Sunday, 24 April 2005

Congratulations... You Have Won!

As writers we’re all striving to earn a bob or two from the clever use of words. But that same talent can be put to good use in other directions, too. Imagine the excitement of opening an envelope and discovering that you are about to take delivery of some truly fabulous prize. Impossible? Not if you‘re a ‘comper’ it’s not. Whatever your dream prize may be, whether it’s whale watching off the coast of Alaska, meeting the stars of your favourite soap, or hot-air ballooning over the Serengeti, the chances are it’s out there for you, just waiting to be won.

Consumer competitions exist to raise the profile or increase the sales of a particular product or brand. You‘ve probably seen the entry forms in your local store, with the product and prize prominently featured, perhaps a packet of cereal by a palm-fringed beach, or a jar of coffee by a gleaming new car. To ensure fairness to every entrant, most promoters employ handling houses to oversee the running of each competition. It is their job to log each entry, check that any questions have been answered correctly and that the entrant has supplied the appropriate qualifier, and to organize the judging of the tiebreaker. This final stage is carried out by an independent judging panel whose members see only the slogans, not the names. Not until the winning tiebreakers have been chosen are they matched to their authors’ names and the letters of congratulation sent out.

But let’s start at the beginning with that all-important form. These can be found in a variety of places: supermarkets, cinemas, garages, pubs, even your bank. Take a moment to check what qualifier is needed. The most commonly requested ‘proof of purchase‘ is the till receipt, or occasionally the label or barcode. If possible, buy the product then - it‘s galling to return a few days later to find they sold their last can of SunnyBix Dog Food in Squid Sauce that very morning. And remember to attach the qualifier to the entry form as soon as you get home. Searching through the dustbin for a tea-stained till receipt a week later is not to be recommended.

(It should be mentioned that there are also competitions that require nothing other than your name and address for you to enter. These are known as Free Prize Draws and the rewards can be every bit as good as those on offer from their qualifier-requiring counterparts, so keep your eyes peeled.)
So, you‘ve got your entry form, given yourself second degree burns steaming the label off the jar, what next? Well, usually there’s a question to answer, possibly along the lines of; ‘How many beans does it take to make one delicious cup of Sludgeville Coffee?‘ Happily for us, the answer is often to be found on the form, the purpose being to raise our awareness of the superior qualities of Sludgeville over rivals Bitterbean or whatever. But even those requiring a little effort shouldn’t be dismissed. The harder it is to enter a competition, the fewer people bother, thus increasing your chances of coming out on top.

Next we come to the tiebreaker. A typical lead-in might be, ‘I enjoy the taste of Sludgeville Coffee when driving my new Chieftain Tank to Bogof Stores because:‘ and you as the would-be winner of said tank are required to use your skill and judgement to create an apt and original slogan in, say, ten words or less. Start by jotting down as many words as you can think of relating to the three Ps - that’s product, promoter and prize. Are there any obvious links? Do any of them rhyme? The majority of winning tiebreakers do, so don‘t be afraid to tap into your poetic side. Check out the entry form; what buzzwords have the promoters used, what message are they trying to convey? Try to incorporate as many of these elements into your slogan as possible, in as flattering and humorous a way as you can.
Once you‘re happy that your tiebreaker is as good as you can make it and falls within the stipulated word limit, counting contracted words like you‘re and it‘s as two, write it clearly in the space provided. Add your details, answer any questions that have been set, and send it, not forgetting that precious qualifier, to the competition address well before the closing date.

One word of caution. Beware those letters of ‘congratulation‘ that arrive out of the blue informing you that you’ve ‘been awarded a major prize‘ but which require a ‘processing fee‘ to be delivered. A letter that states ‘you have only to return the winning number together with the handling fee and the prize is yours‘ may seem foolproof but the clue lies in that word ‘winning‘. Many thousands of numbers will have been sent out and the chances of yours being the ‘winning‘ one are slim. As with all things in life, if it feels dodgy, it probably is. Genuine prizes are delivered without such strings.

Still not convinced that comping is the hobby for you? Then how about a spot of scientific persuasion? Studies suggest that exercising the brain with crosswords, quizzes, competitions and the like can improve memory and may even help guard against senility. So why not give it a go? Next time you see one of those brightly coloured entry forms, check it out. Could be that the reason you‘ve never won anything is that you‘ve never entered. Good luck!

(c) Christine Sutton,
The Multi-Story Bungalow.