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The rules of the game: Breaking down the ins and outs of running kids sweepstakes in the U.S.

With the ability to generate brand excitement and goodwill through the prospect of winning cool gear and fantasy fulfillment, sweepstakes certainly aren't mere runners-up in the kids promotion game anymore. Cartoon Network has almost doubled the number of sweeps it runs annually over the past two years, with about 50 on its current roster. And it's no wonder, considering the level of success the net is having with this promotional tool.
June 1, 2003

With the ability to generate brand excitement and goodwill through the prospect of winning cool gear and fantasy fulfillment, sweepstakes certainly aren’t mere runners-up in the kids promotion game anymore. Cartoon Network has almost doubled the number of sweeps it runs annually over the past two years, with about 50 on its current roster. And it’s no wonder, considering the level of success the net is having with this promotional tool.

As part of its January NBA All-Star Slam promotion, Cartoon ran a national on-air and on-line sweepstakes that triggered 2.1 million call-in attempts to win a grand-prize family trip to the All-Star game in February. And 500,000 kids entered to win its on-line Toy Majesty contest for 500 Hasbro toys this past holiday season. This level of participation is enough to warm anyone’s cockles, but be forewarned: There’s a lot of red tape involved in kids sweepstakes that you’ve got to cut through first.

As far as pure legalities go, U.S. sweepstakes are regulated at the federal and state levels, but most jurisdictions agree on some basic rules. The sponsor must offer a free means of entry (such as a 1-800 number or a 3 x 5 mail-in card), and entrants who take advantage of the free alternative must be treated the same as those who ‘give a consideration’ (i.e. pay money or purchase a product) to enter. The alternate means of entry must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed on all advertising for the sweepstakes. And the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, a watchdog arm of the Council for Better Business Bureau that was set up in 1974 to promote responsible kid-targeted advertising, says it’s a good idea not to skimp on the type size of your ‘no purchase necessary’ disclaimer when marketing a kids sweepstakes.

Since kids are more likely than adults to believe that they’ll win big in contests and sweepstakes, CARU also recommends clearly communicating in terms kids will easily understand what the various prizes on offer are, showing pictures of these items whenever possible so there’s no room for the kind of grandiose expectations that can lead to disappointment later on when the prizes are delivered. The entrant’s chances of winning each prize should also be clearly stated.

The on-line entry process has gotten a little trickier since the 1998 introduction of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits website operators from collecting personal data from kids under 13 without first getting consent from parents and providing them with a copy of the site’s privacy practices. Nightmare, right?

Well, fortunately for sweepstakes sponsors, COPPA allows website operators to gather ‘on-line contact information from a child to be used to respond directly more than once to a specific request from a child [as long as] such information is not used for any other purpose.’ The FTC has determined that this clause creates an opening for sponsors to collect a child’s e-mail address in order to send him or her a contest entry and subsequent prize. But the sponsor must send the child’s parents an opt-out notice informing them that their wee one’s e-mail address has been collected to process a sweepstakes entry, and that the child may be contacted after the contest if he or she wins. Parents must then have the opportunity to request that the sponsor delete their child’s e-mail address from their records and not contact the him or her again.

Sesame Workshop opts for family-targeted and marketed sweepstakes that involve parents in the entry process from the get-go, says director of marketing Heather Hanssen. For example, as part of its Zoe Ballerina campaign to encourage kids to be physically active, the Workshop recently wrapped up a sweeps that required parents to complete a much more robust on-line entry form. Furthermore, the contest featured prizes with as much parent appeal as kid appeal, including a Zoe Ballerina Dance Party for the child and 10 friends, US$250 for dance lessons and a trunk full of Danskin gear.

Speaking of prizing, CARU urges sponsors to stick with kid-appropriate gear, and Cartoon Network’s senior VP of promotions marketing Phyllis Ehrlich says wish fulfillment is key: ‘Kids want to win things that no other kid can have,’ which is why the winner of the Toy Majesty promo received his 500 Hasbro toys as part of a full-on red-carpet coronation ceremony in his hometown.

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