That was the situation recently confronting the city of Bay City, Michigan. In celebration of its sesquicentennial (150th) birthday celebration, the city invited residents and others to compete for a bundle of prizes with the grand prize valued at $2,000. Entry required submission of the Bay City-issued “passport” (A promotional brochure mailed to city residents. Pictured on left.) with stamps indicating that the entrant had visited the city’s top twenty-five attractions.

The problem. Only one person entered by the deadline. So Congratulations to the winner, native Bay City resident, Taylor Langstaff!

Maybe “1” Is Not the Loneliest Number

Relying on its strong media relationships, Bay City contacted the press prior to awarding the prizes. The Bay City promotion ended up receiving significant media coverage focusing on the fact that there was only one entrant. When asked whether Bay City considered the promotion to be a success despite the low participation, Deputy City Manager Dana L. Muscott responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes”. “. . . even if passports were not completely filled out, it was a great mailer for the events held in our City!” Ms. Muscott shared via email.

The primary purpose for a promotion is to promote – as in generate positive attention for a company, organization, person, cause, or, in the case of Bay City, a city. Hence, I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Muscott that the one-participant promotion was successful. “I actually had people from outside of town contacting me for a book to have some kind of guide to all of the [Bay City] activities,” Ms. Muscott shared with a reporter covering the promotion results.

Now that is truly turning lemons into lemonade!

Some Lessons for All Promotion Sponsors

But what other options are available to sponsors whose promotions attract fewer entrants than hoped?

Can a Sponsor Extend the Deadline? While I have not yet encountered a case directly addressing a sponsor’s right to extend a promotion deadline, here are my thoughts on the issue. If in the official rules the sponsor reserves the right to modify the rules, the promoter can arguably extend the deadline of the promotion. The right to extend the deadline is one of several rights a sponsor should reserve in its official rules. If the sponsor does not reserve these rights, the sponsor arguably waives the right to take these actions.

But, Extending the Deadline Is Risky. It is risky to extend the deadline if the sponsor has not reserved that right in the official rules. Even with a reservation of the right in the official rules, deadline extensions are still risky - from both a legal perspective and a public relations perspective. The risk increases proportionally with the value of the prize, the number of participants, and the effort required from participants to enter. Sponsors implementing best practices will avoid deadline extensions.

Ability to Extend Deadline Varies by State and by Type of Promotion. A state’s prize promotion laws can also impact the sponsor’s ability to extend the deadline. Some state prize promotion laws explicitly prohibit the sponsor from changing the rules. However, not all state prize promotion laws govern all contests, sweepstakes, and other prize giveaways. Like the federal Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act which many state prize promotion laws model, some states make their prize promotion laws applicable only to certain categories of promotions that use direct mail or telephone solicitations or require attendance at a sales presentation. Other states have broader prize promotion laws that can at least be interpreted to apply to more traditional sweepstakes and contests.