Thursday, July 02, 2009

Opinion: Promotional contest doesn’t deserve your vote

If you want to determine the winner of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau's current video contest, you better click fast (and often). Top prize is $2,500 from the publically funded agency.

When the online contest was opened up to voters Wednesday, it said it limited a site user to five votes per day.

Wednesday afternoon, that rule went out the window. A message appeared on a contest webpage explaining that day-one votes would be erased. It read:

Due to a possible abuse of the system, the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau has cancelled voting for July 1, 2009. Our rules allow for us to modify the contest. Voting will resume July 2 and end on July 18, 2009. This is to ensure the fairness of the contest.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, Brandy Evans, the bureau's vice president of communications, sent a message to contest participants Wednesday stating:

Thank you for submitting a video for the "Show Us Your Shreveport-Bossier" video contest. Your video was excellent. However, due to possible abuse of the system, the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau has cancelled voting for July 1, 2009. Our rules allow for us to modify the contest. Voting will resume July 2 and end on July 18, 2009. This is to ensure the fairness of the contest.

Voting resumed today, and the five-vote restriction has been eliminated. Now anybody can vote as many times as they like, without restriction, through July 18.

In other words, the most clicks win; who cares about who's attached to the mouse. Do I sound jaded? Hear me out.

Thursday afternoon I asked Stacy Brown, bureau president, to explain what's going on with the rule change.

"We don't know how to make it stop at just five," she said by phone. "Obviously that's not what we really want."

If they could enforce the five-vote rule on the website they would but they can't so they won't.

In answering my questions, the bureau sounded more concerned about publicity.

"We want people to get the word out" about the contest and Shreveport-Bossier, Brown said.

If you measure votes and video views, the word is getting out. As of 7:18 p.m. today, the leading video had tallied 1,837 views, 3,197 votes. The last place video has 11 views, 12 votes. Wednesday, at least two Facebookers noticed vote totals creeping into the thousands, too.

Brown doesn't believe there has been "voter fraud," as it was termed by a contest participant Wednesday.

"So far, it really doesn't look that way," Brown said. "It's about two votes per view. It's not indicating that somebody is sitting there and clicking."

Actually, as of 7:18 p.m., all videos together garnered 7,822 views, 9,559 votes. A better ratio than Brown noted earlier in the day.

Brown later added that the new open voting rules were better: "I really feel like we have opened it up to an even playing field, and I really don't feel like they're upset about it."

Brown again said the contest was successful because it was driving so much interest: "It's really accomplishing our goal of getting the community involved."

I don't question the bureau's site traffic here. Locally, this is a well-promoted contest. But given the bureau's day-one concerns about an "abuse of the system," I do wonder if the videos' many views and votes represent many site visitors, or many fewer.

I'm not naïve about the nature of voting and online contests. On this blog, I sometimes run polls about the movie world. But when I ask you about your favorite candy, I don't give Mike or Ike $2,500 for coming in first. And I assume no one person is responsible for a total of, say, 70 votes, but I also assume some folks vote a few times by clearing the browser's cache.

Now everybody knows that contest participants often recruit their friends to log on and vote for them as often as possible, especially when money or awards are involved. The unapologetic rule of for web contests, like this one, is not "one person, one vote." It's "every click for itself" or a "mob-by-the-mouse" mentality.

Evans' Wednesday email to contest participants supports this notion (but certainly not my rhetoric):

We do recognize that you worked hard on your video. But at the end of the day, we want everyone to have a level playing field. Please tell all of your Facebook, My Space and Twitter friends to go everyday throughout the duration of the contest and vote for you.

And here's what a promotional video's narrator advised contestants to do:

Show us your fun. Show us your world. Show us your Steven Spielberg. Show us what Louisiana's Other Side means to you and you could win $2,500.

Call me crazy or ethical for even suggesting the following: contest rules, especially when dealing with creative works – even as commercially driven as a branding campaign in disguise – should at the very least encourage voters to watch all videos and then make a judgment.

