It’s Time to Rethink Cash Contests

It’s Time to Rethink Cash Contests

by Tracy Johnson

Spin the radio dial and you’ll hear contests and promotions on nearly every frequency. It’s part of what radio does well. And it works to herd those ratings respondents to your radio station. But it’s time to rethink cash contests.

Traditionally, cash is king. Every research project will show you that the audience wants money more than anything. And it certainly seems that big money cash contests are popular. That’s why so many national, shared contests offer big payoffs. But there’s mounting evidence that cash contests are no longer the most attractive incentive to listen and respond.

Rethink Cash Contests: Research

The first, and most alarming, indicator is that your audience is losing trust in contests overall. NuVooDoo Media’s research shows that more than half of all listeners ager 14-44 believe radio contests are rigged.

That’s partly because of the outdated mechanics of contesting most stations continue to use. Spoiler alert: You should immediately stop all call in to win contests. You know, where you take Caller #9 to win? They’re not driving added quarter hours, and haven’t for a long time.

Another factor in the declining interest in cash contesting is that many stations fail to promote their winners. We’re so focused on moving forward and setting that net appointment that your audience never hears the outcome of a promotion they’re interested in. That destroys credibility, and a rising percentage question whether the prize was ever given away at all.

But there’s more. Another problem is how cash contests sound on the air. Programmers have correctly simplified their campaigns to make them clear and easy to play¬†along. And listeners get it. In fact, they believe that you’re promoting your contests way too much. They feel it’s become hype, which leaves programmers in a tough spot: back off on the frequency of promotion and risk lower participation rates or continue to pound away and alienate heavy users

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But there’s mounting evidence that the audience has become numb to cash offers. More than anything, that’s the reason you should rethink cash contests.

Today’s Audience Is Not Cash Motivated

In 2017, I conducted a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews with 18-39 year old listeners. The project was to learn more about millennials and find ways we can attract them more effectively. Results of the project are detailed in a video presentation here.

One of the key findings is that today’s audience is far more interested in experiences than money. That’s surprising to many broadcasters, because the younger generation is stretching every month to make ends meet. Yet the experience is far more important to them.

They’d rather have something to brag about on social media, share with their friends and create a memory than win $1,000. This is a profound shift from the way you’re probably executing your contest strategy.

So not only are listeners skeptical that the prizes are real, they aren’t that excited about winning money! What’s a programmer to do?

The Storytelling Factor

Some of my clients have had tremendous success taking this to heart and applying those principles to enhance their brand values and engage all listeners, and not just contest players.

One of the most high-profile examples is Z90/San Diego’s Epic 48 promotions. This series of 4-8 week campaigns takes listeners on 48-hour adventures that money can’t buy. It’s full of intrigue, mystery and over-the-top events over a 48-hour period.

The station has experienced ratings growth, and each promotion builds on the previous campaigns. Plus, it has one more compelling benefit: Storytelling.

As humans, we’re attracted to stories, and when the stories have a benefit to your audience, it becomes personal.

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Cash promotions tend to sound the same: Listen at appointment times, call and win. Got it. Simple. Fast. Easy. And ineffective.

Experiential promotions provide fuel to drive creative campaigns. They excite your audience more than “I won $1,000!”. And you can build lasting, memorable equity by telling stories through your promotions.


Contesting isn’t dead. It’s alive and well. But how you conduct contests should be re-evaluated. And it’s definitely time to rethink cash contests.

If you’d like ideas on how to turn your station into a contemporary promotion machine, I’d love to help. Contact me for details.

How to Build An Effective Contest Strategy

Call In to Win Contests Don’t Work!

Extracting Maximum Value From Group Contesting

Stretch Contest Budgets With Listener Experiences

It’s Time To Rethink Traditional Radio Contests

This Research on Contests Should Scare You To Death

8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

Validate Your Contests By Following This Model to Promote Your Winners


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