This Dumb Contest

By: , July 14th, 2015. Posted in: Happiness, Money

What Were We Thinking?

I’m going to share something with you that doesn’t make me feel good.  It’s something that happens to a lot of businesses which run contests, but few will ever talk publicly about it (certainly not while in the midst of it).  I hope you’ll find the story to be exactly what it is.  An honest confession of inner doubt.  And in the spirit of our blog, maybe by talking about it, we’ll prevent someone else from making a similar mistake.

12:40am.  Tuesday, July 14th.
Two minutes ago, I was laying in bed.  I’d been there over twenty minutes and I wasn’t asleep.  I know for some of you, falling asleep routinely takes longer, but I’m one of those dreadful people who falls asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow.   And closing in on a half-hour, I was still wide awake.  Worried and anxious.

It all started back about a month ago.  While discussing how to increase attention to this blog, I suggested to Chris (my wife, mother of my children, and co-blogger) that we add a contest.  We already have a weekly contest sponsored by Out of the Box Games (which is pretty amazing – and I recommend you check it out),  but we wanted something that would generate large numbers of new readers quickly.  I thought back on my many years working in radio, and how money was always seemed to be the best prize that a station could offer.  We kicked some ideas back and forth, and decided on three key facets for the contest:

1.  It had to be a short-term, weekly contest.  The logic was that with a limited number of opportunities to win, we would have the benefit of urgency.  If someone saw the post about the contest, they would be less likely to venture away from it with the intention to return later.  If they were interested, they’d act immediately.

2.  Contestants had to share our blog with others in order to be eligible to win.  Makes sense, right?  In exchange for doing some marketing for us, you could win some money.

3.  The prizes had to be large enough to warrant the time and energy to enter the contest.  I think Chris first suggested $25 per prize, which is wonderful – but I thought there was something rather magical about the amount of $100.  I mean, it’s the benchmark “big bill”.  I remember the first time I earned $100, and it required quite a lot of work to do so.  $100 for a few moments of my time?  Sign me up.

Following that discussion, “Christmas in July” was born.  We would take a large chunk of our yearly blog marketing budget (pretty much all of it), and allocate it for weekly giveaways of $100 each (in one hundred dollar Target gift cards).  Chris set up all the online details, and we kicked back to watch (with naive certainty) for the contest and blog to go viral.  I actually remember saying to Chris, “I bet we’ll see a thousand hits in a day, no problem“.  If confidence was a marketable trait, I’d be a bonafide promotion guru.

Two weeks into the contest, and viral is not a word I would use to describe the action thus far.

No, it isn’t an abysmal failure.  There have been a few dozen entries (and every one of those folks has my sincere appreciation, by the way).  Plus, the contest runs through the end of July, so it’s not even finished yet.  But at the moment, I’m kicking myself for not being smarter about this.  I’m wondering why we didn’t put this idea past some of our more experienced blogger buddies first.  I’m wondering why I regularly allow my own enthusiasm for a fun idea get in the way of patience and reason.  And I’m wondering why I didn’t look at a calendar to see that there were five Fridays in July (if we just would have made it “Christmas in August”, it would have saved us a cool hundred bucks).

And don’t think I’m blaming Chris either.  We’re a team, but I’m feeling the ownership on this, since I was the cheerleader for giving away large sums of cash.

We know why it’s not working, but can’t exactly stop the contest and start over.  The first problem is that we require users to jump through a lot of hoops to enter.  Too many hoops for a shot at the prizes in question?  I didn’t think so, but I’m on the inside of the jar, looking out.  It’s tough to read the label from in here.  The second issue is the amount of time it takes to review, compile, and track all the eligible contestants.  We’re committed to doing this right – and that takes quite a lot of time (mostly on Chris’ part).

