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Apr 24, 2008
How To

Online Video Contests - How to Start Them, Promote & Track ROI + Pitfalls to Avoid

SUMMARY: Online video contests have become a new frontier for marketers exploring the ROI of user-generated content. Credit YouTube for their popularity.

Here’s a Special Report on what you need to know about running your own video contest. Includes:
- How to build a contest and measure it
- 4 reasons for testing
- 5 promotion tips and 3 pitfalls
Online video contests are still in the toddler stage of marketing. But they are growing up fast with brands like Converse, Red Bull, Nike, Diesel Jeans, Mountain Dew, Coors, Sony BMG and even the AFL-CIO labor union running contests.

Enticing prizes usually are awarded to hype participation. And to create goodwill, marketers give away their firm’s own products to all the video folks who spend time creating entries for their competitions.

Is an online video contest for you? Read this report to find out everything you need to know about whether this marketing tactic is for you, how to build and promote your contest … plus, some problems to watch out for.

Will Video Contests Work for You?
First, what brands make sense to even try doing an online video contest in the first place? Well, they can work for most creative interactive marketers, although they seem best suited for brands that want to *enhance* an already strong loyalty -- rather than those who want to create or repair loyalty.

An informal Sherpa poll of a handful of interactive marketers, for instance, indicates that an online video contest works best for a company with a specific demographic. We asked them to rank three clothing retailers as potential online video contest sponsors.

Their ranking, in order:
o - tight demo; relatively young; Web savvy
o - wider demo; relatively young; relatively Web savvy
o - very wide demo; older customers; less Web savvy

In other words, the tighter your niche, the younger and more Web savvy your demographic, the more sense it makes. Furthermore, consumers who truly identify with your brand -- the real “brand evangelists”-- are the ones who will take the time to create videos for a contest.

Brands with audiences active in Web 2.0 communities, such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and videographer destinations like and the Yahoo! Final Cut Pro User Group, seem like natural fits.

Sony BMG, for example, used an online video and photo contest to promote a band’s album and received more than 1,000 submissions from participants in Web 2.0 communities.

4 Key Reasons to Test Online Video Contests
Popular online communities are a big part of why brands are testing video contests. Destination websites are not getting the traffic they once did, and participatory promotions are an excellent way to bridge the gap between brand and the Web 2.0 world.

Here are four key reasons to consider when mulling an online video contest:

-> Reason #1. Breaks barriers and viral possibility

First and foremost, they create *meaningful* interaction between brand and online consumers. The blood, sweat and tears that videographers -- amateurs and pros alike -- put into their submissions will not get lost on your target audience.

Top-notch video entries will be obvious displays of the high level of commitment and ingenuity of contest participants. Your brand will benefit by association, and the potential for viral on YouTube is the icing on the cake.

-> Reason #2. Keeps your company looking young

Traditional companies are trying to look hip in the Internet age. If you are an old CPG firm or cataloger, online video contests can make your brand look younger.

Indeed, online video contests succeed when they have an attractive main concept that is something quirky or fun. It’s important to keep the idea of youthfulness in mind when putting together a contest.

Your audience doesn’t have to be young. But your online video contest should target what makes them feel younger. It should inspire them to get off their couch or out of their office and grab a camcorder.

-> Reason #3. They’re cost-effective

Here’s a key part of your pitch for the CFO: an online video contest can produce a similar amount of impressions compared to a TV commercial at a fraction of the price. The UGC of the campaign eliminates costs for talent, preproduction, production, postproduction and media buys -- while also curbing your agency bill.

Plus, if marketers want to, they can form and use groups at YouTube, Facebook and MySpace at essentially no cost. You simply need staff members to monitor the groups so the contest is well-run. (More on these groups later.)

-> Reason #4. Testing and participation is simple

Another great aspect of the Web 2.0 groups is that they make testing on the backend potentially very bare bones and easy. You develop the copy, images and other elements and incorporate them into the pages of your YouTube, Facebook and MySpace accounts.

And while it has gotten relatively simple to generate video content, you still need to urge creators’ participation. Whether the contest is held in a 2.0 group, on the brand site or via a microsite, you can make it fairly seamless for participants to upload and organize their video footage by incorporating simple drag-and-drop features.

Ask your IT folks about the technicalities of incorporating video from consumers into your site system. If need be, ping your Web design agency about what your software or consulting needs may be.

How to Run a Video Contest
The effort put into running an online video contest depends greatly on the extent of your campaign. For instance, setting up the contest can take a few days to a few weeks. Executing the idea properly will take anywhere from one or two people to a handful of staff members.

In all cases, after you announce the contest, your team will need to:
o Review every submission
o Record notes about each entry
o Update progress daily with other team members

Content management systems exist that can be programmed to aid in the sorting of submissions. If you are a big brand with a big audience, you will want to consider using such a program. The last thing you want is a couple of staff members watching thousands of 5-minute clips.

Like most marketing campaigns, the most important thing to figure out is what your objectives are before beginning your contest, says Butch Bannon, Director, Special Projects, TAOW Productions. “You need to set realistic expectations, look at who is your community and then figure out how you can best speak to them. From there, you design your contest around those key ideas.”

