Consumers still love sweepstakes

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Darrell Lester
Darrell Lester

Maybe you used sweepstakes in the 1980s or 1990s, and then dropped them like hot potatoes. Or, maybe you've never tried these contests for promoting your product or com­pany. No matter what your experience may be, I assure you that sweepstakes make a great marketing tool.

After working 30 years at Publishers Clearing House (PCH), I've seen just about everything when it comes to sweepstakes. During my tenure at PCH, I scrutinized and evaluated 3,000 to 4,000 direct mail tests to try to improve results and build excitement. This was really the driving force behind the phenomenal growth and success at PCH.

Sweepstakes were in their heyday in the early 1990s, when PCH was generating an unheard-of amount of magazine subscriptions and revenue. It also gave tens of millions of dollars each year to charity.

But then the tide turned. The low point came in 1999, when congressional hearings took place. The ensuing federal legislation spells out exactly what promoters using sweeps can and cannot do. As the negative publicity mounted, PCH even considered getting out of the sweepstakes business alto­gether. Naturally, we did what we always did when faced with any significant ques­tion — we conducted tests to determine what to do next. Needless to say, PCH still uses sweepstakes.

If you're still skeptical, consider the popu­larity of games of chance with Americans. The enthusiasm we have for lotteries, for example, illustrates my point. Lotteries are a $60 billion-per-year industry, with sales growing at a rate of about 6% per year.

Here is the bottom line: If done right, sweepstakes should increase your order response by 50% to 100%. You can use the contests to reach existing customers and generate new customers, both through the mail and online.

Furthermore, you don't have to fly solo with sweeps. You can use an outside com­pany to provide a co-op sweepstakes which takes care of all the details, including legal review. The good news is you don't have to spend a fortune to test sweepstakes with an outside partner. The cost is extraordinarily low compared to the potential growth your business could experience.

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