A skill contest is a powerful tool to drive product and brand engagement.  It can also create valuable user generated content (UGC) that you can use in your next marketing campaign to tell a relatable story about your product and your customers’ experience with it.

“Contest” is often used inaccurately in place of “sweepstakes,” which is a promotion in which winners are randomly drawn. A contest requires a level of skill to participate, and each submission is reviewed and judged using a clear set of criteria to determine the winners.

A skill contest is a strong tool to motivate a high level of engagement with a product, service or product feature. The greater engagement and time commitment required to compete is, by nature, a barrier to entry.  While a skill contest typically generates 10% of the number of entries that a sweepstakes might receive, the quality of entries is significantly higher in value.

In a skill contest, randomness in determining the winner is removed in favor of entries judged based on clearly demonstrable skill. The contest’s Official Rules must provide the entrants with a set of judging criteria that will be used by each judge to judge each entry. Judging criteria is required because the definition and method of measuring the skill intended for the skill contest must be known to entrants in advance. Judging criteria also ensure the Sponsor and Independent Judging Organization selects winning entries based on a measurable score — not whim.

Because random selection is removed from the process of determining winners – as in a sweepstakes – it is legal (in most areas) to require a purchase or fee (“consideration”) to enter a skill contest. However, if you require a purchase or fee, be careful to ensure you request the entrants compete on the basis of “clearly demonstrable skill”. For instance, predicting the outcome of a championship game is not a skill, as the courts have determined that paying for a chance to win based on a prediction of a yet-to-be-determined event is gambling — and is not allowed under consumer promotion laws and regulations.

The exception to this rule are sanctioned charitable fundraising “raffles” that sell tickets or game cards with chances to win based on a drawing or a pre-seeded game. If you are a charitable fundraiser, contact your state’s office of public charities, most often a subdivision of the state’s Attorney General’s office, for guidelines and permits for running this type of promotion. Promosis can also help you with this process.

Many states – not to mention Canadian provinces – have their own sets of statutes and regulations governing skill contests, and these have become more strict over the last decade. The states of Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Vermont do not allow consideration in a skill contest. The Attorney Generals of New Jersey and Tennessee have issued opinions stating that consideration in a skill contest is unlawful. If your contest is on a publicly accessible website or is otherwise a national contest, no entry fee or other consideration may be assessed. Alternatively, these states must be specifically excluded from participation. Note that this evolution is ongoing, so this list is subject to change.

What are some of the nuances of skill contests that are often overlooked?

  • Ensure that chance is never introduced in the winner determination process
  • Don’t let chance affect the quantity or value of the promotion prizes
  • Ties between entrants must be broken on the basis of skill (not a drawing)
  • Judging criteria must be objective and clearly disclosed. For example, an essay might be judged based on “originality,” “grammar,” “humor,” or “fit with the sponsoring product,” but “best” would be not be appropriate
  • Judges must be qualified to apply the judging criteria
  • All entrants must be competing on the same playing field, and all entries – not only a small selection – must be judged

Some examples of contests lacking or having an insufficient level of skill in their design:

  • First 100 to respond
  • Guess the number of golf balls in a large container
  • Predict the results of, or any scoring pattern, in an athletic event
  • Identify (guess) a mystery shopper
  • Accumulate the most proofs of purchase

Like a sweepstakes, skill contests must comply with Federal and state laws and regulations. Various states require specific language and disclosures, and if the contest is advertised via the U.S. Mail, the rules must contain all of the required elements of the Federal Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act.

Call Peter or Harry at 781-639-1937 to discuss your skill contest promotion.