Everybody loves winning a prize, right?
Whether it’s free donuts at a local coffee shop or an all-inclusive trip to Aruba, winning just makes us feel good, period.
It’s no surprise, then, that promotional giveaways and contests are great ways to enhance your customers’ experience and relationship with your brand. Contest winners will almost certainly feel a stronger connection with your business in the future.
This isn’t to say promotional winners are the only people who can feel this stronger connection. Everyone who enters your contest or giveaway could potentially have an enjoyable experience — even if they don’t end up winning anything at all.
This all depends on your ability to create a contest or giveaway that’s fun, engaging, and memorable.
Creative Contest Ideas Still Need a Strategy
Today’s consumers are familiar with the more traditional (i.e. “run-of-the-mill”) branded contests companies usually run. If a giveaway just instructs customers to “Click Here for a Chance to Win a Free iPad,” it’ll have minimal effect on their relationship with your brand.
(Heck, even the person who wins the iPad likely won’t care all that much where it came from – they’ll just be happy they won a free iPad.)
Your marketing can benefit from even more contest creativity whether doing a giveaway to increase brand awareness, to generate new leads, or to strengthen your relationship with current customers. You’re more likely to hit on something if you start with an idea that’s in some way unique and original. You could also give away something your contest winners will remember for some time to come, (or both).
You’ll find a number of unique (and somewhat unusual) contest ideas and prizes in the below sections. We’ll include examples of how both large and small companies have utilized these ideas to perfection. For each idea, we’ll discuss key lessons to take with you as you begin to develop your next giveaway event.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
8 Creative & Unusual Ideas for Your Next Contest or Giveaway
Your ultimate goal for putting on a contest or giveaway is to enhance your customer’s experience with your brand.
In other words, your contest needs to provide value to their life in some way or another. Remember: you want everyone who enters the contest to enjoy the experience of doing so – not just the winners.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some contest ideas that might help inspire the next giveaway promotion your brand puts on.
Collect User-Generated Content (UGC)
The idea of a UGC contest is pretty straightforward:
- Audience members create and submit pictures, videos, or text content that in some way features your business or brand.
- You publish said content on your website and/or social media channel as an embedded UGC gallery or hosted on its own landing page.
- The winner(s) are decided internally by your team, or the decision can be based on voting metrics (such as the number of “likes” the content receives on social media). You can even add voting options to your UGC contest.
On the surface, this contest idea isn’t exactly an unusual or unique premise – it’s been done many times by large and small businesses alike.
However, such contests open the door for your customers to get creative.
For example, let’s look at Starbucks’ #WhiteCupContest.
Back in 2014, Starbucks put on a contest in which customers were asked to decorate a plain white Starbucks cup (including the infamous logo) and post their creation on various social media platforms. The best design (as decided by Starbucks’ team) was then recreated and made available to all customers for a limited time:
Similarly, fashion label Marc Jacobs is well known for its #CastMeMarc competition, in which brand fans post pictures and videos wearing the brand’s clothing for a chance to become an official brand ambassador. Finalists are flown to company headquarters where they take part in a final casting call hosted by Marc Jacobs himself. The chosen winners then work with the company to create videos hosted on the brand’s site for all to see.
There are a couple lessons to take away:
First, as evidenced by Marc Jacobs, user-generated content is a great way to further brand awareness and build social proof for your brand. Every person who enters the contest will contribute something in spreading the word about your brand.
Second, this kind of contest prize idea has an intrinsic nature that can significantly enhance the winner’s relationship with your brand more than most extrinsic rewards like some free tech. Case in point, the winner of Starbucks’ contest claims that the day her artwork was chosen was, “probably the happiest day of (her) life.”
Needless to say, she’ll almost certainly have a soft spot in her heart for Starbucks for the rest of her life.
Get Creative: Ask Your Customers to Share Their Ideas
You might also decide that it’s a good idea to use a giveaway event as another way to generate feedback from your most engaged customers.
For instance, you could ask customers to answer a question about your brand in exchange for entrance to your giveaway.
You might ask:
- “What’s your favorite thing to do with (your product)?”
- “If you could change anything about (your product), what would it be?”
- “Share your favorite (memory, etc.) that includes (your product).”
For example, Eggo once ran a “Waffle-Off” contest, in which entrants were tasked with sharing their favorite waffle-related recipe on social media (using the hashtag #EggoWaffleOff).
Summer sporting goods company Waboba used a similar approach, asking its customers “How do you Waboba?” This contest tasked entrants with creating UGC showing them performing fun trick shots with Waboba balls, with the winner receiving a collection of Waboba-related products.
