The Evolution of Sweepstakes Promotions

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The Evolution of Sweepstakes Promotions

How CFA Promo has grown, changed and evolved with the ever-changing landscape?

Sweepstakes and contests have been around since the 15th century, but it was the early days of small businesses promoting their wares that began the trend of using giveaways to bring attention to that business and bring customers through the doors.

Though we at CFA Promo aren’t quite old enough to have been there in the beginning, we have been creating, moderating and administrating sweepstakes and contests for more than 20 years. And wow, we have seen the evolution of sweepstakes and contests first hand.

The Promotions Concept

Sweepstakes as a means for promoting a product or business were born in small shops and mercantiles across the world. Hanging a hand-painted sign in the shop window wasn’t always enough to bring people in to see the newest products available from the big cities. So, the mercantile owner would fill huge, glass jars with colorful jelly beans and promise the entire jar to whoever came closest to guessing how many candies were inside.

Additionally, these business owners would sponsor town events and give prizes to winners who baked the best pies, ran the fastest 3-legged race or chopped through a log the fastest. This was a way to get name recognition and bring more customers into their stores.

As the world became industrialized and green beans were packed into metal cans by the millions, businesses looked for ways to create brand recognition and win customers over. Sweepstakes and contests, they learned, were much less expensive than advertising and brought in more consumers willing to buy their products. It was then that sweepstakes and contests became a normal part of business promotions.

As the years moved on, consumers loved the idea of getting rewarded for using a product and still, others loved getting something for nothing. They shared their names, home address and phone numbers just to have the opportunity to win a coveted prize. And just as technology has evolved, so has the world of sweepstakes. Today, 55 million people participate in sweepstakes every year in the United States.

Snail Mail and Shaving Cream Envelopes

Sweepstakes evolved to include tiny entry forms in newspapers and comic book ads and on the backs of cereal boxes. Contestants would clip their entry forms, fill them out and mail them in. Some sweepstakes, advertised on television, prompted consumers to simply write their name, address, and phone numbers on 3X5 cards and mail them in for a chance at big prizes. Maybe you even remember your mom or dad running to grab a pen and paper to jot down the mailing information before the image left the screen.

As mail-in sweepstakes grew, so did the number of people entering those promotions. Hardcore “sweepers” would stuff envelopes every single day and head off to the post office to drop off that day’s entries. Furthermore, some began to get creative with their entries.

With the belief that colored envelopes would draw attention to a certain entry, consumers began using colored envelopes, hand drawing colorful pictures and adding stickers that would change the feel of their envelope in hopes that their entry would be chosen.

Shaving cream envelopes became a sweepstakes trend when someone created a technique using shaving cream and food coloring to give envelopes a beautiful swirled color and a soft texture. Though nobody can say for sure if those techniques really worked (our lips are sealed!) as long as people kept winning, consumers kept entering.

As a result, businesses were the real winners. Sweepstakes brought in thousands of pieces of information on people that used their products or were making a connection to a product for the first time. This information was used to see the areas that entrants lived, their age and other helpful information. In turn, businesses used this information to know how to market their products, where to market more heavily and finally, the types of people using their products.

The World Wide Web and Online Sweepstakes

Though the worldwide web existed for a while, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the computer became a household staple. As a result, businesses began to capitalize on the bounty of the internet by putting up sites for their brands and products. Additionally, they began attaching promotions to coincide with their web presence.

Simple sweepstakes entry forms submitted electronically gave businesses a great deal of personal statistics in addition to browser and ISP information. In addition, these businesses were able to build an even greater following by having entrants subscribe to their mailing lists.

But the biggest positive to the internet movement came for companies like CFA Promo. The electronic collection of entrant information enabled us, as sweepstakes administrators, to spot fake entries, duplicate entries and anything that would disqualify a participant.  All the while, we were digitally capturing additional, crucial information for our clients. For instance, we were able to gather the usual name, address and phone number but also date of birth and how many clicks the site received, how many filled out the entry forms and how many repeat visitors clicked through. All of this information was able to be collected and stored digitally…. No shaving cream envelopes or blind draws, but a digital way of randomizing entries and allowing a computer to pick the winner.

Correspondingly, these technologically advanced ways of holding sweepstakes ushered in the exciting new world of instant win games. Many brands had been placing game pieces with their products for years. However, these games and game pieces were now available online. This resulted in not only tried and true consumers taking their chances at winning an instant prize, but it brought new traffic and consumers to the brand in hopes of winning a prize as well. From coupons to cars and cash to exotic trips, consumers flocked to online sweepstakes in the hundreds of thousands.

We at CFA promo embraced this technological challenge and took steps forward to accommodate our clients and their needs. Realizing that the sheer volume of people entering these sweepstakes was exploding, we had to change the way we offered our services. We began drawing in those high-volume clients by creating stand-alone, independent pages on our server that linked into the client’s site. We created ways to randomize instant win prize times, all controlled by a computer process. This enabled us to stay with the trends while gathering click-through information, personal information, start and manage mailing lists and compile all of those statistics for the client.

Photos and Essays and Videos, Oh My!

