Video Contests: Creative Awards & Popularity Contests (Butterfingers)

Jared Cicon aka “Video Contest King” has some sage advice for would-be video contest entrants, and characterizes three types of contests (and which to avoid). Of course, he neglects to tell you not to enter a contest he’s entered. Your chances are slim against his polished creative. Don’t bother.

Jared doesn’t temper his resent against contests that allow video creators to leverage their existing fan base to jack up views and, in his view, manipulate contests. He prefers contests rely less on the creator’s social-media fan base and more on the video creative itself.

The problem, of course, is that the contest sponsor is often running a contest less to identify brilliant creative… and more to engage audiences. So a popular contest entrant with a luke-warm video entry is, to some degree, more valuable to the marketer or agency than a brilliant consumer-generated ad created by an unknown videographer. The advertiser benefits from free visits if the “popular” video creator sends his or her viewers to the contest site. Then the contest micro-site has actual visitors… something they don’t usually otherwise fetch without a significant online-advertising budget promoting it. Ideally when they get to the contest microsite, they’ll find more videos like Jared’s (versus some really poor samples I hazed on a previous post).

Nobody's Gonna Lay a Finger on my Butterfinger video contest

Fortunately for Jared — who creates television-quality commercials but has no major social-media fan base — most contests fail to capitalize on the audiences of popular video creators. For instance, I entered a Butterfinger Contest months ago (see contest site). Although the video was promoted heavily via Yahoo Video banners, my entry didn’t go to my Yahoo-Video profile but presumably to a dark FTP site. It’s not even showing up on the contest site, and I’m not even 100% sure it is being considered. Jared posted his entry on YouTube (an act of generosity or to show off his work) but says it’s disqualified because he used minors. Perhaps mine suffered a similar fate.

This is a contest built for Jared not me. I would not have likely entered knowing Jared was going after the same contest and the same category (gadgets). In fact I entered mostly because my wife kept asking me to do so (she was more optimistic than I that we could win the $25K grand prize). I typically avoid “top heavy” contests (where the winner takes all and the runners up get token prizes). Based on Jared’s previous post, I imagine he might have declined a runner’s up award… also more interested in $25K than a year’s supply of candy).

Had I teased my YouTube audience with out-takes of my contest entry, and sent them to the Butterfingers contest website to see it, the contest website would have likely had 5,000-20,000 visitors (generating that kind of traffic can cost $$$$ when you’re buying display ads). When you’re running a contest, you ideally want Jared-like creative samples (especially if you plan to use them offline) but also some actual traffic on the contest site so the contest is not an embarrassment.

So how could Butterfinger have engaged more target customers, and still ensure the winning video was actually good (and not just done by a popular creator who was able to mobilize fans to jack up votes)?

Two options: a secret panel of judges weighs NOT just the creative but the total views. Then I’ve got an incentive to send my audience to the contest (which I didn’t, if for no other reason because my video never showed). So Butterfinger gets the benefit of my audience, but I can’t completely manipulate the contest because Jared gets points for actually making a better video entry. Alternatively (and a more fair model): agencies judge a video strictly on its creative merit… then contract with popular social media and video “stars” to promote the contest by paying them to make an entry and invite their large audiences to check out the contest microsite. Babe Ruth has done this previously with Rhett & Link, although the video seems to have vanished. Maybe the pay-for-entry is disqualified from winning, or maybe the judges aren’t informed about these deals to avoid bias.

Why are contests still making obvious mistakes after three years of me ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting?

Perhaps the agency is cutting a turnkey deal with the video-sharing site, and is guaranteed a certain amount of visits/impressions (giving the contest owner little incentive to find more efficient sources of traffic).

Bottom line: Video contests are often under optimized, and its why PopTent (xlntads) and other companies exist. Jared and I offer two distinct benefits to a contest, and this is not well understood by most brands developing contests. Jared is a professional creator who will ensure the winning video can survive on television and impress visitors to the contest microsite. I have an active online-audience, and can help promote the contest to other video creators and ensure that the contest microsite actually has people to impress (without sucking away precious media dollars that might be better spent to promote the, er, brand not the contest).

18 Replies to “Video Contests: Creative Awards & Popularity Contests (Butterfingers)”

  1. Hey NALTS,
    Great, GREAT article. Mostly because I am mentioned in copious fashion which caused me to hang on most every other line.
    Seriously now: You brought up a lot of collateral information that I regularly fail to include as I am so close to the genre as a producer. Thanks for that.

    Let me add here, that no matter how you slice it, the brand is beholden to THE RULES. If they are truly looking for a good commercial AND want big S.N. numbers they need to write the rules in a way that motivates the largest number of producers: social network giants, and the less heralded but higher quality producers. recently drafted some very clever verbiage in their contest that accomplished this. Here is an excerpt from their contest rules.

    At the end of the YouTube [public] voting period, the top 10 viewed/voted videos, SHOWING THE PERFORMERS HAVING THE MOST FUN, will make it to the finals.

