Yesterday's blog post about radio contests struck a responsive chord for many of you.
Whether a debate about call-in-to-win vs. text-to-win, memories of Jack McCoy's ginormous “The Last Contest,” or the lost art of designing giveaways that could excite an entire market, I heard from many of you in our “comments” section, as well as on social media.
And I was also reminded contest strategy isn't just about achieving higher ratings. Steve Chrypinski, Michigan Radio's Marketing Director, took to Facebook to explain how his public radio station uses online giveaways to capture emails used “for station marketing and fundraising.”
And Mid-West Family's Randy Hawke pointed directly to his favorite four-letter word – DATA. His company's stations use “targeted rewarding of listeners with client certificates” to achieve better results, a better on-air sound, and “HAPPIER listeners.”
We've come a long way since just taking the 9th caller.
But whatever the motivation and the goal, execution always matters. That's because when you put together a contest aimed at your total cume audience, it's not always easy to control all the variables.
To that end, some of you recalled contests that failed for one reason or another. Dave Lange remembered an infamous scene from the legendary sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati where a would-be complex contest puzzle designed to last weeks was solved in five minutes. As many of us have suspected, it had to be based on a real-life promotional debacle.
But sometimes, it works the other way. A contest that should come to a nice, clean conclusion ends up being left in an ambiguous mess of a dumpster fire.
That's precisely what happened just a few weeks ago in Singapore when a station known as Gold 905 ran a multi-layered, major cash giveaway, “The Celebrity Name Drop.”
The simple idea was a montage of 14 celebrity voices, each reciting one word of the phrase that pays:
“Gold 9-0-5, the station that sounds good, and makes you feel good.”
OK, it doesn't roll right off the tongue, but the contest has a familiar ring to it for many radio programmers.
To win the $10,000 grand prize, callers had to correctly name the entire group in order. (That's about $7,000 in US dollars – a lot of money to put on the line.) Over time, listeners can figure out – through right and wrong guesses – all 14 celebs in the sequence.
As the BBC's Owen Amos reported, Singapore underground railway driver, Muhammad Shalehan, thought he was the winner back on April 21 – more than a month after the contest was launched.
As Amos reported, Shalehan worked this puzzle hard, repeatedly trying to get through the phone lines (he actually made it multiple times), and trying to win the grand prize.
But when he recited his list of 14 names, Gold 905's DJ Chris confirmed he only got 13 of them correct.
Apparently unsolved, Gold 905's “Celebrity Name Drop” rolled on, as dedicated listeners continued to try to nail down the identifies of these elusive stars.
Then on May 6, the station announced it had a winner – Jerome Tan. And the contest was over.
Except it wasn't. On Facebook, Gold 905 listeners noted Muhammad Shalehan gave the exact same answers as the announced winner – more than two weeks earlier.
The station's parent company – a large conglomerate, Mediacorp – clarified that Shalehan's guess didn't adhere to their rules because he failed to pronounce the string of celebrity names accurately. The miscue? The very first name in the sequence – Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet.
And that's when Muhammad went to the mountain – in this case, the real Tony Hadley. Thanks to the Internet, he was able to locate the artist's management, explained his case, and then this video arrived in his email:
Hadley himself confirmed that while Muhammad Shalehan has a “slight accent,” he had, in fact, “pronounced my name absolutely correctly.”
Below are the pronunciations – featuring Hadley himself, followed by Shalehan, and then Tan.
Armed with his now indisputable evidence, Muhammed Shalehan went back to the station to plead his case again. After viewing Hadley's video, Mediacorp still refused to offer him the promised $10,000 prize money. But now, they were inclined to make a “goodwill gesture” – a “token of appreciation” for his efforts and loyalty. According to the BBC, the reduced offer was $5,000 – half the original prize money paid to the eventual winner, Jerome Tan.
By then, the online community was having none of it, encouraging Shalehan to hold out for the entire cash prize. And as you might imagine, the radio station and its parent company took a great deal of online outrage in the process.