As the internet expanded even more and just begged for people to share their lives in chat rooms, groups and clubs everywhere, we at CFA Promo saw the perfect opportunity to create more consumer driven contests for our business clients. These new contests allowed for consumers to upload and share photographs and videos along with essays and questionnaires. Promotions such as these were embraced by the very businesses we serve, allowing them to interact more personally with their consumer base. Additionally, this allowed for our clients to gather even more information from their consumer base.

In fact, these creative contest entries went a step further, reaching even more people as entrants shared their photos, essays and videos. In contests where the public voted for these creative entries, participants would reach out asking for votes from family and friends. In turn those people oftentimes had to register to vote on the site. Consequently, the client ended up with even more registered users.

As a result of the creative contests, judging and moderating became another necessary part of the administration process. We at CFA Promo expanded to have dedicated moderators looking over entries daily to be sure they complied with the rules. Additionally, the clients would ask us to slowly sift through the entries and pull aside those that best captured what the client wanted conveyed about their brand or promotion.

We had gone from a small business, planning and administering sweepstakes, pulling decorated envelopes from stacks of snail mail to a personalized business staying one step-ahead of the trends and making the creative sweepstakes and contest promotions an easy process for our clients.

But again, technology had another curve ball coming right at us.

The Portability of Computers as Cell Phones

Beepers (aka pagers) faded away as cell phones became the way to keep in touch with someone no matter where they were. Soon, most everyone was carrying them. Then, smart phones were introduced. These modern miracles changed how we did things every day. In essence, our cell phones became hand held computers, still allowing us to make phone calls and text but also allowing us to connect online, stream music and movies and access websites on the go.

Thus, as phones evolved, so did the sweepstakes promotions industry. Now websites and entry forms needed to be compatible with viewing on small screens and operable through various processes and providers. But then, another exciting way of entering sweepstakes was born….

Text to win contests. This new way of promoting a business combined the desire for portability and instant satisfaction by texting a simple word or code to a shortened phone number. Though text to win promotions are embraced for their simplicity, behind the scenes, the demographical information being collected on behalf of clients began to shrink. Yes, phone numbers, carrier information and location were collected, but unless someone won a prize, the other pertinent information was not being collected.

Was this a trend now? And would this lack of consumer statistics something that would begin another change on how sweepstakes and contests are administered?

The Social Media Boom

Social media changed the entire landscape of the internet. Social media started as a way for like-minded individuals to keep in touch and connect. Accordingly, these platforms spread to families, long distance friendships then groups catering to fandom, hobbies, politics, music and more.

Social media became the way to advertise, getting a brand in front of the eyes of millions of potential consumers with one small ad. Consequently, social media platforms are like-based and utilized to collect fans and followers and not so much as a platform conducive to collecting stacks of user information. As many smaller businesses went out on their own, offering contests and sweepstakes on their pages simply by having followers “like, comment and share”, the all-important demographics information wasn’t being collected.

On the contrary, Facebook allowed for sweepstakes that gathered the usual name, address, phone number and date of birth, which paired well with any client taking advantage of the social media boom. But as quickly as “liking” or “following” a page became popular, Twitter and Instagram swooped in and became the new way of highlighting products and services.

While hearts and hashtags began ruling social media, brands racked up millions of followers, sharing content and retweeting. Despite the big numbers garnered on these platforms, the client could only see screen names, and that all-important consumer-based data was being lost in a sea of hearts and emojis. In addition, when contests were held on those platforms, only the winners were sharing their personal information in order to collect their prize.

CFA Promo has been there through this social media craze, trying our best to create, administer and fulfill sweepstakes and contests for our clients and doing our best to squeeze out all of the consumer data we could. We knew another change was coming as our social media-based clients were trickling away and going to another way of running their promotions.

Sweepstakes Promotions 180

One would think the evolution would continue forward with a new, exciting way of entering sweepstakes and contests. But today, businesses are realizing that social media, while good for advertising and building a client base, are not providing them with the key information they need; names, addresses, ages- that all-important demographical information that assists them in shaping and molding their products and how and to whom they market them. But where do they go from here?

Businesses are now going back to what has worked beautifully for them in the past. Indeed, online entry forms, instant win games and consumer participation contests are becoming the new-old way of doing things. Hence, businesses are again able to gather the important statistics they need to grow their brand organically and market their products to the right consumers.

CFA Promo’s Evolution

No matter where the past and future of sweepstakes, contests and promotions has taken us, we have been there, changing and evolving to reflect the trends. From shaving cream envelopes to our proprietary software that allows a business to launch a professional, full-scale sweepstakes in a matter of days, rather than weeks, we have adapted.

And while so many things have changed, one thing has stayed the same. And that is our commitment to our clients. Among all of the giant, corporate marketing companies filled with faceless, hard-working people, CFA Promo stands tall with the best in personalized customer service and a stellar record totaling over 1500 satisfied clients. From the largest names in the business industry to the smallest corner business situated in a small town, we have given each and every one of them the absolute best that we have and we will continue to do so.

And as we watch the tide ebbing and turning back to the way it was……. whether we will return to pulling envelopes adorned with stickers and colorful designs remains to be seen. But wherever the future of sweepstakes promotions goes, CFA Promo will be right here, forging the way, developing and adapting and giving our clients all of the tools they need to gather information from their consumers and know where to go with their next advertising campaign.

We love what we do and hope to share that with you in the future.

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