When it comes to online promotion, branded contests used to be left to their own devices. Sure, marketers would mention them on their brand and product sites and in some existing banner ads, but the proactive effort often ended there. Few would go so far as to develop an entire digital campaign dedicated to increasing awareness and entries. These companies had other things to push, after all: their products.
But that was before mobile marketing made it possible for brands to contain entire contents within the boundaries of a mobile app, and social media became a viable channel through which to engage consumers. Modern branded contests are highly interactive, multi-platform affairs, and their marketing campaigns must complement this.
For its Casting Call contest this year, Gap is using mobile marketing and social media to attract entrants; it's expecting to receive over a million. The contest, in which parents submit photos of their children in the hope that they'll become the new face of babyGap and GapKids, is in its fifth year. For the first time, it includes the use of a mobile app. Created in tandem with mobile entertainment agency skyrockit, the Casting Call iPhone app makes it possible for parents to upload an entry photo and vote for their little cutie to become the "fan favorite" entirely on their mobile devices. A complementary microsite facilitates online entries, and both channels encourage entrants to use Facebook and Twitter to solicit the fan voting support of their family and friends.
As an engagement marketing effort, Gap's Casting Call checks every to-do on the best practice list. Marketing copy ("Do you have good jeans? Show us your little superstar…") appeals to proud parents – one of its primary customer segments – while underscoring one of the major attributes of the brand; the clothing retailer made its mark with the simple combination of white cotton t-shirts and its signature blue jeans. By offering gift cards as prizes for finalists and fan favorites, the brand in essence builds a secondary campaign of positive word-of-mouth and product exposure. Introduction of a mobile app boosts interaction with the contest overall by making it easier for consumers to enter, and supports viral marketing with sharing functionality.
In addition to incorporating mobile and social media into the contest itself, the retail brand is relying on these channels for advertising. Banner ads promoting the iPhone app are currently running on mobile ad networks and the contest is being featured on Gap's Facebook page, as well as in Facebook ads. Gap is using its Twitter presence to point fans of the brand to the contest microsite, and offline efforts include store window displays.
Gap has a clear idea about its customer base, and both the contest itself and the way in which it's being marketed speak to that understanding. Many a branded contest has failed in this respect. At the core of any such marketing initiative is the need to further connect consumers with the brand, by giving them a way to interact with it and an excuse to become more loyal to its products. The campaign to promote this type of contest must, by nature, do the same.
That's where mobile and social marketing come in; they break down the barriers between consumer and company to create a pathway from one to the other – a corridor that can be lined with all the distinguishing features of the brand and invites the consumer to occupy a place within its inner workings. Ten years ago a contest was lucky to get some word-of-mouth promotion; it certainly couldn't be counted on as a primary factor in the promotion's success. Now, the use of social media guarantees mass exposure and can lead to thousands of new entries across geographic boundaries and demographic groups, often resulting in a new and deeper understanding of a brand's secondary audience.
A consumer-generated media contest like Gap's Casting Call enfolds the consumer in the marketing process, and its digital ad campaign demonstrates an appreciation for the types of media that matter to that current or potential customer. Together they form a progressive, multi-layered effort perfectly tailored to the needs of both parties.
Marketers know the importance of mobile and social media to engagement marketing efforts, but shouldn't overlook the role they play in buttressing their contests and enhancing related advertising. Let's face it, there's nothing cute about a branded contest that falls flat.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.