With so much competition for computer users' attention online, you've got to do some innovative thinking to keep people coming to your online site. A technique that a number of newspaper online services are using with success is the age-old contest.
Publishers are using contests to attract people to use their service; solicit demographic data from visitors; and allowing advertisers to run contests on the newspaper online service to encourage visitors to look at the advertiser's message. In today's column, we'll look at a few examples.
The Daily Record and Sunday Mail - Glasgow, Scotland
This large Scottish tabloid has been running 2 contests on its Web site -- one offering free Daily Record t-shirts, the other a bottle of whiskey -- for several weeks. Online editor David Mill says a new contest will be introduced in a week or so.
To win a t-shirt, you must find the missing ball on a 132K photo of 2 soccer players (the ball has been edited out in Photoshop). Click on the right spot (I never did succeed) and you're entered in the contest. 50 winners will be selected from the successful entrants.
While the t-shirt contest is a simple newspaper promotion, the whiskey contest is more of a disguised advertisement. You are presented with 4 sets of celebrity eyes. You must answer 4 questions, such as "Which celebrity likes his Martini shaken but not stirred?" and "Which celebrity won fans with his big banana feet?" Answer all 4 correctly (I got it on my second try) and you are prompted with a form asking your address. Send in the form and you are entered in a drawing to win 1 of 6 bottles of Lang's Supreme Scotch Whiskey.
The Lang's contest is an excellent example of how advertisers must make their messages enticing in the online environment. This little contest is a much more effective ad for Lang's Whiskey than a "display ad" placed online.
Contact: David Mill, email@example.com
San Francisco Chronicle / The Gate - California, USA
At The Gate, Jan Calvert reports that contests are being used to gather demographic data on online users. Fill in a form and you are entered into a drawing to win $200. Since August 1, this scheme has brought in more than 4,000 responses.
Starting in October, The Gate ups the ante; for filling in the online survey, you will be entered into a drawing for a state-of-the-art wine storage system (humidity & temperature control, etc), filled with 240 bottles of Kendall-Jackson wines (all varieties, but emphasis on reds).
Contact: Jan Calvert, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mail & Guardian - Johannesburg, South Africa
The Electronic Mail & Guardian is giving away an Apple Newton. Its contest is similar to the whiskey contest above -- you are seeing an online ad for the Newton and links to Apple's Web sites. Fill in an entry form, click submit and wait. The contest is associated with PC Review Online, a section of the M&G Web site.
The Newton contest is displayed prominently on the M&G home page; it's the only ad on the page at this time.
By the way, don't bother to enter this one unless you're a resident of a Southern Africa country.
Contact: Bruce Cohen, email@example.com Houston Chronicle - Texas, USA
Houston Chronicle Interactive content manager Jim Townsend reports: "We've had a few (contests). Most recently we had an Elvis trivia contest to accompany our virtual voyage "In Search of Elvis". Prize was a black velvet Elvis painting. Winner was the president of the Elvis fan club in Iceland. We shipped it last Monday.
"In other contests we have given away Willie Nelson CDs and ice show tickets. Although it wasn't a contest, our most successful promotion was half-price coupons to 'Miss Saigon,' about 1,300 downloads." The Chronicle was the only medium in town where people could receive half price tickets to preview performances of that show. "The promoter thought that this was such a success, we were requested to do it again for two weeks during the regular run of the performance," according to marketing coordinator Don Templet. "We found it to be a success also. The site got over 18,500 hits. We also received calls from non online users asking how to get the tickets every time we promoted it in-paper." The site is still available for viewing at http://www.chron.com/promos/saigon/sai.html.
Contacts: Jim Townsend, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dan Templet, Don.Templet@chron.com XS / XSO Magazine - Florida, USA
At XSO, cyber alter-ego of XS magazine, a Fort Lauderdale "alternative" tabloid, you enter to win a t-shirt by answering the question of the day. On the day I checked in, it was, "If Microsoft God-for-Life Bill Gates has a child, what will it be named?"
XSO consulting editor Mark Bridgewater reports: "We are planning (as soon as I can work out one more bug) a music trivia contest (answer four questions and enter a drawing for a T-shirt)."
Contact: Mark Bridgwater, email@example.com
Syracuse Newspapers - New York, USA
Stan Linhort reports: "We've had a contest running for a couple weeks as a way to help new students at Syracuse University become familiar with Syracuse OnLine and The Syracuse Newspapers. Users enter by telling us what they want from an online or Web service. Someone will win an Apple QuickTake camera."
Contact: Stan Linhorst, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Wednesday's column about online sports niche services, I wrongly indicated that SportsLine USA was a free service. After a 30-day free trial, subscriptions to this Web service cost $4.95 per month, or $39.95 for a full year.
(p.s.: An advantage of publishing this column on the Web is that it's a simple matter to fix the original; the archive of this column contains the corrected article. This sure beats faded newspaper clippings that still have their original errors!)
Got a tip? Let me know about it
If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note at email@example.com.
This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org