Thursday 29 July 2010

Spice up your Text Life

Does your heart sink when your mobile rings, or when it beeps to tell you a text message has arrived, knowing it will either be a member of the family wanting to be collected from the station or an advert for this week’s dinner for £10 deal from your favourite supermarket?

Well, it doesn’t have to be like that. Calls and texts on my mobile have informed me of some wonderful prizes - holidays to Paris, New York and the Canaries, barbecues, hampers, gadgets, a barbecue party and, just a few days ago, a complete home entertainment system with 40” TV, Blu-Ray player, games console and surround sound system.

Text entry competitions are everywhere now and if you are not entering them because of the cost, the fear of junk messages, not understanding what to put or a worry that you aren’t very good at writing text messages, you are missing out on the chance of thousands of lovely prizes, so here are a few tips.

First of all the COST. Most text entries go to a short code number, typically 5 digits long, instead of to a full length one. Look carefully at the price of the message – most are charged at either your normal text message rate or at 25p, but some cost much more than that, sometimes as much as £2.50 per entry. And when the cost is given, anything more than a normal rate text is ON TOP OF your normal rate. So if you usually pay 12p per message, a 25p entry competition will cost you 37p. It sounds like a lot – but it’s less than the cost of a first class stamp!

However if you have a package that allows you a certain number of free texts a month, the bad news is that even standard rate texts to short codes don’t count as part of it. You have to pay for each and every text entry on top of what you pay for your package. So if you are thinking of buying a new mobile phone just to use for entering competitions, get a pay-as-you go one because the cost of the texts will just come from the credit you use. This will make it easy to monitor how much you are spending on entering competitions and you won’t get a nasty bill at the end of the month.

JUNK MESSAGES don’t seem to come as a result of entering the normal competitions you find on products, although sometimes you will get occasional messages from a promoter telling you when they have a new competition. The only time entering a comp correctly has caused me to get junk messages was when it was an expensive premium rate text entry one that I had decided to treat myself to, and I was then besieged with messages from the promoter wanting me to enter further expensive competitions. Fortunately simply replying to one of their messages with the word STOP meant I got no further problems.

However do make sure you enter the number to send your entry to correctly, as all sorts of services use short code numbers including some you may really NOT want to contact. I once sent an entry to a number just one digit from the correct one, and had a reply from a young lady who sounded as if she must be awfully cold if she was wearing as little as she said she was, and wanted me to make a £2 a minute call to her. Maybe the thought of all that money would have warmed her up……

WHAT DO I PUT? Your message should contain exactly what they ask you to send – no more and no less. Sometimes you need to send just a single word, or a word and a pack code, with no address details; in this case if you win, they will contact you for your address. The computer that registers your entry will only have been programmed to understand the message they have asked for. Try to tell it anything else and you will confuse it and get a reply saying your entry has not been understood. If you ARE asked for details like your name and address or email address, leave a space between the different parts of the message but don’t include any punctuation (apart from the normal symbols in your email address). Most of the time it doesn’t matter whether you write your message in UPPER CASE or lower case letters but I always play safe by copying whatever the promoter has used.

Are you a SLOW TEXTER? Well, so am I but mobile phones have a lot of time saving tricks. If you want to enter a comp more than once, maybe every day, you can save the message either into a folder, as a template or in your sent messages area, depending on your model of phone, then just open it and forward it to the correct number without having to type it out all over again.

Most phones have a selection of set messages or templates, saying things like “I am running late” that you can insert into a message. You can set up messages of your own to go in this area, so things that you use often like name and address, email address and phone number can be stored there ready to insert into your competition entries. Your phone's handbook will tell you how to do this.

Now, how about having a go at a few competitions? Here are some to try – do please let me know how you get on.

Relentless drinks are giving away 5 pairs of tickets to each of the Leeds and Reading Festivals. To enter, text (normal rate) LEEDS or READING to 87121. Max two entries per mobile per day. Closing 13 Aug.

Boots and Snack-a-Jacks are giving away a styling session with Gok Wan, with £1,000 to spend, and 50 x Gok Wan book. To enter, text (25p) GOKBOOTS to 81025. Max 10 entries per mobile per day.

McCain have 100 sets of garden games (cones, mega howlers and jumping sacks) to be won every day from 20 Jul to 13 Sep. To enter, in your details at or text (normal rate) MCCAIN followed by your name, postcode and house name/number to 86688. One entry per household per day

Photo credit

Image: Filomena Scalise /

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Tackling tiebreakers

Those who have loved competitions for as long as I have often look back nostalgically to a time a few years ago when tiebreaker competitions were one of the most popular types. We spent our spare time trying to say, in no more than 15 apt, original and amusing words, why Parker’s Pork Pies and Plumptons’ Perfect Pickles went so well together, or who we would like to take on a trip to Timbuktu and why.