When putting on this type of contest, your main goal is to generate feedback (be it positive or constructive) from the customers who know your product best.
In turn, you’ll gain a better understanding of how your customers use your product in a real-world setting, allowing you to continue making improvements that relate to these specific use cases. And, of course, you can also use any less-than-stellar comments to make other improvements as necessary.
Your Customer’s Dream Life
Another option you might consider revolves around your customers’ goals, hopes, and dreams involving your product.
The idea is to promote the value your product brings to your customer’s life — what your product enables them to do. This, essentially, is why your product exists in the first place.
For example, a luggage company might ask its customers, “If you could pack your bags and hit the road right now, where would you go?”
Carnival Cruise Lines took this approach in 2010 when it prompted its customers to answer the question, “Didja Ever?”
The campaign asked entrants to create bucket lists revolving around travel, exploration, and related experiences – and then document their journeys as they checked items off the list. The company then chose winners at random, who were given free tickets for cruises and other once-in-a-lifetime events and experiences.
The point of such a contest is to draw attention, not to your product, but toward the value your product brings a customer’s life.
Allow your customers to dream big, and to see themselves as the hero of their own story.
For your company, such a contest help you generate insights into customer hopes and dreams relating to your brand. In turn, you can then use this info to influence future marketing campaigns, as well as the development of future products and services.
Simply put? The more you know about various customer life goals and dreams, the better equipped you’ll be to help them get there.
Partner with Other Brands
Going along with the idea of understanding how your products or services fit into your customers’ lives, you also may think about partnering with other brands if their audience overlaps with your own. You could even create co-sponsored contests together.
For example, a sporting goods company might co-sponsor a contest with a company that produces sport drinks or protein bars — or both. (The prize in this case might be a selection of products from each company, or an experiential reward that revolves around athletics.)
Going beyond the “Enter to Win!” contest type, you can also partner with multiple companies and create a “loop giveaway.” To enter a loop giveaway, customers will need to like, follow, and/or share a specific piece of content from each brand’s social media pages, as illustrated below:
What’s a loop giveaway? Essentially, both brands get rocognition with each entrant who participates, They’ll likely end up following both brands on social media, too.
Needless to say, this giveaway idea can lead to a major brand awareness lift for your company. Even more, you’ll generate this awareness within customers among your target audience base.
When partnering with other brands to co-create contests and giveaways, your main focus should be on finding brands whose products complement your own, and whose target audience overlaps with your own, as well.
However, before you search for partners, you’ll want to make sure your other content is up to quality check, so to speak. You don’t want your partner’s audience to “like” your page simply to enter the contest; you want them to do so because they find the content you share valuable in some way or another.
As we said, co-sponsored contests can help you generate awareness among highly-qualified prospects – but it will be up to you to follow through to bring them aboard as customers.
If you’re looking for a way to drive lots of traffic to your landing page, or perhaps one of your social media channels, you’ll want to consider sending your audience on a scavenger hunt.
As we’ve discussed before, the basic premise of a scavenger hunt contest is that your audience must discover a password in order to enter the contest. Of course, you’ll have placed this password somewhere on your site or social media pages, and will be providing hints as to how to find it.
Now, you don’t want to get too complicated. Typically, the “password hunt” should take no more than one or two steps to complete. For example, you might have your Facebook followers check out your latest Instagram post, in which you share the code word of the week:
If you want your customers to really work for the code, you could create a puzzle or brain-teaser for them to solve:
(Source / Spoiler Alert: It says “I can’t believe Eric Lindros is calling my phone.”)
Whichever method you choose, the goal is to get your audience more engaged with your brand — and to take action when they might not have otherwise.
In our first example above, the goal was to generate more traffic toward the brand’s social media channels outside Facebook. In example two, the radio station in question was aiming to funnel traffic to its Instagram page.
Again, as with loop giveaways, be sure your content surrounding the pass code is worth engaging with in the first place. While the contest may be enough to get your audience members on the page, it’s the quality of the content on said page that will get them to stick around.
We’ve mentioned the importance of ensuring only high-value customers or leads enter your contest. (You’ll benefit from minimizing instances where people with zero interest in your brand enter your contest just for a chance to win a prize.)
Want to laser-focus the contest on your most engaged customers? Hold a trivia contest of sorts.
You can ask either a single question or a series of questions relating to your brand. You might ask questions that deal with your company’s history, your logo, your products… the list goes on. The important thing is to make them at least somewhat difficult; be certain that only your most dedicated customers know the answers to your trivia questions.