How to Promote a Video Contest
A huge driver behind most successful video contests are online communities. Get to know their URLs.

“Many times, people do not know how to get the word out,” says Justin Johnson, Founder, “The reason behind that is that they don’t have a community -- they have a business. That’s when things can get really tricky.”

For marketers to engage an audience realistically, they have to incentivize, says Shawn Gurn, Interactive Media Director, Moroch. “To be clear, the Holy Grail is to have consumers who really want to be spokespeople for you [for free]. But until we get to that point, incentivization seems to be the way to make it happen.”

Here are 5 tips on promoting your online video contest:

Tip #1. Advertise the contest on your homepage and in the various categories of your website six weeks before the video deadline.

“You need around 14 days to get the word out and then a month for them to arrange their shoots and finish their videos. If you give them too much time, people will probably put it off until later and eventually forget. If you do not give them enough time, they’ll give up before they even start,” Johnson says.

Tip #2. Send an email to your subscriber list that’s dedicated to getting the contest off the ground, with all the details about how to participate. Be specific about how long the video should be (5 minutes or less is a good suggestion) and try putting the length in the subject line. Something like: “You + 5-Minute Video = Big Prize?”

Tip #3. Set up groups on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube to build a community of “friends” and then push the contest to them. “The really good videos may very well go viral,” says Eric Anderson, Director, Agency Services, White Horse.

Tip #4. Niche marketers should look into running banners at individual sites targeted to their audience. If you are a surfer-products retailer, run a banner for the contest at one or two of the biggest destination sites for surfers.

Tip #5. The contest page should include a clearly written and thorough list of instructions on how to participate. Don’t leave any stone unturned. If you do, you’re going to have would-be submitters falling by the wayside simply because of poorly written instructions.

How Much Does It Cost?
We recommend that smaller brands test with free YouTube accounts and groups before committing to the creation of a microsite. Otherwise, your CFO may not care how much less expensive they are than TV commercials if the first test cost too much and produced too little. When you get to the point where you know what you are doing and feel comfortable with investing ad dollars, the cost of a properly run online video contest varies greatly.

“We have run successful online video contests anywhere from $25K to $150K,” says Bannon. “It depends a lot on the [complexity] of what you are trying to do.”

How to Measure Effectiveness
There are two primary ways to measure the effectiveness of an online video contest:
o Number of submissions
o Number of unique visitors it draws

At the same time, if you have a dedicated microsite for the contest, you can track back sales of people who visited the site first before clicking through to your ecommerce pages. “Any analytics suite would allow you to do that, provided the contest microsite resides on the same domain as the ecommerce site,” says Anderson.

Yet, Anderson and others point out that you shouldn’t paint yourself into a corner with traditional direct marketing metrics, such as conversion rates. An online video contest deals first with interactive branding and second with sales -- especially if you are a multichannel company that may reap extra product orders via one of your offline avenues.

3 Potential Pitfalls
There are some problems to watch for. Here are three of the top hazards and how to dodge them:

-> Pitfall #1. Upsetting non-winners

Online video contest participants often put a great deal of effort into their submissions. So, you don’t want them to go away angry if they lose (some will think their video was the best no matter what and feel like they were treated unfairly). To help avoid that, give *everyone* who submits a video -- at the very least -- a personalized email with a reward coupon ($25 to $50 off + free shipping, perhaps).

Another pre-emptive solution is to send them cool swag -- a free item they will wear or tell their friends about. In a past online video contest, Converse sent participants a pair of Chuck Taylors. Marketers should consider budgeting in product giveaways.

“Part of the essence of all UGC initiatives is making sure that users get something out of it besides only the entry,” Anderson says. “It’s even truer in the case of video. Even if they do not win, it’s good to put up as many submissions as possible on the website. At least that way, they can send a link to friends and family and generate some kind of personal interest with that.”

Quick tip: Use a panel of judges in your marketing department to determine the winning entries. Don’t allow viewers to vote for the winner; it undermines the authenticity of the contest, which could turn into a ‘click competition.’

-> Pitfall #2. Attracting contest ‘junkies’

There are numerous contest sites that drive traffic to freebies. This is potentially bad because you don’t want to attract more contest junkies than actual prospects.

There are plusses to having a few junkies join in, though. Their content can generate interest in your contest.

“In one online video contest, we tracked where all of the people came from,” Anderson says. “And we got about an equal amount of free traffic from those contest sites as we did from paid media. You might think the quality of the content [the ‘junkies’ contributed] would be much lower, but we actually got some really decent content from them.”

-> Pitfall #3. Justifying video vs. other UGC contests

Getting people to make a video for your brand is far more time-consuming than getting them to write a letter or send in a photo. So your numbers may not be worthy of running down to your CFO at first.

In addition, some agencies are still having a difficult time with the idea of relinquishing control over the message to the consumer audience. In other cases, they are having a hard time selling the idea to their clients when doing a letter or photograph contest also are on the table.

“There aren’t a lot of clients who may be as comfortable as the Nikes and the Mountain Dews -- that can more easily see this as a viable marketing plan,” says Gurn. “But there is a definite value to allowing your consumers to have a voice in the marketing message.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples of online video contests:

TAOW Productions:

White Horse:


See Also:

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