Tuesday 12 June 2012

Will there really be any prizes?

I'm sure a lot of you remember the competition on New Covent Garden Soup last year, where there was a farm to be won. At the end of the promotion, they announced that there had been no winner and there was a furious outcry from people on their Facebook page, some even accusing them of cheating. Because the people complaining on their page didn't understand the mechanism of the promotion, they didn't understand that although the farm genuinely was there to be won,  it was highly unlikely to be given away. In fact, unfair as it seemed to many, New Covent Garden had done nothing wrong at all.

That is because the promotion  was an instant win. You had to open your pack and check the code inside it to see if it was the winning code. Think back to "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory", where children all over the world were looking for golden tickets hidden in packs. That winning code was like one of those golden tickets, only even more rare because there was just one. Just one winning pack, among over two million promotional packs that were produced.

And for every person who bought the soup and checked their code, there were probably a dozen who didn't even notice the competition on the label, who carelessly tossed the empty pack in the bin, who left the pack of soup in the fridge until after its use by date (apparently this happens to about a quarter of the food we buy, although not in this house!) or who stuck the carton in the freezer, where it may still be lurking. Add to that the packs that will have expired while on supermarket shelves and been destroyed, or ones that got damaged in the packing machinery and never even made it to the shops, and you can see why it wasn't really all that surprising that the farm wasn't claimed.

Instant wins like this are very prolific these days, but there are other types of instant win too, as well as prize draws, so let's have a look at the different types.

A prize draw collects all the entries together until a fixed date or time, and than at that time draws a winner from every single valid entry. All prizes are guaranteed to be given away.

A "Golden Ticket" instant win works like the one described above. You many find a winning message inside a pack, or may have to check a code to see if it has been pre-selected as a winner, but whichever of those it is, the winning packs have already been pre-determined and if the prize isn't claimed, nobody wins.

Nowadays there are more types of instant win which can be fairer on entrants. The first of these is

An instant win based on an algorithm winning packs, or winning codes, are not pre-selected, but you have a code on your pack to check online or by text message. You are told instantly whether you have won or lost because the computer has calculated the odds of a win, based on the number of promotional packs and the number of prizes. So say five million promotional packs have been produced, and there are a hundred prizes. Each time you enter a code, it is like somebody handing you a bag with five million balls in it, a hundred of which are marked "winner".  If you are lucky enough - and you need to be VERY lucky - to pull one of the winning balls out, you get a prize. The odds  are still very long, but it gets rid of the worry that a winning pack may be destroyed unopened or thrown away by an unobservant person not interested in the competition. Again although all the prizes are available, the odds of them all being won is very low.

An instant win based on a winning moment these have randomly pre-selected winning moments, securely chosen by computer. They may be dealt with two ways
  1. the prize will only be given if somebody enters at the exact moment
  2. the prize goes to the first entry on or after the winning moment
The first type is very similar to the algorithm version above, with a clock replacing the virtual "bag of balls" but the second type is much more generous to compers because in most cases all the prizes will be given away.  And you can even increase your odds of winning, by thinking about the product and the times people are likey  to enter. If  the promotion is open all through the night (many aren't - check the details of each promotion) then the hours between 3am and 5am won't get many entries. As the winning moments are random, there may not be one between those hours - but if there IS, your chance of being that lucky first person are greater.  If the product is alcohol, there are unlikely to be many entries before around mid day, if it is on sweets, not many while children are at school and if it is on ice cream, not many on a cold, wet day. Why? Because among the non-comping community,  most entries are made on impulse, when you have the drink, snack or ice cream in one hand and your mobile phone in the other.

But my favourite kind of instant win? Ones where all unclaimed prizes are given away in a draw at the end of the promotion.  These are few and  far between, but they have the advantage of making sure everyone has a chance to win, and if you have tried the instant win and lost, you still have a second bite of the cherry.

I'll always prefer draws to instant wins, just as I will always prefer skill competitions to draws, but wherever there areprizes to be won I want to know that I'm in with the best possible chance, so I always read the rules to try to be certain what type of promotion I am entering. That way I am clear about what my realistic chances of winning are, and won't be taken by surprise when a promoter announces no prize has been awarded. And if you become Instant-Win-Aware, you won't have any nasty surprises either.

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