from its “Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat” contest made us think about the power of great concept. With over 3,000 entries and tons of coverage (helps to be promoted by the times, but still), journalist Ariel Kaminer claimed that it exceeded the newspaper’s wildest dreams.

But what makes these results extraordinary is what the contest lacked: a prize. Other than the recognition of having one’s entry printed – a self-serving prize, there are plenty of ads on the contest pages – the only thing driving people to dedicate the time to create an entry was that the concept tapped into a powerful meme: the moral divide between vegans and omnivores.

We regularly preach the “4 P’s” : purpose (concept), plan, prize, promotion…and that you ignore any of these at your program’s peril. We note that prize, all other things being equal, is the number one determinant of submission volume (not that that’s always the goal, but that’s a topic for another post). But then here comes a contest that virtually ignores one P and still knocks it out of the park. What gives?

The answer lies in that “all things being equal” statement. This contest has two things going on that put it in a different class:

1.  it’s not promoting a brand (other than the times). One of your greatest challenges is to come up with a concept that both elicits emotion and reinforces the brand. It’s hard to imagine a CPG sponsor for this contest, as most brands wouldn’t touch the subject matter and, as is, I can’t think of a natural fit. and,
2.  by reducing the prize to zero, they were no longer constrained by official rules…didn’t need to explain judging criteria, voting methodology, or anything else to the general public. That would be nice, right? Look at the comments, lots of people wondering why the voting winners didn’t get the prizes.

All of which underscores the importance of working to find that magical mix of the 4 P’s…because if you hit on *all* the notes, the results can be truly inspirational.

For a real world example of all this coming together for a brand, see the results of the McGraw Hill MyMath contest: More on the success of that program in our next post.