Boost Your Business: Contests and sweepstakes

Contests and sweepstakes are great ways of generating interest and expanding your reach to a target audience. If you want to increase site traffic, reward customers, and/or gain some new leads to add to your marketing efforts, then you might want to consider having a contest or sweepstakes giveaway.

Many people use the terms “contests” and “sweepstakes” as if they were the same. Technically, however, sweepstakes are prize giveaways where the winners are chosen by luck.

Contests, on the other hand, draw a winner based on some merit. The person must enter something such as the funniest picture with logo, most moving essay, tastiest recipe, or whatever will be chosen as the winner.

Sweepstakes or contests can promote your product and company, expand your current customer base, and gather contact information of potential customers for future marketing. The premise is simple - offer a prize that will entice your preferred target audience to give you their contact information and allow you to communicate with them. I say preferred target audience because sweepstakes and contests also attract people that may not be your target.

I recently entered a sweepstakes for a $100 gas card. I was willing to give my name and email address for the chance to win. The rules stated, “The sweepstakes is open to residents of the United States and Canada, age 18 and over” and “Only entries received via the official web entry form will be included in the drawings.”  This sweepstakes followed good form with the rules easy to find and read.

The sweepstakes were clearly aimed to increase new visits to an attraction by people some distance away and encourage them to stay overnight. However, I am not a target customer. I already visit the attraction regularly, and I will not be purchasing overnight accommodations. It was by accident that I found the sweepstakes when searching for something else.  But this is still a success because it engaged me and delivered the message about the weekend and overnight accommodations available.

Designing your own contest or sweepstake

When you choose to conduct a sweepstakes or contest you will have many choices to make and will need to follow some basic rules.

  • You must define who can participate and who cannot.
  • What is your prize?
  • What time period will your promotion run?
  • Who are you targeting?
  • What information will you gather?
  • And, have you met all the legal requirements?


In the United States, every state establishes its own set of rules for contests and sweepstakes.

The main law you need to be aware of when you run a contest or sweepstakes in any U.S. state is the “no purchase necessary law.”  This law states that you cannot require users to make a purchase or provide other forms of consideration to enter a sweepstakes where winners are randomly drawn.

States have their own rules about what sort of contests or sweeps are legal. This is where the “void where prohibited” clause comes in. The statement gives the company blanket protection against running an illegal contest, without having to research the law in each state.

Since social media makes it easier to run contests nationwide, and even internationally, make sure that you are stating exactly where the person must live to enter.

Additionally, there are Federal Trade Commission rules about collecting information from children. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits and restricts information that may be gathered and how it may be used. “If you operate a commercial Web site or an online service directed to children under 13 that collects personal information from children or if you operate a general audience Web site and have actual knowledge that you are collecting personal information from children, you must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.”

So, plan your contests carefully. Check out other contests and their rules, check your state’s rules, and get some professional advice if you have any questions or concerns.

About Maria Novak Dugan

Maria L. Novak Dugan is president of Marketing Solutions & Business Development, a firm in West Chester, PA, offering creative marketing services and goal implementation for small & medium sized businesses. For more information, contact Maria at 610-405-0633 or or visit She has more than 20 years experience in the Marketing & Sales Industry...13 of those as the sole Sales Representative for a Pennsylvania payroll company growing their client base by over 500 percent. Maria Novak Dugan is a member of the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce, Latino Luncheon Group of West Chester, Neighbors in Business of the Glen Mills Area, News4Women, and The Associated Press. She is also the former Managing Director of the Delaware Chapter of eWomenNetwork. Creating, developing, and conducting this division of a national organization strengthened her knowledge of networking, event planning, fundraising, and small-business development.



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