One of the most engaging marketing tactics, which continues to thrive today is contesting. Capitalizing on a consumer’s innate attraction to the idea of winning or receiving something for free. Whether it is a contest of “play-to-win” or a sales offering of “2-for-1”, consumers are drawn to the idea of winning something bigger than the economic cost of entrance.

With the emergence of social media and digital platforms, it is easy to promote a contest online across several channels at a relatively low production cost. Social media contests can go viral or remain flat depending on a number of factors that determine success from a contestant’s perspective.

We use Air Canada’s recent Canada 150 campaign as an example.

  1. Simplicity

A simple message will go far in a contest.

A brand has only a few seconds to captivate the audience. Rather than making them dig through a landing page or check the contest rules & regulations, the call-to-action is integrated or closely connected to the main headline or main messaging.

Air Canada’s #canada150 contest which launched in May showed incredible results, released today on Strategy Online, to follow up on the aftermath. The campaign entitled See: Canada asks Canadians to “Share your Place” for a chance to win two round-trip flights to anywhere in Canada. The word “share” is widely known term by active social media user, which relates to posting on social media. The contest received 20,000 entrants via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or direct mail. Instagram was the most popular method of entry with 4,439 posts.

  1. Relevance

A brand who draws connections to current events, popular culture or common consumer behavior is likely going to generate a higher volume of entrants who feel connected to the cause, and raise overall reach and engagement among the brand’s target audience.

In lieu of Canada’s 150th birthday, Air Canada capitalized on the mass influx of patriotism across the country. Being Canada’s largest airline with the strongest association and brand equity tied to Canada, it was no surprise the airline delivered a #Canada150 program. The campaign also generated an emotional response by creating a contest that is both personal and inclusive to anyone and any place in Canada. Air Canada’s launch video asking Canadians, “what’s your place?” was nicely communicated with part of the narrative stating, “It might be a hub of vibrant energy, or a quiet spot, where the scenery says it all”. Timing and communications support the step towards a highly relevant social media campaign.

  1. Low Barrier to Entry

As soon as you layer on more caveats for consumers like age, gender or geographic exclusivity or an extensive call-to-action relative to the value of the prize, you are slicing away portions of the market who may otherwise participate if the barrier to entry is low. Contests like Kraft Project Play, which donates $250,000 to a voted sport community in Canada each year to improve facilities and/or sports programs would demand greater effort from consumers and encourage higher community involvement in the pursuit of winning contests.

For contests like the Air Canada, Share Your Place contest, the barrier to entry was perceived quite low. The prize value of approximately $2,000 for two round trip flights was more than taking a photo or video, or explaining in 50 words or less why you place is unique and deserving of recognition by the great community. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, Canadians perceived the value and participated in the exciting contest. Raising awareness about Canada and promoting domestic was a campaign objective as defined by Andy Shibata, managing director of brand for Air Canada. Shibata said, “The contest provided our audiences with a way for them to engage with the historic event as well as the brand by posting their own special place in Canada, in turn inspiring others to see Canada in 2017.”

  1. Prize Value

As mentioned above, the perception of value varies from contest to contest depending on the prize value and the barrier for entry.

Air Canada maximized the winning opportunities for Canadians by selecting not just one by 150 winners across Canada, equating to a total of 300 round-trip flights (Approximately $60,000 total prize value of campaign at an average domestic flight cost of $200).

Bonus: Connectedness to Overall Marketing Strategy

The average consumer may not recognize how contests can be integrated with the overall marketing strategy and its connectivity to other programs but marketers and brand managers certainly could. There are many ways to collect data and collect additional information from consumers through a contest.

  1. Emails & Postal Codes: adding contestants to the email marketing lists, direct mail lists or acquire more information externally.
  2. Skill-testing questions: these questions could be correlated to research or insights for other campaigns
  3. User-generated content: the content collected through photo, video or otherwise can be re-imagined or retro-fitted for other campaigns with the user’s authorization

Air Canada posted many of the photos and video submitted by contestants as creative content on Air Canada’s social media and digital channels which received 2,000 likes per post, on average. As part of the release of the contest results, the mid-campaign posts featuring user content generated reached 2.8 million on Facebook, 2.3 million on Instagram and 1.5 million on Twitter equating to 27 million campaign impressions overall.

Another example of utilizing contests to support other marketing program is The e-commerce site will be staring contest winners in their next round of TV spots and commercials while their brand personality, Captain Obvious is on vacation. See the contest winners at

Overall, marketing contests are a great way o engage and grow a brand’s audience. If the contest is simple, relevant, has a low barrier to enter and has a great prize value, brands can successfully deliver on marketing objectives.