SWEEPSTAKES DEGENERATING INTO DATABASE COLLECTIONS

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I'm mad as hell about anti-consumer sweepstakes conducted by reputable consumer goods companies and their promotional agencies. These companies are not using sweepstakes to reward regular customers and to attract new ones; they are using them as advertising campaigns to promote a product and to develop an extensive customer database that may then be sold.

These sweepstakes require the entrant's phone number, and more are requiring substantial television viewing to answer questions on the entry form. Only entries with correct answers are used for the random drawing but all the entrants will become part of an international corporate database without their knowledge.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that the rules and regulations for each sweepstakes be clear, conspicuous and legible. With 20/20 vision I need a magnifying glass to read them in most cases, especially in TV Guide. In addition, according to an attorney from the Federal Trade Commission, sweepstakes cannot require "consideration" which "entails an investment of time or money by the entrant." "Consideration" would include the required large amounts of viewing time over two or more weeks to obtain correct answers to the sweepstakes questions.

Examples of these sweepstakes are the TBS Goodwill Games (16 days), Domino's Pizza (two days over two weeks), Chevy Trucks (eight days over four weeks), Snapple (11 days over five weeks), and VCR Plus (three days over three weeks plus you had to own a VCR). None of these sweepstakes offered alternate means of entry as required by the FTC, and when an 800 number was used it usually required a touch-tone phone, which further restricted sweepstakes entry or the ability to obtain information.

The Snapple and Chevy Truck sweepstakes were only open to Discovery Channel subscribers, and no alternate means of receiving the answers were given. These two sweepstakes ads (double-page, inside-the-cover) in TV Guide listed illegible rules. In another sweepstakes offered by TV Guide and News America the entrant could call a 900 number to enter ($.95/minute) or she had less than a week to enter by mail. Another example of an anti-consumer sweepstakes was Pennzoil's NCAA Four to the Game which required the entrant to go to a store to find out the rules, contrary to FTC regulations requiring the rules to be stated in the ad.

Another sweepstakes offered by Blarney Woolen Mills required a $50 purchase to enter, and Irish America magazine had a sweepstakes open only to new subscribers. A Memorex sweepstakes, which won a Reggie Award, required the purchase of a video or audiotape (based on a magazine article, press release and a follow-up phone call). A Delta Air/Dream Vacations sweepstakes even requested the entrant to list his Social Security number. I never did get an answer to my inquiry, even though I got two letters from Delta Air Lines stating it was being investigated.

Neither the FTC nor my state attorney general offers any solution to these anti-consumer sweepstakes. By the time the bureaucracies answer the complaints the sweepstakes are over.

Mr. Roda, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., is a marketing professor who teaches sales promotion among his courses.

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