Popularity contests for user generated content marketing = FAIL

A local newspaper does it. Puts a non-inclusive list of pizza shops online and runs a poll for “best of the city” pizza. This will grant “bragging rights” for the next year as “This cities best pizza.”

Now, pizza is a very subjective subject- some like it with thin crust, some thick, some believe in wood fired and others like deep dish. The “contest” is really not about the pizza- but about the paper driving traffic to their site and selling ads.

But, it can have real effect to the winners and the losers. The winner get’s bragging rights- and possibly a business bump. The losers all get ticked off. Next thing you know, you’ve lost a subscriber, a reader, or respect from the pizza aficionados who really know pizza- all because the contest wasn’t really a contest, but a popularity contest- and with internet voting, for the most part- a very imperfect system that can and will be gamed. Bragging rights for pizza is one thing, but a contest for a hybrid school bus takes this to another level. This is a real prize and required the students to invest time in creating a video/work of art to compete. Now, you’ve asked for free labor (crowd sourced creative) and then left the “judging” up to whomever can rig the system best.

We will choose the top 10 finalists, then all of America will be invited to vote online for the ultimate champion. Students of any age can enter (although a parent or teacher will need to sponsor students under 13 years of age). Group or class entries are also encouraged.

via America’s Greenest Schools - Contest Overview.

There is no requirement to watch all 10 videos before voting, no way of verifying without a doubt that voters are actual voters. It’s not like the Superbowl ad meter- which is a more scientific system, although not perfect by any means.

While all the voters may actually be made aware of your new hybrid bus, the 9 losers won’t be happy. And, does the stunt of the contest really advance your brand? Or does it alienate the losers it creates?

Contests for contests sake are fine, but once you tie in user generated content and ask people to do your work for you- make sure that the user gets more benefit that you do. Considering YouTube is the second most important search engine- consider requiring key words or links to a page that you want to have at the top of search- instead of allowing it to be a popularity contest open to all- have a real panel of judges to filter the final entries- and allow all the other entrants to judge the finalists- with a random prize for those who take the time to review the top finalists.

Just like you wouldn’t bet the farm on a spot that tested well with bad methodology- why run a contest that way?

Unless you like being tagged #FAIL by those who believed in your contest in the first place.