But apparently, that's not what this contest is really about. Here is an excerpt from the contest instructions, which echo Evans' email:

You've got to drum up as many votes as you can for your video. Call your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and anyone else you can persuade to vote for you. Tell them which video is yours, then ask them to go to and vote for you. They can vote for you up to five times in one day! We'll display the number of votes for each video until a few days before the contest ends. So don't think you've got a comfortable lead – a lot can happen in a few days, so keep those votes rolling in!

You think Spielberg would enjoy being associated with a contest that lures in your creative urge and then hooks it by effectively saying, "Drum up votes or you're a loser?"

Can't speak for Stevie baby, but I don't like this campaign's mixed message at all.

But hey, maybe my mind is square. Maybe I'm not hip to a promotional campaign that promises to make you a "star" if you support a brand and lure in your lemmings.

My disappointment is twofold:

  1. The bureau is endorsing a contest, and giving away $2,500, with a minimum amount of vote monitoring. Think no voting restrictions just level the playing field for all possible abusers? By the look or those vote and view tallies, which now vary by the thousands from video to video, I'm going withhold my optimism.
    If the bureau had wanted to restrict individual users to five votes per day, I have been assured that a web programmer could do that.
    On this point, an anonymous commenter pointed out the following:

    So someone can vote for a video 5 times? How stupid is that? Why not capture the IP and make it one vote per IP address. That's how you beat the system. Then the person would have to visit a different location for each vote. Or, more technical, one vote per MAC address which means one vote per piece of hardware.

    What, therefore, will the $2,500 prize winner really have won? Is it the best video – creatively speaking – or simply the most clicked? Which measure is the "fairest" judge?

  2. Secondly, I question the poorly defined purpose of this contest, which appears to be less about awarding a winner and more about building web traffic and reinforcing a branding campaign, "Louisiana's Other Side."
    Again, I'm not naïve: promotional contests often use contestants to build awareness. If an agency can turn your creativity into their profit – with just a $2,500 reward – so benefit both. But accomplishing this by endorsing a toxic notion that creative merit is secondary to popularity? Smells like a stinker to me.
    An alternate view, posted on this blog ostensibly by a tourist bureau rep, says:

    Our purpose for this contest was to encourage the community to participate in all the great things to do and see in Shreveport-Bossier, and to give us their unique perspective on it. We also wanted the community to be excited about the contest and come to the website to watch the videos. That's what they're doing, and we've gotten lots of great feedback.

Well here's some bad feedback: the promotion of this contest is disingenuous at best. The contest voting rules, which changed on day two, don't inspire public trust. Every group involved in this contest – including the bureau, Robinson Film Center, Gorilla Design Studio, Emergent Strategies, Pelican Creek Consulting, CRM Studios, Martin Creative and Pabst Creative, according to the contest rules – should be way more disappointed than me.

The contest is not determining a winner; it's asking you to just click and reinforce a branding campaign. Is that worth $2,500 to you?

Then again, maybe I'm just naïve. I'm using 1,492 words to criticize that very campaign. Priceless publicity, don't you think?


Evan said...

It sounds to me like they're just covering up for their lack of technological know-how.

They aren't leveling the playing field in any way, shape, or form. The work was supposed to be put into the videos, not in finger exercises.

As a contest that should be promoting local filmmaking efforts, it's basically giving them the finger by saying you could have submitted four minutes of black video with fart noises in the background and win. That's an incredibly even playing field. Of course since the entries are locked in they can say they wouldn't be supporting videos like the one I suggested, but they're still supporting that mentality of creativity. It's good to have the city's support.

If they can't regulate public voting, they should have a panel of judges determine the best one. They're obviously okay with changing voting rules. That's the most fair thing I think they could do at this point.

I had actually considered making a video because I thought I could do a pretty good one and I could use the money for a big project I'm planning. I got too busy and ran out of time, but now I'm very glad I didn't submit one. I feel like whoever wins will probably feel a little guilty too. Or they should because they'll know that their winning had nothing to do with their creative efforts. It's just a race now.

