contest marketing Contest Marketing Marketing Strategies

Effective Strategies For Running Your Contest Marketing Campaign

July 12, 2023
Background Image
Avatar for Jim Breese


Contests can be a highly effective marketing strategy for several reasons. They provide a fun and interactive way for consumers to engage with your brand, increase brand visibility, and create a positive association in the minds of consumers. 

We made an entire guide on how to run a contest, so be sure to check that out.

Contests can also help grow your audience organically by requiring participants to follow your social media account, sign up for a newsletter, or share the contest with their own followers. 

Contests also offer opportunities for data collection, generate product awareness, and produce user-generated content that can be used in future marketing efforts. 

Another benefit of contests is that they contribute to loyalty and retention by giving customers a reason to stay connected to your brand, and they can be a cost-effective marketing tactic considering their potential reach and engagement. 

But, the success of a contest as a marketing strategy depends on careful execution that aligns with your brand, appeals to your target audience, and is effectively promoted.

Examples of Contest Marketing Strategies

Here are a few examples of marketing contests and the strategies behind them:

User-Generated Content Contest

user generated content contest

GoPro’s annual “Million Dollar Challenge” is an extraordinary contest that underscores the value of user-generated content and community engagement. The premise of the competition is straightforward: customers worldwide submit their most exceptional, inspiring, and jaw-dropping video clips, captured exclusively using GoPro cameras. GoPro then curates these submissions into a single compilation video, a vibrant montage that exemplifies the diverse potential of their products, from extreme sports to serene landscapes.

The million-dollar prize pool, shared among the creators of the selected clips, not only incentivizes the users to push the boundaries of their creativity and filmmaking skills but also encourages the extensive usage of GoPro cameras. This creates an organic loop of product use, content creation, and brand promotion.

The unique content stemming from this contest serves as a testament to the camera’s capabilities, simultaneously offering GoPro an authentic, crowd-sourced marketing vehicle. The very individuals that the brand seeks to appeal to are the ones crafting these compelling narratives. By embracing user-generated content, GoPro strengthens its community ties, enhances brand loyalty, and showcases the product’s potential in real-world scenarios, all while sparking inspiration for future creators.

Social Media Photo Contest

Running a social media contest is incredibly powerful because it leverages the network effect of your followers, their friends, and all of the connections in between.

starbucks red cup social media photo contest

Every year, Starbucks, a leading coffee company, hosts an interactive “Red Cup Contest,” transforming the simple act of sipping coffee into a creative, social media-driven experience. The contest revolves around Starbucks’ iconic holiday-themed red cups, filled with their seasonal beverages.

Customers are encouraged to snap creative and unique photos of their red cups and share them on social media platforms, using a designated hashtag. The contest’s magic lies in its simplicity – purchase a festive drink, get inspired, capture a moment, and share it with the world.

The “Red Cup Contest” is a masterstroke in generating brand visibility and customer engagement. During the holiday season, when the allure of comforting drinks is at its peak, customers become brand ambassadors, promoting Starbucks through their personal narratives and creative photographs. This grassroots marketing approach leads to a surge in social media activity around Starbucks, fostering a sense of community and excitement among participants and onlookers alike.

The contest does more than sell coffee – it amplifies the Starbucks brand, creating a buzz that resonates well beyond the holidays. It embodies the concept of customer engagement, transforming the consumption of a product into a shared, global experience, and underlining the role of social media in modern marketing.

These types of contests can be difficult to keep track of when they begin to get a lot of interaction and go viral, so we suggest checking out this contest software to help with managing everything.

Voting Contest

voting contest lays do us a flavor

Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” contest is an ingenious example of a voting contest, seamlessly integrating customer participation into the process of product development. Customers are invited to submit ideas for new chip flavors, allowing their culinary imaginations to run wild. These ideas are then put to a public vote, transforming customers into decision-makers, directly influencing the brand’s product line.

This contest does more than just create buzz and excitement. By inviting customers to propose and vote on new flavors, Lay’s taps into a wellspring of market research data. It provides valuable insights into customer preferences, emerging food trends, and regional tastes, which can inform future product development strategies.

The winning flavor, once produced and sold, carries a unique narrative of customer participation and engagement, resonating with the public, and potentially driving sales. Through this contest, Lay’s turns the ordinary act of eating chips into a communal, interactive, and exciting event.

