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How visuals are reviving digital contests

How visuals are reviving digital contests Evan Vogel

An emerging social media trend is creating fresh ways for companies to engage with customers. With the rise of the visual, social web, clever brand ambassadors and marketers are breathing new life into contest marketing. Yes, I said contests. Kind of like the little black dress of marketing programs, the visual web gives the contest platform a major shot in the arm. Brands are tapping into this new trend to reach new audiences and gain personal insights and expressions for authentic engagement. 

How visuals are reviving digital contests

Instagram, Viddy, Pictu, Doodle.ly, Pinterest, and Ustream are some of the budding companies representing the growing popularity of the visual web. According to PR Daily News, Pinterest is now the third most-popular social network in the U.S., while photo-sharing platform Instagram recently surpassed 80 million users. Partly why companies are seeing such strong adoption to campaigns conducted through these social networks is because people are able to express themselves more freely and creatively through multiple types of visual media. By coupling this artistic self-expression with brand-engaging activities, people can start to feel a powerful connection to the companies and brands that have invited them to participate on a visual, creative level and then share their work.

Communication styles are also shifting. Institute for the Future's (IFTF) study on kids' and teens' play patterns revealed that we're experiencing a transition in how they update their statuses visually, using photos or videos more than characters or text.  They're actively seeking these new effects to make their communications stand out. As noted in the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," a profound idea and belief can be conveyed through just a single still image.

McDonald's, one of the leading sponsors of the London Olympics, used Instagram to communicate various messages throughout the games. The company used pictures to tell its stories in new ways and encouraged fans to do the same. The director of social media at McDonald's noted that brands are seeing increasing levels of engagement around pictures compared to text, supporting IFTF's findings.

The growth of social -- thanks to the increased ease of sharing and the tools to inspire creativity -- enriches contest marketing to a degree that hasn't been achieved prior to the existence of social networking. Contests offer a way for brands to deepen engagement with their consumers, while igniting the consumer's natural human urge to compete, giving them the recognition they crave. When consumers submit a piece of their work, they're organically invested in the brand. Additionally, contests on the social web are far more viral with the ability to spread the word about the campaign and brand quickly across multiple marketing channels. 

Purpose + parameters = participation

Like the initial Facebook cue "What are you doing?" companies are beginning to realize the power of a prompt to gain participation. This is one of the reasons why contests within the visual web thrive. Add a hashtag related to the contests, whether it's through Pinterest or social drawing apps, to make them more searchable and shareable. A voting component further entices participants to share with their social sphere and gives reason to track how the contest is going. When consumers are given a purpose for their creative self expression along with a few basic parameters, we see a big jump in participation around a contest or conversation, as well as from loyal and new followers.

For example, take fashion brand Guess, which challenged fans back in March to create boards on Pinterest, based on four new spring colors, for the chance to win a pair of color-coated denim from its spring collection. The contest ran for seven days, and four winners were chosen by top fashion bloggers, bringing attention to the brand and its newest products. American Airlines also used Pinterest for a contest intended to bring awareness to its various Asia routes. The contest called for fans to follow the brand, re-pin the image it posted that contained the contest details, and pin a photo of a place they would like to visit in Asia using hashtag #AAtoAsia. It garnered more than 63,000 impressions.

Likewise, TLC embraced social drawing app Doodle.ly to give fans of its popular show "Cake Boss" the chance to create their dream cake design for weekly prizes and have their design, created by "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro, be featured and sold at his infamous bakery. The contest launched on May 28 -- the show's season premiere date -- and brought viewers a social TV experience where they could concurrently enjoy the show and doodle personal cake designs on their tablets or laptops. The contest garnered 1,700 submissions, 3,000 votes, and 1,400 "likes" to the Facebook contest page, with 15,000 engagement "likes" to wall posts. TLC connected with fans in a new way and brought brand enthusiasm to the next level.

Or take Southwest Airlines' Viddy challenge that gave users the chance to win roundtrip plane tickets to the Sundance Film Festival. The contest was supported on the brand's blog and Twitter using hashtag #SWAViddy. It was an easy and incredibly successful way to gain an extensive following on the platform and higher levels of participation.

Doodle.ly and NHL team New Jersey Devils also experienced great success with a contest they implemented in which fans designed a playoff-themed doodle for the chance to win 2013 season tickets and see their doodles brought to life on "Red Alert Playoff" rally towels. On opening night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, 17,000 rally towels with the winning doodle were waved proudly throughout the stands. As a result of this particular contest, 20,000 votes were in by the first week while New Jersey Devils acquired 400 new season ticket leads and a sponsorship with Ford Motors.  

The evolution of the digital web has, in turn, evolved the basic concept of contests from a mundane engagement tool to a brand-building activity that brings an increased loyal following by engaging with customers in a way that resonates using visuals. Instagram has transformed the art of taking photos and sharing them instantaneously; Viddy has changed the way videos are captured and experienced; Pinterest has transformed the ability to share interests for inspiration; drawing apps like Doodle.ly have digitized hand-drawn and hand-written notes while making them more social. Given the spike in visual communication we've seen just in the last year, contests are making an impactful comeback. It's time to give the traditional contest a good shove toward the rising visual web.

Evan Vogel is the co-founder of Doodle.ly and Night Agency.

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"Open laptop at blue background" image via Shutterstock.

Evan Vogel is co-founder of Doodle.ly and Night Agency- an award winning digital creative agency named to Advertising Age magazine’s coveted “Hottest Digital Independent Interactive” list in 2007.  Since graduating from...

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