And for the tourist bureau to justify it by saying it's getting them exposure which was their goal is appalling because they're basically using the entrants drive to win to bring in publicity. Essentially using the people who gave them their content, while completely discrediting their efforts.

Hopefully I didn't just repeat everything you said, but for the record I like it when Alex rants.

Evan said...

...or maybe they should just pick the winner out of a hat.

Rebrand it to "Become a Completely Arbitrary Star Video Contest."

Anonymous said...

I've spoken my mind in a detailed way in a previous post. I've outlined how they can do what they say they can't. There are FREE scripts on the internet that allow for tracking of IPs or MAC addresses to squelch duplicate votes. This contest is as bogus as the city that put it on. The "We can't do it right and we aren't going to fix it" attitude is one that resonates on more levels than just this contest and it sickens me on a daily basis. Alex: you aren't square- the city is. It's time for Shreveport to stop acting like they know what they are doing, fess up, and bring in some consulting professionals to clean up the mess. Again, this all strings back to this small contest and how it seems to reflect the overall actions of the cities it's trying so hard to represent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments and with Alex...the tourism bureau should have had this voting mechanism in place BEFORE the contest began. Obviously they wanted to drive traffic to the website for voting, but this change in the rules makes the contest WAY less fair. Anyone with a little know-how can program a bot to vote for a particular video without any mouse clicks at all. Ms. Brown's comment correlating the number of views and number of votes is a logical fallacy since the voting mechanism does not require one to view the video at all. Road to hell, good intentions, etc.

Kathryn Usher said...

When I submitted my little flick "True Blood and Voo Doo!" I did so following the rules that were posted on the SBCTB website at the time. I had no idea the rules would change or how they would change. So no, I will not feel guilty if I win.

I was attracted to the "Show Us YOUR Shreveport-Bossier" by the idea of presenting my story of what I call SB Land. I love this area and its history. I started my blog, Red River Blog Jam, a couple of years ago so I could post about the neat-o stuff we have in our area. I'm such a goober, I'll admit that the name of my blog is an homage to the Red River LOG JAM that Captain Shreve had to clear to make the Red navigable.

I think I made a little flick that reflects my passion. I also really like the idea of the "disposable film" movement. There's even a Disposable Film Festival in San Fransisco that I'd some day like to be a part of or see one started here in SB Land.

Additionally, the idea of winning $2500 was not a bad thing. As I stated earlier today on Facebook the prize money would help with maintaining my old cars (200,000 plus miles) and paying for major monthly medical bills and keeping my kid in college at LSUS.

So although the SBCTB has changed the rules, and the way the voting is to be conducted, and made even the star of my flick, King Cake Baby Voo Doo Doll, feel tainted, I can't afford to withdraw.

I am down with the idea of a panel of judges because I know my little flick rocks and am willing to let it actually be reviewed and judged against the other 14 videos. And, damn, I just don't like the idea of throwing out the baby with the bathwater...King Cake Baby Voo Doo Doll sends her love and wants to know whose turn it is to be the wake-up fairy after nap time...what's that dear? No, I haven't seen that dead thing you found in Greenwood Cemetery...

JB Jones said...

From a comment I left on the previous post, I think everyone knows how I feel about majority rule - Boo...

Regardless of personal ideologies, I must agree with Mr. Kent (and Evan) that this contest was incredibly flawed.

The contest should be about who's video was best (or had the best concept or message). And who would be able to determine that? Oh yeah, experts - not the general public.

I smell a cinematic Taylor Hicks coming.

JB Jones said...

Well, I may have been onto something...

I've heard rumblings that the contest rules have been changed once again, so that the videos can be judged by a committee. Of course, those rumbling could just be a train coming...

seo Chandigarh said...

Our purpose for this contest was to encourage the community to participate in all the great things to do and see in Shreveport-Bossier, and to give us their unique perspective on it. We also wanted the community to be excited about the contest and come to the website to watch the videos. That's what they're doing, and we've gotten lots of great feedback.