Mainly, it’s that $500 price tag that gets me.  You remember me saying how dorked-up I was over $100?  Well, $500 dorks me up exponentially more.  Do you know how much a new Xbox One: Master Chief Collection bundle, with 12 months of Xbox Live and a second bundled game costs?  So much less than $500, I could buy a second controller and a third game with the difference.  But I wouldn’t have bought that because I’m really responsible.

So here I am at 1am, when I should be sleeping, typing a blog post which points out some holes in my professional blogger game.  The post doesn’t talk about how much I love my family, or how little this has to do with parenting, becoming healthy, or pursuing a life of happiness.  This is strictly from the business end of the pool, which might even come off as too revealing (or maybe as a stunt, to garner more attention for this dumb contest).  This post will probably also hurt Chris’ feelings a bit, since we are a team, and this was our idea.  But I consider By the Seat of Our Pants a safe place to share my doubts and ideas – not just as a parent, but as a guy who still thinks of himself as twenty-five years old, full of wonderful ideas, and always willing to take chances to create something wonderful.

There is still so much good to be had from this experience.  The two families who have won the weekly drawings are genuinely awesome people.  This blog brought us all together to share a bit about our lives – and help each other with stories, tips, and tricks to make life more enjoyable.

*I hear noises coming from upstairs at this point.

LB has inexplicably woken-up.  At two-years and a few months old, he does this from time to time.  It’s actually kind of sweet, because he just needs a little reassurance from me or Chris to fall back asleep.  Great timing, son.  In the grand scheme, this dumb contest (and the subsequent limited marketing impact thereof) is just a little blip that didn’t match my unreasonable expectations.  There are always more important things.


Advertising Disclosure: By The Seat of Our Pants may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or by your use of links provided on our website. However, all opinions are our own.

10 responses to “This Dumb Contest”

  1. I’m posting here not in my capacity as contest winner, but as one who has run contests before. It’s surprising and frustrating when they don’t function as intended. I remember contests that got scads of views but no entries, and giveaways with no entry requirement beyond posting a comment that nobody wanted. Mind you, it was usually albums and concert tickets I was giving away instead of cash, but…

    It was towards the end of my blogging stint that I tried doing it, so it was easier for me to walk away with only minor grumbles. I suppose for you guys you should chalk it up as a speedbump/learning experience. You guys are great parents and cool people and I’m glad to follow what you have to say.

    • Chris Stephens says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Jess! We were definitely way more optimistic than we should have been in terms of “the prize will speak for itself”. After speaking with another blogger friend of ours, we learned it simply doesn’t work that way. We will definitely chalk this up to a speed bump and won’t let it get us down. Once again, thanks for following us!

  2. Brenna Boyd says:

    Hey! If you want I can give you tips on how to make the next week more successful. I host giveaways all the time and would love to help. I think you all have an amazing prize but obviously just need a little help getting the word out. email me
    Check out my most recent giveaway if you want to see how I do them.

  3. Charles Stevens says:

    Well at least those hoops we had to jump finally got me on the Twitter bandwagon! haha In all seriousness though, it wasn’t too much trouble in my opinion, but I can see how that many steps might intimidate a casual new prospective reader. Thank you for such a candid and heartfelt article, though!

    • Jason Stephens says:

      Hey Charles! Glad to hear we were able to get you aboard Twitter – it’s my favorite of the social media platforms, but I mostly follow comedians. Thanks again for signing up and enjoying our blog.

  4. Helena Lemon says:

    Hi Chris, I truly feel for you! I have been blogging for 5 years and had no help from anyone. (I’m a reclusive extrovert!) It’s been quite a learning curve and I’ve also lost a little bit of cash. It’s part of the game. (Make sure you write that big prize off on the income tax end though!) Although I’m better at not losing cash now, I still make mistakes regularly. For what it’s worth, if you need help, let me know!

  5. Julie says:

    Prize or no prize, you both are doing great things and even w/o a “young” family myself, I enjoy what you do and have to say. I love sharing, as I know I’ve said before and hopefully have helped to spread “your” word, even a little. There will always be ups and downs but admire you for following your dreams and doing what you love.

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