In recent years, the number of tiebreaker competitions has dwindled dramatically and we never come home from the supermarket clutching a handful of entry forms for tiebreaker comps any more, but they ARE still around if you know where to find them, and are springing up in some new and interesting places such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

People who have only ever comped on the internet may be new to tiebreakers and find them a bit off-putting, so here are some tips to help you to write entries that stand out from the crowd.

First of all, get a big sheet of paper (or nowadays, a blank computer screen) and jot down every word or phrase that comes to mind to do with the product or service you are writing about. Now use these ideas to gather your ideas together into a winning tiebreaker.

1. Write in rhyme (but not every time)

A rhyming couplet can catch the eye of the judge and help you to win – but only if it is a GOOD rhyming couplet! If you’ve struggled to find words that rhyme, or your lines don’t have a good rhythm when they are read out loud, your tiebreaker won’t have as much punch.

2. Use word play

Puns and jokes – the cornier the better – all help. Think about the headlines in tabloid newspapers. Don’t they sometimes make you want to groan out loud? I’m just looking at the website of a daily paper as I write this, and can see that a TV show presenter has been snapped in a bikini- the photo is headed “Striply Come Dancing”. No need for long words or clever language – just simple words used with a twist are the most effective.

Double meanings, alliteration, homophones (words that sound the same such as pair/pear/pare) can all be used in word play. You could, also take well known sayings, proverbs, film and song titles and juggle with the words a little, for instance using the phrase “To boldly grow…” in a garden related competition.

3. Don’t knock the opposition

I’m sure the promoter thinks all the other brands of cat food, ice cream, perfume or pizza are absolute rubbish, but if you say it in your entry it can look negative and downbeat – and you want to be just the opposite, happy, positive and upbeat. Praise the good – ignore the bad.

4. Simplicity sells

You may have jotted down six brilliant ideas, but try to pare it down to just one or two, otherwise your entry will look scrappy and confused. If your ideas are so good that it hurts not to use them, keep them in a notebook to use another time, or if you are allowed more than one entry, spread them out over several attempts.

There is far, far more that I could say but the best way of all to learn to write tiebreakers is to have a go at them, so here are a few you could try.

On Twitter – you could win an iPad for writing the fictional CV of a celebrity. Enter here as often as you like – this closes on 01 Sep.

On Facebook - there is a free pizza to be on every day

and on the Tracklements website there are delicious sauces and chutneys and lovely kitchen accessories to be won every month

Check out the Superlucky blog (see the link on the right) for more about tackling tiebreakers on Twitter .

Thursday 15 July 2010

Prizes for Parents

This week's guest post is from my elder daughter Emma, who has grown up with my comping and learned from me - and in exchange is patiently teaching me about blogging!

Emma Button is a first time mum to toddler Lara. She blogs at Mellow Mummy about trying to remain cool, calm and collected as a working mum. Here she tells us about some of the different types of competitions that you can find that are targeted at parents.

Internet competitions were my lifestay during the late stages of pregnancy and shortly after the birth. Housebound, I sat quietly with my laptop and entered every competition I could find to win new and exciting goodies for me and the new baby. All of the big parenting sites have easy-to-enter competitions which have prooved very fruitful over the past 12 months:- Baby Expert , The Baby Website , Bounty , Ask A Mum etc. There is currently a wonderful competition at the Made For Mums website to win a holiday to Portugal worth £3000 and some Trunki goodies too!

Easy-to-enter competitions don't provide me with enough of a challenge to satisfy my comping needs! Since becoming a proud mummy, I have become very keen on photography competitions – usually ones that require you to show off your child rather than your photography skills! You can find a great photo competition running at the Kidstart facebook page right now.

And if you are looking for the type of competition which is challenging to enter but which offers great rewards if you win, then Victorinox (the people behind the Original Swiss Army Knife brand) have an awesome competition running this summer where one UK family could win 10,000 Euros to fund a project of your own design.

Victorinox are looking for 'A Family With An Edge' to propose a useful and innovative project that would benefit their local community. It could be a community garden, a summer child-care scheme, a home-crafted information booklet for parents or anything else that you and your family can dream up to benefit those around you.

The competition is being launched with the help of the 'House of Fairy Tales' Travelling Art Circus over the coming weeks at the following family-friendly festivals:-

Latitude Festival - 15th – 18th July (Henham Park, Suffolk)

Port Eliot – 23-25th July (Cornwall)

Bestival – 9th-12th September (Isle of Wight)

But don't worry if you can't attend - you can also enter online where you can find out a bit more about the types of family they are looking for.

Before I go, let me say that there are a number of great parenting competitions coming up on Mellow Mummy over the coming days and weeks! Stay tuned.
Images of Emma and Lara: thank you to Emma Button. Family group image: thank you to Image: healingdream /

Monday 12 July 2010

New Competitons at Northern Rock

The Northern Rock bank has a children's account called "Little Rock". At the moment young savers can pick up an entry form in branches for an art competition with a prize of £200 worth of Toys R Us vouchers. This closes on July 17th.

