While promotional contests and sweepstakes are an increasingly popular marketing method, many prospective sweepstakes operators may not fully understand the importance of the rules governing the applicable contests.

Unlike other marketing means, like banner ad or print advertising campaigns, the sweepstakes model is not conducive to mid-campaign adjustment or termination, based simply on the desires of the advertiser.  On the contrary, the parameters of the sweepstakes contest that are established in the rules prior to commencement of the sweepstakes (including contest length and prizes to be awarded) must be adhered to, even if a given promotion has outlived its efficacy and an advertiser would rather pull the plug.

The contest rules for a sweepstakes promotion are your contract with the contest entrants.  This means that the rules of the game must be the same for people who enter on day one of the promotion as they are for people who enter at the end of the contest term.  As such, the rules must be set in stone when the sweepstakes period commences, and should not be abandoned or changed mid-stream.

Rules Should Be Against Perpetuity

The duration of a given sweepstakes that is set forth in the rules must be allowed to play out, even where the sweepstakes operator would rather terminate the contest prior to the conclusion of that period of time.  Similarly, the amount to be awarded and the number of prize drawings as set forth in the rules must be adhered to, even where the expense associated with the prize(s) exceeds the perceived value of the sweepstakes as a marketing tool.

Thus, it is recommended that newcomers to the sweepstakes model set-up short lived contests, with a manageable number of prize drawings, rather than create long term contests with many drawings.  With shorter contest periods, and fewer prize drawings, sweepstakes operators can limit their exposure and commitment for promotions that do not deliver the intended benefit and end up not being worth the investment of time and resources.

On the other hand, nothing would prevent a sweepstakes operator from conducting consecutive contests if the results from the first short-term promotion meet expectations.  As a simple rule: successive short-run contests are preferable to long term variations.

Tinker/Tailor

In addition to the duration of the sweepstakes and the associated prizes to be awarded, there are other aspects of a given sweepstakes promotion, such as entry method and the alternative free means of entry afforded prospective contestants, if applicable, that need to be established in advance, in the sweepstakes contest rules.

Given that sweepstakes operators will, in many instances, value flexibility (and the ability to tinker and fix bugs) with respect to these and other variables, it is again advisable to pick shorter, more easily managed sweepstakes contest durations.  That way, a problem that arises with one sweepstakes promotion can be addressed in the next contest, with less likelihood of creating a lingering headache.

An Ounce of Prevention

As should be apparent from the discussion above, it is crucial that you determine the parameters of any given sweepstakes contest ahead of time, and pick a realistic and modest timeline and prize pool so as to mitigate risk and exposure.  It is recommended that you retain qualified legal counsel to ensure that you get the rules right in advance, as well as to help you navigate any related issues that may arise during the course of your promotion.