More brands should be doing more branded contests

Social media does many cool and interesting things when it comes to content, but it’s also an incredible driver for contests. This often forgotten medium is in desperate need of rejuvenation, and all of the moving parts are now available through both online and mobile channels to make it happen.

Branded contests never made it to primetime before the social web because brands could not defer attention from the main reason to be marketing in the first place: getting people to buy their products.

But things have changed. Brands can now do many fun things to keep consumers engaged, and they don’t have to break the bank to do it.

Chevy hits a speed bump; Doritos cashes in its chips

Us marketers may have become a little gun-shy since 2006 when Chevy teamed up with the hit reality television series, The Apprentice, to launch its Chevy Tahoe SUV. Part of the campaign involved an online contest where consumers could create their own Chevy Tahoe SUV commercials online.

Contestants could choose their own terrain, soundtrack and stock video clips and write their own text to accompany the video. The disaster that ensued included environmentalists and Iraq War opponents hijacking the contest and creating a slew of anti-SUV and anti-Chevy “commercials.”

Chevy eventually changed the campaign, censored the ads and then killed the website. But the damage was already done as several of those videos were captured and posted on online video sharing sites like YouTube, where they are still easily viewed today.

A few years later, Doritos launched a similar online video campaign, encouraging consumers to create their own Doritos spots. The winner of the Crash the Superbowl contest would get their videos shown during the Big Game.

This branded contest has been running for several years and has been a huge success. Doritos is now super-active in multiple branded contests throughout the year, and has created its own social media platform for deploying branded contests through digital and mobile channels.

So, why did Doritos score on the same field where Chevy struck out? For a few reasons:

  1. Doritos’ brand and product are relatively innocuous – it’s hard to get worked up over a neon orange chip!
  2. Doritos learned from the mistakes of others, including Chevy.
  3. Doritos stayed focused on the fact that it was a contest (with a valuable prize), whereas Chevy wanted some good, free commercials as testimonials.

Mind the Gap

Prior to its rebranding snafu a few weeks back, Gap made the headlines in a positive way for its Casting Call contest.

This year’s edition was predominantly driven by the Casting Call iPhone app, which made it easy for parents to upload photos of their kids in hopes that they would be named the new face of babyGap and GapKids.

Along with a microsite and the branded mobile app, the real spin of momentum behind the contest was in encouraging parents to leverage Facebook and Twitter to get the votes out for their kids. Gap is expecting over one million entries.

Contrast this with Gap’s aborted campaign to “crowdsource” its new logo design, which some saw as a cynical attempt to save face and score some free design work.

Contests tell stories

What makes social media “social” is not necessarily how engaged a brand is with its consumers in terms of conversation. Social media are, fundamentally, about the ability to share media (text, images, audio and video) in an easy and fun way.

Layering mobility on top of this ability to share makes branded contests even more accessible to the masses.

Branded contest aren’t small. Social media and the mobile platform are powerful broadcasting channels (like television and newspapers) when they want to be.

The big idea here is that if your brand is compelling enough – and if the prize is worthy enough – customers are not only willing to create compelling (and branded) content, but they’re also willing to tell and share their stories with anybody and everybody they’re connected to.

Telling stories. Isn’t that what marketing is all about?