The bank also has a strong connection with Newcatle United Football Club and at present they are running two online competitions here - to win a chance to stand in the dugout as the playersrun out at St James's,which closes on August 8th, and to win a signed home shirt, which closes on August 22nd. You do not need to be a Northern Rock customer to enter.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

A day in the life......

Grape Vine readers often as me how I manage to find all the competitions that I put into the magazine, so here is a run-down of a typical comp-hunting day.

I try to do two competition “safaris” a week, one to a major town and one to several smaller towns, and to visit at least one branch of every major supermarket, High Street store and convenience store each week. The other days are spent writing up the competitions I have found for Grape Vine and the update.

On a typical “major town” day I start by checking my personal and Grape Vine emails, to see if there is any news of new comps from a small team of close friends, or “elves”, up and down the country who help me to find them, and to see if any readers have sent messages that need to be replied to.

Then while drinking my essential two cups of tea (thank goodness I have won a year’s supply from P G Tips!) I go through the trade press websites and press releases, making a note of any new and forthcoming competitions that are mentioned, and through the websites of several brands and chains that also mention their latest promotions.

Armed with my list and satnav, I plan my route to take in not just a town centre but as many out-of-town retail parks as possible. I start off in the town centre, going into every shop, bank, building society and salon, or where possible peering through the window to check all the displays. I go up and down the aisles of every floor of every large store, have a quick scoot around the railway station if there is one, and peek around the door of every pub and chain restaurant. All the time I am looking out for posters, display stands, advertising hoardings or leaflet displays. On the shelves themselves, I have trained myself to recognise the “normal” packs of each product so I am instantly alerted to any changes which may mean a promotional pack with a competition on it. Likewise I can spot a book with a competition sticker on it at 200 paces!

Every shop is checked out for the latest issue of any instore magazines and my choice of lunch is determined not by what I fancy but by which chain is currently likely to be running a competition.

Once I have squeezed every possible competition out of the town centre, I head out of town to supermarkets, DIY stores, garden centres and the numerous huge stores that have sprung up in retail parks, again checking both the stores and their stock for every possible place a competition could be lurking.

Often while I am out, my elf friends will text me with news of their latest finds, which all add to the number of competitions I can bring you. And as I drive between my destinations, I listen to the radio in case any of the adverts mention new competitions.

By the end of the day I have usually found several of the competitions I was looking for and far more that are completely new to me. I head home, looking forward to yet another cup of tea of course, to deal with the day’s Grape Vine post, always hoping that tucked among it there will be a LWE for me.

Cooking dinner is my great relaxation, after which I enter a few competitions myself, chat to friends online or relax with one of the many books I love to win,before going to bed to dream about yet more competitions!

Saturday 3 July 2010

The latest competitions to hit the High Street

Grape Vine readers should have received their July issue by now (If you are not a reader, head over to to see how to subscribe and, if you've not had one before, request a free sample copy). So yesterday I went to Basingstoke to look for new competitions to put in the July update and the August issue.

As well as plenty material for forthcoming issues, I found several competitions that close too soon for either, so here is news of them.

The first competition is one I found when theperson in front of me in the queue in W H Smith bought a gift card and was given a leaflet, which they threw on the floor unread. being a public spirited soul (and spotting the word WIN on it) I picked it up....

Buy any iTunes Gift Card from W H Smith to enter their competition to win tickets for the iTunes festival. There are 25 pairs of tickets for each concert to be won, and each draw closes 7 days before the concert. The final concert is on 31 July so your last chance to enter is 24 July, but the concerts have already started so the sooner you enter the more choice of dates you will have. Enter by giving your details and the reference number from your gift card at

Next stop was the Triumph lingerie store, where there were cards attached to the swimear hangers for a draw to win a spray tanning session for the winner and 5 friends, with 10 runners up of lingerie sets. The card is required for entry to the draw and the competition closes on 18 July. This may also be on Triumph swimwear in department stores - the dedicated lingerie stores are few and far between.

The day's final stop was at The Entertainer toy shop, where there are entry forms for a colouring competition open to children who were aged 14 and under on 01 July. The task is to create your own "Ultimate Spy Scene" based around a central character already provided on the page, and the top prize is the Club Penguin game for Nintendo DS, with 56 unspecified runners-up prizes. You can find your nearest branch of The Entertainer here. Forms must be handed in to a branch by 21 July.

Thursday 1 July 2010

And the winners are.....

The Winnin Post competition is now closed and the winners have been drawn. Congratulations to Ishy, aka @spritneybeers and cnelson aka @nelsonclaire

Please either DM me on Twitter with your "real" name and address or submit it as a comment below (it will only go to me and NOT be published on the blog) so that I can send your details on to Winn Sommor who will send your prizes.