Over the past 18 years, I have been very fortunate to represent several of what I call “Mega Sponsors” of sweepstakes and contests. My definition of a Mega Sponsor is a company that sponsors more than 50 sweepstakes or contests in a year. These companies are typically large nationwide operations that have multiple brands, franchisees, retailers, and teams of advertising personnel and ad agencies — all of whom have their own ideas about how promotions should be designed.
Because of their size and the large number of promotions they launch each year, the rules that Mega Sponsors use for a promotion in one market may be vastly different than a virtually identical sweepstakes they sponsored for a different product or in another market. This may result in part from the temptation to use previously drafted official rules (sometimes even from another company) to save time and money, on the presumption that if it worked last year or for a competitor, it should work as well for a new similar promotion.
Using someone else’s rules can be dangerous as described in “Swept Away,” the comic we published a few years ago. Regardless of whether you are trying to use last year’s or last week’s rules, even the slightest difference between the promotions may cause the rules to violate ever-changing state laws. While using previous rules can be catastrophic, that does not mean that you need to reinvent the wheel for each promotion that you sponsor.
Below are a few tips for Mega Sponsors and other creators of sweepstakes and contests can consider to create their promotions in an efficient and low-risk manner.
- Rather than re-using rules, create a standard template(s) that can be used to prepare official rules for the types of promotions that you typically sponsor. These templates also help to make certain that all essential details of the promotion are included in the official rules.
- Persuade (or require) that all marketing personnel, agencies and others involved in creating a sweepstakes or contest start the process by using the appropriate template. If such a template is not available, they need to alert the sponsor that it may be necessary to prepare a unique set of rules and/or a new template designed for this new type of promotion.
- Try to improve the templates each time they are used. Even if the improvement is correcting a typo in the prior rules or adding a new word or two, you should try to make the rules clearer and easier for entrants to understand.
- Make certain that the individuals who are implementing the promotion are knowledgeable about the rules’ requirements. If a new sales person doesn’t know about the no-purchase method of entering a sweepstakes, the best rules in the world may not protect a sponsor from scrutiny by the FTC, state attorneys general, or the general public.
- Have a lawyer who is familiar with sweepstakes and contest laws review the rules before that promotion is launched to ensure that the appropriate template has been used and followed correctly and that there are no other problems with the rules. Usually this type of review will take only a few minutes, and an experienced promotions lawyer should be able to find any pitfalls which may exist in the rules in that amount of time.
As you may know, Thompson Coburn’s Sweepstakes Creator is used frequently by Mega Sponsors and others who sponsor sweepstakes or contests. The Sweepstakes Creator asks the sponsors to answer 20 questions about the promotion they are planning. The answers are reviewed by an attorney in our office and are then transformed into official rules. The Creator provides a very efficient way of preparing the rules for a promotion, particularly if it is a sweepstakes or contest type frequently used by the sponsor. Feel free to log on to the Creator to see if this tool could be useful to your situation.
Dale Joerling is the chair of Thompson Coburn’s Advertising, Marketing and Promotion Law group. He is editorial director of the Sweepstakes Law Blog. You can find Dale on Google+ and Twitter, and reach him at (314) 552-6058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.