Or, if you want to be a little less self-centered, you can choose to quiz your audience on topics relating to your industry as a whole.
In the example above, Holiday Parks New Zealand asks its audience to answer questions regarding camping rules and regulations. Clearly, you’d have to be pretty big into camping and similar outdoor activities to be able to ace this quiz.
Aside from getting your customers engaged with your brand in a more unique manner, brand- or industry-related quizzes also allow you to collect a ton of relevant information.
First, you’ll easily be able to tell which entrants are absolutely obsessed with your brand (and which are relatively low-value customers.) You can then create a customer segment of these mega fans, and in turn create highly-targeted marketing campaigns.
Second, the results of your industry-related quizzes can tell you what your audience knows (and doesn’t know) about your niche. With this information, you’ll be better equipped to create the informational and educational content your target audience needs to have a successful experience with your brand’s offering.
Spread the Love
In an effort to show the human side of your company, you can run a contest around being charitable and/or spreading messages of love throughout your community.
For example, you might prompt your audience to commit a “random act of kindness” and have them post a photo or video of them performing the act. Or, you might ask customers to “pay it forward” by presenting a gift card to a friend or family member in exchange for their entry into a drawing.
If you really want to get into the giving spirit, you might consider avoiding a prize at all — instead donating the prize in the name of your winners. Oscar Mayer essentially did just that with its “Good Mood Mission” initiative, in which the famous hot dog company donated a pound of food to Feeding America every time a customer shared a “good mood” on the company’s website:
While not exactly a contest, this campaign idea is a great way to involve your customers in a mission that’s much bigger than your company. Hey, we never said your giveaway needed to be focused on giving something to your customers, did we?
Sometimes, it’s best to put aside the business side for a moment and to take time to focus on the more important goings-on in our world.
That said, giveaways or contests that focus on bringing out the charitable goodwill of your audience can be a great way to instill a sense of camaraderie throughout your brand’s shared community.
Now, while this enhanced engagement will certainly end up being beneficial to your company, you definitely don’t want to make this the focus of such campaigns. Yes: your community will be more tightly-knit once the campaign has closed, and yes, this will probably lead to more business for you. However, it’s essential that your focus remains on the intrinsic reward of doing a good deed.
Okay, enough sentimentality; it’s time to get weird.
Or, at least, to let your customers get weird.
If you want to put a truly unusual spin on your next contest or giveaway, you can task your followers to do something silly — perhaps even slightly embarrassing — in exchange for some freebies.
Perhaps the most famous example of a weird or wacky giveaway is Chick-fil-A’s “Cow Appreciation Day”:
Going along with the brand’s popular “Eat Mor Chikin” marketing campaign, Chick-fil-A promises to give anyone dressed in cow regalia a free entree throughout Cow Appreciation Day (which is typically sometime in July). As shown above, customers can be as creative and weird as they want, but even something as small as a cow sticker is enough to earn you a free lunch.
Another option? Hop on the latest viral challenge bandwagon — or create your own.
Going back to the creation of user-generated content, you could make a contest out of the ordeal, giving away a grand prize to the best or most-shared challenge video that includes your branded hashtag.
(Just make sure the “challenge” is 100% safe, of course.)
Your goal for such a campaign is simply to allow your customers to have fun with it. Give them an excuse to be weird, and they’ll almost certainly love you forever.
Make sure the campaign is brand-appropriate, and specific too. You don’t want customers doing something silly just for the sake of it. As with Cow Appreciation Day, be certain that anything you have customers doing in the name of getting a prize or freebie also relates to your brand.
Creative Contest Prize Ideas
So far, we’ve focused mainly on unique premises for contests or giveaways. However, remember the prize or reward your customers enter to win is just as important in terms of generating excitement over your contest.
And it’s equally important to ensure the prize your customers enter to win strengthens their relationship with your brand in some way or another.
That said, let’s discuss your options for choosing a prize for your audience.
As we mentioned earlier, you may decide to offer your contest winners a chance to “see their name in lights.”
For example, the winners of Starbucks’ and Marc Jacobs’ contests each gained some major publicity in their respective niches.
In fact, Starbucks even went as far as to point audience members toward the winner’s Etsy page, (which undoubtedly caused a spike in sales for the artistic entrepreneur.)
Regardless of what came of such publicity, it can be a reward itself. For example, even if the winner of the White Cup Contest didn’t have an Etsy page, there’s still a pretty good chance that seeing her design be mass-produced would be enough of a reward to make her day.
Your most rabid fans would essentially die for a chance to be noticed and acknowledged by your brand. Instead of worrying about providing extrinsic rewards, focus first on making them happy; it’ll stay with them for much longer.
