Writing Sweepstakes Rules 101, Part II
In our last blog post, we wrote a bit about what should be included in the official rules for sweepstakes. In this post, we will continue that conversation, delving into more of the necessary details that should be included in the governing document of the sweepstakes.
How to Enter – Make this abundantly clear. People need to know what information is being collected from them. Plus, if your entry mechanism is complicated, you must make sure people know what hoops they need to jump through to obtain an entry. If entrants need to upload a photo, make it very clear what the photo must depict and who can and can’t be in it. If a particular hashtag must be included for the entry to be valid, clearly states that in the official rules and especially in any calls-to-action. Sometimes the entry steps are super simple to follow because people just fill in the entry form. But the advent of social media brought the ability to incorporate any of the following actions as a method of entry: tag, mention, quote-tweet, re-tweet, share, comment, like, comment with a hashtag, etc. Complications and trouble can arise when more than one action is required and especially when these actions aren’t laid out in an easy-to-follow manner. Furthermore, it should be noted whether multiple entries are accepted, or if additional entries are granted for completing additional tasks or coming back the next day to enter again. For instance, the person may be granted an entry for filling out the entry form, but then awarded an additional entry for sharing on various social platforms. In the end, the total number of entries someone can obtain during the sweepstakes needs to be stated.
Winner Selection Process – How will the winner be selected? This should be clearly stated. For sweepstakes, the rule is that the winner is selected at random from all eligible entries. Notice that we wrote “eligible” entries? That’s because you need to check the entry data to make sure it doesn’t contain any errors and you need to be certain all entries have been collected and accounted for before you actually start selecting a winner. Did you know that if the sweepstakes is open to residents of Canada, the location (i.e. city and state) of the entity conducting the random drawing needs to be listed in the official rules? This is one of those little-known requirements that is very important to include in the official rules. As mentioned above, several actions may be requested from entrants in order for an entry to be valid and counted. If this is the case, you will want this laid out in the official rules so that you can legitimately disqualify entries from winning during the drawing process, if applicable.
In a contest that involves some display of skill, the winner will be selected based on the decision of a panel of judges or peers who have taken the time to score each eligible entry. Make sure both the judging criteria and how many rounds of judging will happen (i.e. semi-finalists, finalists) are explicitly stated in the official rules. Be especially clear if public voting is a component of determining a winner in a contest. Why? Because public voting creates a “chance” element in the structure and contests are about showcasing a skill that can be judged objectively versus sweepstakes that throws all entries into a hat and select just one at random. For clarity, the following are a few examples of “chance” elements that can arise with public voting: i) the number of friends and/or family an entrant has, ii) an entrant forgets the day he/she can start asking for votes from the public, and iii) the social media “savvy” varies by the entrant. We’re not saying you can’t have a public voting component; it absolutely can be added to a contest. It’s just that you need to account for the “chance” element it adds and ensures you’ve removed as much “chance” as possible from helping to determine a winner. It’s also crucial to include tie-breaking procedures in this section of the official rules.
Prizes – Any and all prizes should be clearly outlined. In some cases, it will be a single prize for one winner. In other situations, you may have prizes for various levels of winners. All prizes and their values must be stated in the official rules. Depending on the prizing, you may want to account for unexpected shipping costs with language similar to “any incidental expenses or costs not specifically listed as part of the prize are the responsibility of the winner and not the sponsor”. Also, be sure to specify whether the prize is exchangeable for cash or transferable to another person. Making prizes brand-centric and not allowing a cash substitution means people who are entering are genuinely interested in your product. However, if you want to offer a cash substitution, be sure to indicate what the cash alternative is for the applicable prize. For example, if the grand prize is an electronic device valued at $500, you may offer the cash value of $500, but you may only offer $25,000 if the grand prize is a new vehicle with an MSRP of $32,000. You have options; you just need to make sure you know which ones you want to deploy in your sweepstakes ahead of time.
Disclaimers – So much of the content within the official rules have to do with transparently conveying the operation of the sweepstakes, in addition to what the prizes are and their value. At first glance, this section of the official rules seems like it might contain language that protects the entrants. However, the “Disclaimers” section is really all about what the sponsor and any other entities disclaim to the entrants. For instance, this section will talk about how Sweepstakes Entities are not responsible or liable for a handful of scenarios such as typographical errors in promotional materials, technical malfunctions of the telephone network or computer systems, inaccurate transcription of entry information, or even changes by the air carrier/lodging facilities that may interfere with the travel of a winner. People who enter a sweepstakes will find this section of the rules pretty boring, but if you are the sponsor who is on the hook for doing its due diligence to run a valid sweepstake, you’re going to depend on this section.