Welcome to the second in my new series of Q&As with the people who help run prize promotions. Spark & Fuse was founded ten years ago by Sarah Burns and Juliette Thomas. Passionate about comps, they work with big brands to deliver compliant prize promotions from concept to completion, sourcing perfect prizes – and outsmarting the cheats!
How did Spark & Fuse start?
We were originally a marketing services department for a big publishing company (these days known as a ‘content agency’) where we not only carved a niche for ourselves sourcing prizes for brands such as Volvo, BMW, NSPCC and M&S, but developed an expertise in best practice and compliance. We realised there was a place in the market for a company that could provide this service and decided to set up on our own. We were fortunate that when we left, our employer agreed to outsource all our existing projects to us. That was 10 years ago and today we work for brands, agencies and businesses having established ourselves as industry experts. Sarah is also now a board director for the Institute of Promotional Marketing.
What kind of projects do you work on?
While our business focus is purely on prize promotions, our skill set within this remit is impressive which means our work is varied. We source prizes for big brands and retailers, manage prize fulfilment (which can involve liaising with one holiday winner or 2,000 ticket winners), provide best practice advice, conduct prize draws and implement agencies creative ideas. This could mean that one day we’re building a microsite with receipt verification for a brand, or running a prize draw on Twitter for a small business, and the next day judging a photo competition or setting up a text to win. Compliance is at the heart of everything we do and we insist that all our projects meet the CAP code even if it means a client must compromise a concept.
Have there been any particularly memorable ‘winning telephone calls’ that you’ve had to make?
We once called a winner to tell her she’d won £10,000 – after a long period of silence there was an even longer deafening scream. You can read about our 10 most memorable winners (good, and bad) on our blog – it’s proved to be a very popular post.
More brands are turning to mobile apps for more exciting promotions – which do you think are the up and coming apps we should be downloading?
In order to achieve promotional goals, brands must go where their target market hang out. There is actually little value administering a promotion through apps which only a handful of consumers use, unless it displays particularly impressive growth or the key demographic is already there. Facebook has more active users than any other platform and through paid-services offers a brand significant control over who sees content – great for targeting and maximising spend. Instagram has yet to be fully exploited by promoters and further growth should be expected. If promoters could bottle the might of SnapChat within a prize promotion they’d be all over it – US brands which have sponsored lenses have seen brilliant returns. Shazam could be one to watch. By the way, if any of your readers would like to know how to use Snapchat, they should read our handy guide written by an actual teenager.
Spark & Fuse work with Tesco on their ‘Buy. Scan. Win’ promotions, where a Clubcard holder is automatically entered into a prize draw when they buy a qualifying product and scan their Clubcard. Do you have trouble contacting winners for these draws?
In the main, no. Where customers forget to update their clubcard details, say when they move home, we may have incorrect contact information which can hinder the notification process. However this applies to an incredibly small percentage of winners. Where a BSW prize draw has a small pool of winners, contact is not generally affected, where there is a larger pool of winners the ratio of incorrect details does marginally increase. Usually if an address is incorrect, the phone number often remains the same and we do call winners in this instance.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had when dealing with a winner?
We’ve certainly managed some odd winners. Like the woman who won a trip to Florida, but had a fear of flying, and the winner’s husband who made Sarah cry which you can read about here. One particular winner was unhappy with replacement products in a prize bundle, despite the fact we’d even sent her fabulous extras by way of an apology. She complained to our client, but told terrible fibs (which the client knew) – when our colleague Clair called her to discuss it she pretended to be ill as she thought it was her employer calling and had obviously taken a sicky (!), then recovered quickly enough to shout relentlessly down the phone. We don’t much like this sort of winner.
What are the best and worst bits of your job?
We genuinely love what we do. Every day we give away amazing prizes – it is a wonderful feeling knowing that someone is going to wake up to a letter stating they’ve won a trip to America, or to the postman delivering a bundle of goodies. However, when we’re researching ideas, we often come across stories about people who have become victims of prize scams, which upset us. We’ve decided to face this head-on, and we’re launching an initiative this September to address the issue; Slam Prize Scams. We hope the campaign will create awareness of prize scams and the devastating effects for victims and their families, as well as educate consumers so they can tell the difference between a real prize and scam promotions. Our website will host useful content including guest posts from a number of crime prevention agencies.
What’s the most unusual prize promotion you’ve been involved with?
We recently worked with Idris Elba and Purdeys on a campaign called ‘Thrive on’. It might not be the quirky answer you were expecting but it was unusual for us because entrants actually did what they were asked! Often a large proportion of participants completely ignore entry instructions, hoping that perhaps we won’t notice. In this instance all entrants had clearly read both details and terms to produce excellent and compelling answers. It made judging difficult.
Several recent instant win promotions have proved controversial in that they are designed so that although “all prizes are available to be won, there is no guarantee all prizes will be won” (e.g. Highland Spring tennis sets and Walkers Spell & Go Holidays). These promotions advertise thousands of prizes, yet only a small percentage are likely to be won. Would you consider this a fair way to run a promotion?
Both these promotions have been unfairly demonised. Running code-based promotions offering thousands of prizes that are not all claimed, with the overall liability covered by risk insurance is nothing new. They are not unfair, they’re simply based on chance. That being said, the fall-out from the Walkers campaign, before it has even closed, is certainly something promoters want to avoid not attract. We recently worked on a campaign for Diet Coke whereby all unclaimed code-based prizes were put back into the pot and remaining prizes randomly given away. However this approach isn’t always feasible.
Are there certain prizes you would recommend a promoter NEVER gives away?
Not really, but a promoter’s prize shouldn’t be arbitrary. It should help meet objectives – all prize promotions must have a purpose – and must appeal to a promoter’s target demographic. There’s no logic to offering an iPad for instance, if you’re a dog food company. Give away something your market would love – like pet accessories.
Do you enter any competitions yourself – and have you had any success?
Oh yes, regularly. Our policy is to only enter where there’s a prize that we really want to win – Sarah recently won a photo shoot for her dogs which she desperately wanted. We never get involved in a prize draw where the promoter clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing, as this rarely ends well for participants. Obviously we never enter our own promotions!
What advice would you give to bloggers hosting giveaways?
Who is your target reader? A blogger’s giveaway objective should hinge entirely on this detail because either they want to reward existing readers for their loyalty, or attract new readers who will return to the blog post promotion to engage with content. There is little point in having 1,000 entries from a bunch of people who will never revisit the blog again. Also consider the number of actions you request for entry. Asking entrants to sign up to your newsletter, follow you on Twitter, like you on Facebook, like you on Pinterest and give up their first born is all too much.
Have you had many dealings with the ASA – and what type of complaints have they been?
It’s our job to protect our clients from complaints to the ASA by providing good practise. Only once in 10 years has the ASA been in touch with us, and even then it was for a promotion set up when we worked at our previous company. A winner questioned the value of a prize – luckily we had all the emails and details still available to prove that his complaint was unreasonable.
What frustrates you most about compers?
There appears to be a common theory amongst compers that if they don’t know of a winner for a particular promotion, either it hasn’t been conducted fairly or prizes haven’t been distributed. This isn’t the case. Lots of people enter prize promotions and sometimes compers simply don’t win everything!