In similar fashion to the above, there may be no better way to get your “everyday” customer up to VIP status than to treat them like a VIP.
For example, you might invite your contest winners to attend a VIP party – with all expenses paid for, of course. Nikon did just this in 2011, putting on a party for contest winners in a club in the middle of Manhattan.
If you’re not looking to host a major event, you might simply choose to offer your contest winners VIP status within your loyalty program for a specified period of time. In doing so, you’ll inevitably keep your contest winners engaged with your brand for some time to come.
As we just mentioned, the goal of offering VIP treatment to your contest winners is increasing their levels of engagement with your brand. Or, if your winners are already VIPs, you want to show them how appreciative you are of their business.
As you surely know, the modern consumer thrives on receiving personalized products and services.
So it simply makes sense to get ultra personal when giving away prizes to your contest winners. It could be as simple as offering them an engraved product of their choice… or you could go a step further and let them fully customize the item in question:
If you’ve never heard the story that accompanies the above photo, here’s the gist:
A Samsung fan sent in the above drawing to Samsung Canada asking (tongue-in-cheek) for a free Galaxy S3. The company obliged. The Samsung team went a step further, creating a one-of-a-kind phone case, complete with the customer’s own drawing on it.
(There’s more to it than that, but we don’t need to get into those details here.)
While not exactly part of a contest, the point is that this personalized gift created a fan for life. You can be darn sure he held onto that S3 for as long as he possibly could, and probably still tells the story of its origins to people he meets.
Allowing your contest winners to create a truly personalized version of your product — truly one of a kind — adds definitive value in the eyes of your customer. Additionally, offering to personalize the individual’s prize in some way shows your dedication to their satisfaction.
Giving away any ol’ prize is one thing, but putting in the effort to make the prize truly personal will certainly help your brand stand out from the crowd.
We talked about this earlier on when discussing co-sponsored contests:
The prizes for such contests should be representative of every brand involved. You might create a collection of products from each company, or you might provide gift cards for a storefront.
Or, you could offer a collection of prizes that relate to your industry as a whole. For example, in 2015, parenting advice website Fatherly partnered with SkinnyMom and Greatist to create a promotional contest for its customers. The grand prize winner received their choice of ten Lululemon items, a year’s supply of KIND bars, and the newest version of the Fitbit.
Since co-sponsored contests will inevitably attract fans from each brand, you’ll want to find common ground among each audience base when determining the prizes for your giveaway.
Remember: The goal of a co-sponsored contest is to attract like-minded individuals to your (and your partner’s) brand. If the first thing a new customer receives from you is a freebie for winning a contest, you’ll likely have created a fan for life.
A Cornucopia of Prizes
Now, even if you’re going it alone for your next contest, you can still offer a variety of smaller items that complement each other (as opposed to one big-ticket item.)
For example, Om Magazine gave away the following bundle to one lucky winner back in 2017:
By offering a “cornucopia” of prizes to your contest winners, you accomplish two very important tasks:
First of all, you expose your winner to a number of your products they may have never used before. This can give you the opportunity to make up-sells and cross-sells to said customer a bit later on down the road.
Secondly, you allow your winner to get the full experience of your brand. Once they experience everything else you have to offer — and see the value your products bring into their lives — they’ll likely evolve from being an “average” customer to an enthusiast with some level of loyalty to your brand.
So far, we’ve focused on the idea that your prizes should provide some sort of value to your contest winners. Sometimes, though, it’s good to have just a little fun with your winners.
Hey, entertainment value is value nonetheless, right?
Now, we’re not advocating that you strictly offer booby prizes in lieu of a prize that actually has value.
But you could certainly add a little humor to the experience by throwing in a gag gift along with your actual prize. And this gag gift could definitely make your brand stay top-of-mind for quite a while. (Case in point, we’ll all probably remember that inflatable flea for longer than we even care to.)
Again, you do want to follow through by providing one or more prizes that your contest winners will actually want. But you can also allow your brand’s personality to shine through by adding “a little something extra” for your winners.
Whew… we went through a lot.
But our goal for this massive guide was to do more than just provide suggestions for your next contest or giveaway. Our aim was to have you come away with an understanding of when to use each suggestion – and why each is appropriate for a specific scenario.
Above all else, the three main lessons to take away from this article are as follows:
- As best you can, maintain alignment between the premise of your contest and the prizes you offer your winners
- Even for your more “involved” contests, make sure the barrier to enter is set rather low
- Always be sure that your contest and contest prizes enhance your entrants’ experience with your brand in some way