    This single line (SHOWING THE PERFORMERS HAVING THE MOST FUN), gave the brand the judging latitute to choose whomever they wanted as the ten finalists regardless of views/votes. Because of the slick wording of the paragraph, it also suggested to the less cerebral reader that view/vote numbers ARE important.
    The results of the contest confirmed my suspicions. The winner of this contest was Danny Winn. By his own admission he had only 30 or so YT subscribers at the time of the contest, and was going up against competition who had 500,000+ subscribers.

    In addition to the ‘MOST FUN’ clause needed to make the top final top 10, CreditReport also stated they would also be choosing the 1st place winner from those TOP TEN finalists. This was a slam dunk example of a brand clamping down on the content decision.
    [For more information read the comment thread between Danny Winn and myself over at my blog].

    For the producer, the most important element necessary to make a production decision is to discern wether the brand wants, publicity…..content…..or both. Those are the three types of contests. Factoring in his own strengths against these types will result in increased success.

    Yes I did post my video out of generosity, though speaking for myself, most creative types show their work to show off, but that wouldn’t be me…and yes that was speaking for myself.

    FINAL ANALYSIS: What I think will eventually evolve is a class of producers who team up among themselves, combining S.N. clout with production value. These unions could very well present a new class of ‘advertisers’ who, in this internet age, could end up being major players in the ever changing world of advertising.

    Wink, wink. Any takers?


  2. “Why are contests still making obvious mistakes after three years of me ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting?”

    LOL. Probably because they are too snooty to read your blog (or have never heard of it). But seriously, you would think they would learn after a while.

    I agree there needs to be a good balance of power. The public should certainly have a say in which videos win (in part to prevent an insider from winning) but there should also be judges to ensure that a crappy Nalts video (not saying they are, but just in case they ever do fall below your lofty standards) doesn’t beat an amazing Jared Cicon video. I think a fair balance would be for the judges to pick three out of the top five (in the order they choose) or five out of the top ten (depending on the size of the contest). A fair prize distribution (IMHO) would fall off (approximately) exponentially (e.g. $50,000, $20,000, $7000, $2500, $1000) or maybe proportional to the inverse square of the rank (i.e. $50,000, $12,000, $5555, $3125, $2000).

  3. @1 Thanks for two cents. I just realized that the reason I can consult for both xltnads/poptent and Hitviews is because they do the two different things that Jared and Nalts does. If a brand wants great creative and sometimes at the expense of the middleman, then it’s xltnads (loads of talented video creators eager to get paid and build video resume). If the brand wants social media engagement and buzz, they turn to Hitviews (stars with audiences).

    @Alex- I WISH… so far I’d be happy to get a pizzle bone for Freddy.

    @DahliaK- great to hear from especially when you’re right.

  4. @Nalts- I WISH you would stop calling me Alex. I’ve mentioned this to you via email recently (as well as in a comment on your recent unclenalts video where you gave me credit in the description).

    My name is written clearly in black and…whatever this background color is (light steel blue?). In general, it’s courteous to address people as they introduce themselves unless you have permission to do otherwise. 🙂

    Is Freddy running out of pizzles already? 😉

  5. @6 Are asking me you eccentric urban nomad (not dissing you…I love your peculiar ideosyncracies)? Can I prove my name is Alexis?

    I suppose I can’t prove it absolutely (real proofs, ignoring certain internalist epistemological ideas, only exist in the field of mathematics). I guess it is possible there is a vast conspiracy bent on shielding me from my true identity and that I can’t believe my parents or any official documentation I’ve seen. Unfortunately my life probably isn’t that interesting.

    Even if I don’t know for sure that it’s my real name, I’ve grown rather accustomed to it these last 21 years.

    Oh dear…here I go again posting late at night. Doubtless I’ll find this comment strange and absurd after a night’s sleep. o_O

  6. Here’s a glimpse from the other side. User-generated video contest are a bloody nightmare. I can’t begin to describe the legal mumbo-jumbo we had to go through to run even the simplest contest from restricting the geo-location of a contest seen all over the world to declaring the taxable part of the prize even when it’s not money to proving that the prizes are distributed based on skill and not a lottery and on and on.

    These contests are an enormous headache to set up and then you get the same 50 video-nerds entering each time because you have totally failed to engage any new audience and because while filming something is a low barrier to entry, editing it into something approaching coherence is still a rarefied hobby.

    In order to reach beyond the Naltses and Jareds of the world advertisers need to run video contests where the entrants must be under 25 and the entire film has to be performed in one take in natural sunlight using the video in your cellphone. The winners should only ever be shown in small screens online.

    From the brands’ perspective user-generated online video is not about entrants building their CV in order to make the leap into mainstream advertising or marketing consultancy. It’s about creating new points of engagement between their target audience and the brand.

    In the same way that Twitter invented microblogging, online video contests should be microvlogging.

