Online contests build consumer interest

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Gabi Gregg won MTV’s recent “Twitter jockey” contest, which engaged millions
Gabi Gregg won MTV’s recent “Twitter jockey” contest, which engaged millions

Brands are featuring user-generated digital content in their consumer-facing contests, adding a new online angle to a marketing strategy that has been used for decades.

Canon USA, Buick, and Lee Jeans are among the marketers using the approach. In recent months, brands have launched a spate of online initiatives encouraging consumers to share personal stories by uploading essays or photos, for instance, to compete for various prizes. 

Canon created a contest for its “Your Second Shot” campaign, promoting a real-life couple − a first for the company − while showing off its ability to prevent consumers from “losing” important shots to poor quality. 

The couple traveled to Barcelona to take a photograph at the café where the woman's parents first met. After the photo they took didn't turn out well, Canon sent them back to Spain to recreate it with a PowerShot digital camera. The company is asking participants to upload a similar story and photo depicting a memory that was lost in a poor image from poor lighting.  

“I always feel that when consumers have something ‘in the game,' it brings them a little bit closer to the brand,” says Michelle Fernandez, senior manager of camera marketing at Canon USA. “When you layer underneath that kind of strong tech-nology proposition or that value proposition, I think consumers are more apt to listen and they are more intrigued, wanting to know more about what their peers are talking about.”

Home Sweet Solutions, a website that provides homeowners with do-it-yourself tips, recently launched the “Home Repair Nightmare” contest. The brand is asking participants to share a home repair project that went awry or part of their home that is in dire need of fixing. 

MTV Networks recently held a contest searching for social media talent, rewarding the winner with a job. This summer, the media company partnered with American Express to search for its first “Twitter jockey.” 

“The ‘TJ' was created and bubbled up through our network, chosen by our audience, of our audience, and that person is now embedded within our organization and engaged in a perpetual dialogue with our audience,” says Nick Shore, SVP of strategic insights and research at MTV.

Buick partners with FoodBuzz

Many consumers may not naturally connect cars and cuisine, but General Motors' Buick brand has made a culinary blog an important marketing partner. 

Buick partnered with FoodBuzz, one of the largest networks of food bloggers with nearly 15,500 members, on “The Project Food Blog” effort. It is encouraging more than 600 contestants to compete to become its winner, which it will name in early December. 

Food bloggers will compete, submitting creative recipes, mouth-watering photos and restaurant reviews. 

“Culinary [arts] are an important passion for our Buick audience, and our multifaceted integration with FoodBuzz allows its large following to discover Buick over the four-month period of this promotion,” says Janet Keller, digital and social media manager at Buick GMC.

Both General Motors' Buick automobile line and clothing brand Lee Jeans have launched contests that include a blogging component. 

Buick partnered with Food Buzz, an aggregator of food blogs with more than 15,000 bloggers in its network. It is co-hosting “Project Food Blog” for its initiative, which will name a winner after a series of 10 challenges are completed. The user-generated content makes the social media experience more authentic, says Janet Keller, digital and social media manager at Buick GMC. 

“The more real, and the more transparent it is, the more engaging and compelling it is for the audience,” she says. 

Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester Research, says contests are potentially an effective way to connect with consumers. However, he is skeptical on how deep the bond is. “It all comes down to the execution,” he says, “the relatively shallow execution.” 

Lee Jeans, meanwhile, enlisted the help of 20 bloggers for a contest. It gave each one a free pair of men's Lee jeans, as well as five more to give to readers.”

“Today, consumers are starting to become marketers of brands, and we really need to partner with them,” says Liz Cahill, VP of marketing and communications for Lee Jeans. “Obviously, we would love to tell our story in our way, but we know the world is changing − consumers have so much more power − and we want to make sure we are aiding them in telling our story and not running away from it.”

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