Purchase-to-Enter Contests

purchase to enter contest mcdonalds monopoly

McDonald’s recurring “Monopoly” contest is a prime example of a purchase-to-enter contest that creates a compelling incentive for repeat purchases and deepens customer engagement. This contest, based on the popular board game Monopoly, requires customers to collect game pieces attached to select McDonald’s menu items. These game pieces correspond to the properties on a Monopoly board, with some being rarer than others. Collecting specific sets of properties could win customers a variety of prizes, ranging from free food to more substantial cash and product prizes.

The genius of this contest lies in its power to drive repeat purchases. Customers are enticed to buy more often in the hope of securing the elusive game pieces required to complete their property sets. Each purchase becomes an exciting opportunity, a step closer to potentially winning a prize.

Furthermore, the contest extends customer engagement over a prolonged period, building anticipation and excitement. This form of gamification strengthens the customer-brand relationship, as participants invest time and effort in the contest, heightening their connection to McDonald’s.

The “Monopoly” contest showcases how a well-designed, purchase-to-enter contest can enhance customer loyalty, stimulate sales, and make a brand more engaging and fun. It turns a regular fast-food visit into an intriguing, reward-filled adventure.

One thing to remember with these types of contests is that you need to offer a No Purchase Necessary alternate method of entry. 

Referral Contest

Referral marketing can have a huge impact on driving more sales!

Dropbox’s “Space Race” contest exemplifies a successful referral-based competition strategy. Targeted at university students, this contest incentivized them to refer peers to Dropbox’s service, rewarding them with additional storage space. Points were awarded based on the number of sign-ups and the amount of storage used, with the university accumulating the most points and receiving additional space for all its students.

referral contest dropbox space race

This competition was a win-win for both Dropbox and its users. The additional storage space offered was a strong enticement, encouraging both new sign-ups and increased usage among existing users. This, in turn, boosted Dropbox’s user base and engagement metrics. 

Simultaneously, users benefitted from extra storage space, making the service more useful and convenient. Moreover, the communal reward system engendered a sense of collective effort and achievement, fostering a sense of community among the participating university students. “Space Race” illustrates how a well-structured referral contest can lead to user growth, engagement, and enhanced customer satisfaction.

These examples demonstrate the versatility and effectiveness of contests as a marketing tool. They can increase brand awareness, customer engagement, and directly drive sales while providing a fun and rewarding experience for customers.

Strategies for Effective Contest Promotion

Promoting an online contest effectively involves a combination of strategy, creativity, and leveraging multiple channels for reach. Here are several strategies you could use:

Social Media

Leveraging social media platforms is an effective contest promotion strategy that can amplify your message and increase participation. With an array of platforms available, from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and TikTok, businesses can reach a vast and diverse audience. The key lies in understanding where your target audience is most active and tailoring your promotional activities accordingly.

Each social media post should be visually appealing, with compelling graphics or video content that will instantly grab the viewer’s attention. Visual elements not only increase engagement but also significantly boost the chances of your content being shared, effectively creating a viral loop of promotion.

Clear communication is also crucial. Each post should unambiguously convey the contest details, including the rules, the entry process, the deadline, and the prize. Consider using a dedicated contest hashtag to consolidate all related posts and make it easier for participants to follow along and share with their networks.

Further, encourage interaction by inviting users to like, share, and comment on your contest posts. This not only increases your reach but also enhances your relationship with your audience. Engaging users in conversation around your contest makes them feel more connected to your brand and more likely to participate.

Through a well-executed social media strategy, a contest can reach beyond your existing customer base, attract new potential customers, and create a buzz that significantly enhances your brand’s visibility and audience engagement.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a highly effective strategy for promoting a contest. By sending an email to your existing customer base, you can reach an audience already interested in your brand. The email should prominently highlight the contest, detailing its benefits and the simplicity of participation. Eye-catching visuals can enhance engagement, and a clear call-to-action button directing to the contest page can facilitate easy entry. Personalization can further elevate your email, making recipients feel uniquely invited. Remember, a well-crafted email can not only ignite excitement about the contest but also foster a deeper connection with your brand, driving customer loyalty.