Finally late last month, Mediacorp walked back their judgement and their offer, awarding the full $10K to Muhammad Shalehan. As Online Citizen Asia put it, the company was facing a “massive backlash on social media,” and decided to just pay out the full amount.
So, a happy winner (eventually), a victorious audience and social community, a sympathetic rock star, and a sense by many that the “Contest Gods” finally made everything OK again.
That is, unless you're Gold 905 and Mediacorp.
Their reputation was no doubt sullied by their own delays, their dithering, and their denials. And while you might argue they ended up garnering weeks of additional attention from “Celebrity Name Drop,” this is one of those times when there clearly IS such thing a bad publicity. And by the way, this also cost them a second prize payout of $10,000, which knowing the radio industry, was not in their Q2 budget.
For the rest of us, it's another of those “what not to do” tales where many of us shake our heads and give our thanks this didn't happen to one of our stations or clients.
But this snafu, kerfuffle, brouhaha was totally preventable. Stepping back from the story – now a part of Singapore radio legend – here are some of the lessons we can all learn from Gold 905's (mostly) self-inflicted wound;
- The internet is more powerful than you even think. In another era, Muhammad Shalehan would not have been able to easily track down a popular artist, thousands of kilometers away in the UK. At best, it would have taken a long, laborious time. Thanks to technology, Tony Hadley was able to record a smartphone video and email it to Shalehan in short order.
- So is social media. Every step of the way, the online community sprung to Shalehan's defense against a “corporate radio entity.” They encouraged him to stand fast against Gold 905's decision, as well as not settling for a lesser amount of prize money. Pressure from social media played a major role in Mediacorp walking back its attempt to clean up the mess by offering a “token of their appreciation.”
- Don't try to bigfoot a listener (or a station employee, for that matter). Mediacorp isn't just a big company – they function as the national public broadcaster of Singapore, owning 11 radio stations, 6 TV stations, and video streaming platform, among other holdings. They are just the kind of media Goliath many would like to see humbled, especially by a little guy – yes, a David named Muhammad.
- A savvy legal counsel would have anticipated this. So, would a great PD. As discussed in yesterday's post, incessantly asking the question “What could possibly go wrong?” is the best way to bulletproof contests and promotions where the human factor – and even bad luck – might come into play.
- Audiences – and communities – are becoming more diverse. – Not everyone looks or sounds like you. Whether in Singapore, Sioux City, or Schenectady, listeners of varied backgrounds and ethnicities are tuning in – via a station's terrestrial frequency – or more and more, a station's stream. Mediacorp's recent logo design, oddly enough, was described by the company as “a window to the world and a reflection of life.” Ouch.
- Don't try to paper over mistakes – When it was clear from the Hadley video and online pressure that Gold 905 had erred, the company tried the cheap way out with an offer they had to know would be criticized. But they tried it anyway. You know someone in the boardroom opined, “Let's offer him half and see if that makes him go away.” So they did, but it didn't.
- Celebrities giveth and taketh away – Brands simply cannot control what celebrities do, whether they end up behaving badly (as so many do at one point or another), or in this case, Tony Hadley coming to the rescue of the “little guy.” Whether it's endorsements or in this case, using the names and reputations of big global stars to pimp your brand comes with potential downsides.
- At least come up with a stronger “phrase that pays” – OK, that's me being a bit consultant-critical, but Gold 905 can and should do better. And it sure took them a long time to live up to it: “Gold 9-0-5, the station that sounds good, and makes you feel good.”
- Isn't it ironic that Spandau Ballet's big hit is titled “True?” Just sayin'.
Here, by the way, are the correct names and exact order of the celebrities in Gold 905's “Celebrity Name Drop” contest:
Tony Hadley, Madonna, Maggie Wheeler, Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, David Bowie, Belinda Carlisle, Julie Andrews, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep, Michael Buble, and Rebecca Lim.
If you have trouble pronouncing “Buble,” I totally get it.
Thanks to JacoBLOG reader Peter Stewart for the heads-up on this story.
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