    I hate to break it to you guys, but you’re just not in a desirable demographic to be entering these contests.

  7. @9 Which is part of the reason I’m no longer entering quite as many…

    However, I think a savvy Brand could form a pretty symbiotic relationship with the right Creator(s) — a relationship that could: Get the Brand some VERY unique high-end creative (ie a “Jared”), score some prosumer-level Creators some much-needed exposure and extra coin, garner the Brand some more exposure through large SM networks of a Nalts,” and all the while, save the Brand thousands and thousands in production costs.

    “Contests”, as they are, admittedly, aren’t the way to go about attaining those goals… I believe that at the end of the contest run, more than a few Brands ended up with furrowed brows saying, “Yeah, that was OK, but we really didn’t get enough _________ [submissions, unique views, good creative, etc…]”

    So whaddaya think? Like Jared alluded to above, do a few of us start a company, network, or guild that houses “specialists” in the online-video milieu? Where we help Brands determine their goals, and then execute the plan that best lets them attain them, be it great creative, viral marketing, or a combination of the two?

    We could call it the Association of Creative Representatives Offering Networking of Your Movies. (ACRONYM)

  8. All I have to say is that I barely got through the first two paragraphs. You really need a proof reader, Nalts. The language was a somewhat convoluted and the grammar was not your best (which isn’t saying a lot, I know! 🙂 )

    Anyway, I couldn’t read the rest of it, so I don’t know what your point is. Although I am sure you made your point well. You usually do.

    See – I DO still love you, Nalts. 🙂

  9. @9 Wow, Daniel, did you just call me a “nerd” and “hobbyist”?
    Well if that be the case, than I predict that 10 years from now, 100% of advertising will be done by production companies working through the ad agency and that 50% of those production companies will be nerd/hobbyist owned and operated.

    The cool thing about all of this is that the marketplace is the ultimate referee. I create my entire product ‘in house’, and am willing to do the job for 10 cents on the dollar. It has already translated into business away form the contest Genre. I quoted a Body Glove licensee a $15,000.00 directors fee to do an online video and was hired. They had seen my work online, and recognized the value. I executed a set of three commercials for the Claremont City of Commerce because of the visibility that the contest genre gave me.

    Yes, there are marketing companies running these contests who don’t really give a crap about the creators or the creative….I am WELL aware of that. But the resultant stage that is being provided is wonderful and will inevitably help to tip the industry scales one day, and in a way from which there will be no return.

    This wouldn’t be the first time that an industry resisted recognizing a golden nerd….er, I meant egg, for what it is.

    Jared aka the VCK

    p.s. Thanks for your thoughts Brett @10.

  10. @11 I agree. Nalts really needs a good proof reader. Maybe we should start a fund to pay for him to take some writing classes too. Are you volunteering for the position of a proof reader? Would he even bother if he did have one?

  11. @9 Oh damn. That’s really depressing. I was hoping to really get rich doing this. Famous, not so much, just rich.

    You’ve made me lose all of the drive that has kept me involved in online video. Nobody loves me everybody hates me I think I’ll eat some worms.

    Shucks…(crawls off to cry in his old guy emo closet)

  12. @12 Hey Jared, I hope you know I meant both nerd and hobbyist with the utmost affection (actually you were just the nerd, Nalts was the hobbyist).

    My comment was already so long that I didn’t posit an alternative to contests. Here it is. Commissions. Instead of daring people to submit and not knowing what you’re going to get, brands should do a little bit of research and try to pick up a wannabe pro for cheap. A couple of years ago I could have commissioned Nalts and 10 more to make something for $1000-1500 each instead of making them fight each other for first place. Once the videos are complete, you can offer a performance-related bonus to the producer who generates the most views.

    Tap into the community of semi-pros or pro-wannabes and then have them tap their communities for promotion. Simple.

    I think those prices are probably still too low for you, Jared, but there is a healthy layer below you that would feel valued and energized by a guaranteed paycheck.

  13. Hey Daniel,
    No sweat amigo. I know what you meant. I detected no malice. It was funny actually. I learn a lot from the give and take of you guys who have had experience, in areas of advertising and marketing, where I have not.

    I think that a part of the evolution of online advertising will be the emergence of small production companies formed by people like NALTS and myself who merge social media strength and production strength to create these mini production company powerhouses that will be almost impossible to compete with.

    The trick though would be to maintain the strong social media base without the fan base feeling like a ‘star’ sold out. NALTS is probably well positioned to team up with a production entity because he is a self proclaimed ‘Blatant Self Promoter’. His fans would understand to a greater degree than someone like YouTube’s ‘HAPPYSLIP’. She would likely take a popularity ding with her subscribers if she started to create too many commercials.

    Another issue to consider is when someone like myself eventually becomes socially prominent as a result of the collabs (association) with stars like NALTS and ends up needing the collab, less and less.

    Lot’s to consider here. As NALTS would say, “thanks for the intellectual exercise”.


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