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 www.shreveport-bossier.org/video 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:
- 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?
- 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?