Website and Blog

Promoting a contest on your website and blog is a powerful strategy to capture the attention of your online audience. A dedicated landing page for the contest serves as the central hub for all contest-related information. This page should detail the contest rules, participation process, and prize details, and should be designed to engage visitors and motivate them to enter.

Incorporate banners or pop-ups on your site that guide visitors towards the contest page. This consistent visual reminder across various sections of your site ensures that every visitor is aware of the ongoing contest. 

Leverage your blog by crafting posts related to the contest. These could be tips on how to participate, testimonials from previous winners, or updates about the contest’s progress. This not only boosts contest awareness but also enriches your content offering.

These website and blog-based strategies can effectively drive contest participation and enhance overall user engagement with your brand.

Partner with Influencers

Partnering with influencers is a powerful contest promotion strategy that leverages their credibility and audience reach. When an influencer shares your contest, it receives visibility among a broad and often highly engaged audience. Ensure the influencers you choose align with your brand’s values and aesthetic, and that their followers match your target demographic. A partnership should feel authentic, with the influencer genuinely endorsing the contest. Remember, while this strategy may involve a larger budget, the potential for increased participation, brand visibility, and access to new audiences can offer significant returns on investment.

Paid Advertising

Paid advertising is a valuable contest promotion strategy that can significantly expand your reach or target a specific demographic. This approach enables your contest to transcend the boundaries of organic reach and visibility. Depending on your budget, you can leverage different platforms like social media ads, Google AdWords, or other online advertising avenues. By strategically using demographic targeting, geographical filters, and interest-based segmentation, you can ensure that your ads are seen by potential participants who are most likely to be interested in your contest, thus optimizing your return on advertising spend.

User-Generated Content

Leveraging user-generated content is an effective contest promotion strategy that capitalizes on the power of social proof. Sharing contest entries like photos or videos submitted by participants encourages others to get involved. It demonstrates the real-time participation and excitement surrounding the contest and helps potential entrants understand the submission expectations. This not only generates buzz but also creates a sense of community among participants. Remember, every shared entry is an endorsement of your contest, increasing its visibility and reinforcing the perception of your brand as engaging and interactive.


Cross-promotion is an effective contest promotion strategy, especially when partnering with another brand. Each party should actively promote the contest to their respective audiences, thereby doubling the reach. This strategy allows each brand to gain exposure to the other’s audience, possibly attracting new customers or followers. Make sure all promotional messages are aligned, consistent, and beneficial to both brands, enhancing each other’s visibility and credibility. This reciprocal promotion can significantly enhance the contest’s reach and participation, making it a win-win situation for all involved parties..

Use Hashtags

Creating a unique, branded hashtag for your contest is a powerful promotion strategy on social media. This special hashtag allows you to quickly track entries, monitor engagement, and see who’s talking about your contest. Moreover, it encourages users to share the contest with their own networks, spreading the word organically. Users who click on or search for the hashtag can easily see all related posts, boosting visibility and fostering a sense of community around your contest. Ultimately, a well-chosen hashtag can significantly enhance the reach and impact of your contest promotion.

Press Releases

Issuing a press release can be an effective contest promotion strategy, particularly if your contest features a unique concept or significant prize. A well-crafted press release can garner attention from local media, industry publications, and influencers, resulting in broader awareness and participation. Ensure the press release clearly communicates the contest details, highlighting the unique aspects that make it newsworthy. Offering high-resolution images or other media resources can also increase the likelihood of coverage. Overall, a press release can serve as a valuable tool for amplifying your contest to a wider, more diverse audience.

Community Engagement

Engaging with online communities is a savvy contest promotion strategy. Platforms like Reddit, Facebook groups, or niche forums often house concentrated groups of your target audience. Sharing your contest in these spaces can directly reach potential participants. However, it’s crucial to approach this tactfully. Always respect community guidelines to avoid being perceived as spammy or intrusive. Engage genuinely with the community, offer value, and make sure your contest is relevant to them. This kind of respectful, thoughtful promotion can drive meaningful engagement and contest participation while enhancing your brand’s reputation.

Remember, the key to a successful contest promotion is to make it easy to enter, clearly communicate the contest rules, and make the prize appealing to your target audience. Additionally, measuring the results of your promotional efforts will help you understand what works best for your audience.