How to Create Compelling SMS Contests – Ideas and Case Studies


SMS contests, such as “text to win,” are highly effective SMS marketing vehicles. Compared to other types of contests or sweepstakes, SMS contests are easier for participants to enter and they can do so immediately, prompted by mass media ads, point-of-sale displays, promotions printed on the packaging, etc.

For marketers, SMS contests are also easier to implement: they’re quick to set up, allow you to immediately notify winners with a single text message (no need to worry if the contact information was correctly provided), and you can analyze the results of the contest in one digital file (no need to manually count entries or type results into a spreadsheet).

On top of all those benefits, SMS contests can be a very fun and engaging way for consumers to interact with your brand. Here are some case studies and ideas for developing an SMS contest or sweepstakes.

ArmenTel “Treasure Hunt” SMS Contest​

ArmenTel (Armenia Telecommunications Organization) conducted an SMS contest campaign that prompted contestants to answer a series of questions via SMS, with each answer earning them points and bringing the participants closer to the hidden “treasure.” The campaign objectives were to generate brand awareness and differentiate ArmenTel from the competition, increase revenues, and increase usage of the company’s SMS services.

Over the course of the 90-day campaign, 8,000 prizes, ranging from gift certificates to new automobiles, were dispersed, with prizes given daily. The “Treasure Hunt” contest had a high participation rate of more than 11% of ArmenTel’s customer base.

The success of this SMS contest could be attributed to not only the strong rewards but also the highly interactive and fun game-like nature of the campaign.


Owl City Gibson Guitar Giveaway​

This contest for a Gibson guitar signed by Owl City’s lead singer was designed to grow the band’s fan base. The campaign used a combination of social media (MySpace bulletins, Facebook status updates) and SMS marketing. A mobile call to action was included in each creative execution (“Text @owlcity a message to 66937 to leave the band a message” and “Text OWN CITY to 66937 to join”), and users could also enter their mobile numbers into social media widgets to opt-in to the fan list. Participants could also “call Adam Young” (the lead singer) and leave him a personal message.

In the nine weeks of the campaign, Owl City grew its fan base by 52%. Even though there was, a limited chance of winning (only one guitar given away), the campaign was successful because it integrated social media and mobile and there was a genuine opportunity for fans to interact with the band.


SMS Contest Ideas​

There are many opportunities to exercise creativity when it comes to developing your SMS contest. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Poll the audience at a live event or show. Incorporate SMS voting with a contest that draws a random winner from the poll participants. During a conference, talk show, radio segment or other live event, for example, you can ask the audience what their thoughts are on a particular issue.
  • Ask users to rate something popular. Another interactive option is to ask users to text in their rating (e.g., from 1 to 10) of a song or a particular show episode, and give a prize to random draw winner or the 100th rather.
  • Hold a trivia contest. For example, at a sports game, give a prize to the first person to text in the correct answer to an obscure trivia question about the home team
  • Challenge users to do something creative. Run a creative SMS contest that asks people to offer ideas for a new name for your product, a new flavour or new colour or anything applicable. The prize for the best answer can be as simple as recognition for the winner on your website and Facebook page, the product itself, etc.

Tips for Implementing Your SMS Contest​

Wherever possible and appropriate, have a poster or other sign with an example of the reply necessary for users to text in. Also specify how often winners are picked (e.g., “win daily”), how they’re picked (e.g., every 100th participant wins, random draw, best answer chosen by a panel of judges), and when the contest ends. Knowing all the details will help customers trust the contest and reduce the chance of confusion.

As with other SMS marketing efforts, encourage viral pass-along of the contest.

All contests should specify that “msg & data rates may apply”, per best of practice standards developed by the MMA. Definitely, however, avoid running sweepstakes that involve premium text messaging fees, where users are charged extra on their wireless bills — those kinds of SMS contests are often associated with frauds.

Finally, announce winners on your website and social media outlets, reward winners as soon as possible, and let others know there will be future opportunities to win — prompting them to join your mobile marketing list, of course.

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