Prize draws and competitions are key elements in the promotional armoury of soft drinks brands. Jeremy Stern looks at some recent examples of successful promotions, and examines the risks and issues involved in running these types of initiatives.

With the cost of developing and launching new drinks products so enormous, there is an increasing emphasis on building sales from existing brands. This can be done through line extensions and new flavours but it can also be achieved by old-fashioned marketing techniques updated for the 21st century. Brands now realise just how valuable their real estate on cans and labels can be, and are putting it to use with ever more original and creative sales promotion ideas.

There are actually very few promotional mechanics - the staples are competitions, prize draws/sweepstakes, collector schemes, discounts and instant wins - so the trick is to put a different spin on traditional formats.

Recent new spins on the prize draw idea include the Coca-Cola Buy a Player 2005 promotion. This was a simple promotion based on a key consumer insight that "to a football fan nothing is more important to them than their club". This promotion featured a 'text and win' that offered a massive GBP250,000 (US$499,000) to the lucky winner. But the money was not for them, it could only be used by their football club to buy a player. Over 1m text entries were received and it was so successful that it was run again in 2006 in the UK and in several other countries.

Lucozade also ran a text promotion in Ireland, but they used the fact that mobile phones can determine the location of someone to create a type of treasure hunt. Pack graphics urged users to register for the Energy Zone game. Points were then awarded by sending a text from so called "Energy Zones" that would be created for short periods of time all over the country. So a message to those in Dublin might be sent saying "There is an Energy Zone in Dublin Main Square between 2pm and 4pm today - be there for 50 points" and the mobile GMS system could identify those sending texts from within that area at that time and award the necessary points.

Another GSK brand, Ribena, decided to run a classic instant-win promotion on packs. Ribena appeals to those aged 8 - 14, so a link with the new Shrek movie was an ideal audience match. But how could they stand out from the many other licensed (and unofficial) Shrek tie-ins that would be around at the same time? The solution was to focus on one of the secondary, but certainly the funniest of Shrek characters, the Donkey. Called simply "Win A Donkey", the competition offered the chance to win a donkey or more accurately the sponsorship of a donkey in an animal sanctuary, along with GBP1,000 to go and visit the animal twice a year. There were also 1,000 other prizes of inflatable donkey toys to be won from a high-impact promotion which featured a radically altered carton design.

Other ideas are simply new twists on old formats. For example, US-based Riverside Technologies specialises in inserting promotional devices into drinks cans. These can provide the consumer with instant gratification and reward without having to wait for a future draw date or enter fiddly codes on a website.

Coors has used the Riverside Cash 'n Can device to insert real banknotes as part of an instant-win promotion. The money literally popped up when the ring-pull was opened. For a Dr Pepper Spiderman-themed promotion, a light-sensitive voice chip played a "You Have Won" message when the can was opened.

There are some simple dos and don'ts for running these types of promotions. Simple steps include avoiding figures such as 0 and O, S and 5, 1 and I in on-pack codes and making sure that when printing behind labels, there is no "show through" in bright lights.

Problems can also be averted by running production and distribution trials for more complex promotions, and by carefully selecting a closing-date that is neither too early, which may mean being left with stock, or too late which might dissipate the marketing impact. Verifying that correct procedures are being used by the handling houses and text companies being employed is also crucial.

Taking such steps can prevent severe problems further down the line. Promotional competitions and draws have produced some notable PR disasters for brands in the past. In the Philippines, for example, Pepsi ran a standard 'under-the-cap' instant-win promotion but confusion arose with manufacturers' codes already printed on the caps. The result was that thousands claimed the top prizes and apart from suffering a humiliating public relations disaster, Pepsi plants were attacked, vehicles sabotaged and staff threatened. The company settled over 6,000 claims at a cost of over US$10m.

Another company ran a promotion in late 2006 offering a prize a day involving on-pack codes which had to be texted in. However, in order to save money the company chose not to use unique codes, just a random rotation of 30 codes. Hardened "compers", those who enter competitions as a serious hobby, soon spotted this opportunity, and posted the codes on their various websites and chat-rooms for all to see. In the end, it was estimated that over 40% of the 90 prizes available went to people who could be identified as compers, and who had probably never even bought a bottle of the promoted brand!

Source: Soft Drinks International

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Jeremy Stern is managing director of PromoVeritas, a company which advises brands on terms, conditions and general compliance for promotional competitions, conducts prize draws and independently judges competitions.