But the real winners could be the online industry next year, when Yoyodyne gives away a study commissioned by KPMG Peat Marwick that details consumers' shopping behavior in the contest.
"This is a chance to get something that's very elusive-empirical data of online buyers' behavioral patterns," explained J. Douglas Graham, director of electronic commerce at KPMG. "I doubt that any studies have been done on this kind of scale."
"We could sell this research," added Jerry Shereshewsky, VP-marketing and business development at Yoyodyne. "but we're in the business of selling our expertise, not research."
$100,000 ONLINE SHOPPING SPREE
The EZSpree sweepstakes (www.ezspree.com), which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 3, awards a $100,000 online shopping spree to a contestant who registers his or her e-mail at the EZSpree home page.
Every time players visit one of the American Express merchants linked to the site, including Omaha Steaks, Nobody Beats the Wiz, Reader's Digest Association and Wal-Mart Stores-they receive an additional contest entry.
To facilitate the study and navigation, Yoyodyne created a central window on the EZSpree site, through which users visit various stores without leaving the contest home page. Each store is required to post a storefront "window" page on which four products of varying price points are featured for quick evaluation before entering a store.
Using proprietary software, Yoyodyne records which items consumers choose and how much time they spend on the merchant site and then feeds the data to KPMG. Mr. Graham said KPMG is also planning follow-up voluntary phone or e-mail interviews to ask consumers about their shopping experience in the stores.
The first part of the study is "solid data," Mr. Graham said, while the interviews will involve a self-selected group of people.
Heavy promotions are key to the contest's success, which is why Yoyodyne will be sending e-mails to registered players twice a week, reminding players about merchandise specials, and promoting American Express and the contest's four secondary sponsors: Infoseek Corp., Sprint Corp., U.S. Robotics and WhoWhere?. These sponsors either paid cash or barter advertising to be part of the program, said Mr. Shereshewsky.
"If you're going to be in the retail business-it's only about traffic, traffic, traffic," said Mr. Shereshewsky, alluding to malls, like IBM's, which closed because they couldn't attract enough shoppers. With the help of e-mail and banner ads, Yoyodyne guarantees merchants-which participate in the program for free-will receive a minimum 2,500 visitors each during the contest, and up to 5,000 visits if discounts are offered.
In addition, Yoyodyne has committed to bringing American Express a minimum of 1 million people to the contest's welcoming page during the contest, which will feature a place for people to apply for an AmEx card.
$200,000 AD BUDGET
In exchange, American Express is spending "a significant six figure" dollar amount and allotting Yoyodyne $200,000 to spend on online promotions for the contest, Mr. Shereshewsky said.
What attracted American Express to Yoyodyne was the success of its "Get Rich Click" sweepstakes, which ran from Nov. 15, 1996, to April 15, 1997, according to Emily Porter, director of public affairs at American Express.
The contest generated a total of 2.2 million Web site visits for clients including Columbia House, Columbia Healthcare and H&R Block.
In addition to helping out its online merchants, "We really want to raise the awareness of the ease and availability of shopping online," said Ms. Porter, noting that 6,000 card members are already enrolled in American Express' Web site program.
Yoyodyne's promotional e-mails will have to fight for attention among the spate of unsolicited spam e-mail, which increased 88% in the last six months, according to a study by Electronic Mail & Messaging Systems. Still, people will probably think twice before deleting its messages, said EMMS Editor Eric S. Arnum.
"Yoyodyne is a fun company," he said, adding that he'd take the time to read its mail.
If EZSpree is a success, Yoyodyne, which is planning a similar commerce