In the last 18 months, Sayan Halder has won a fully-paid trip to Bangkok, three iPads, three iPhones, one Nokia Lumia, five iPod Nanos, shopping vouchers worth close to Rs 20,000, one Xbox 360 and tons of other paraphernalia.
The 27-year-old social media executive from Kolkata spends over nine hours online every day – hunting for contests, checking notifications as he drinks his morning coffee and often delaying lunch till evening just so he doesn’t miss a contest deadline. Deepak Agarwal, a 29-year-old operations manager at Altisource in Bangalore, won a trip to Paris, has enjoyed fully-paid holidays in Sri Lanka, Goa, Chennai and Delhi, won a Maruti Alto, a digital TV and an LG Optimus VU cellphone, all in the last six months!
Welcome to the world of contest junkies — hardcore enthusiasts who jump from one contest to the other, liking a page here, retweeting a quote there, submitting the right answer elsewhere, and almost always coming away with a prize. They’re not actually competitive types, they’re not even naturally lucky. But in a world where every brand wants to promote itself by giving away something for free, they know just how to play the system. They know which contests to spend time on and who puts up the coolest prizes. One Mumbai sales professional, who prefers to go by the name Taklooman, only participates in Twitter contests that feature wacky hashtags.
Taklooman has won some 30 contests in the last eight months, the biggest of them being an all-expenses-paid trip to London offered by an airline during the India-England series. The contest required people to mention what they were willing to do to win. “I said I’d stand in the centre of the stadium and print the company’s tattoo on the back of my head.” Taklooman says he prefers competitions that are a test of creativity. “The trick is to be original,” he says.
Contest? No contest
Being original is really the name of the game. Most people who win big aren’t really lucky; they’re just plain smart. “If you wait to get lucky, you’ll only end up with a few small show pieces,” says Shaleen Somani, an electronics and telecommunications engineer from Jaipur, who’s won cameras, phones, tablets and numerous vouchers over two and a half years. “It is hours of active participation that help you win, and once you start, it’s impossible to stop,” he says. Somani’s tricks include “creating a number of IDs on each of my family members’ names.” Halder admits to having up to 15 online identities that win him stuff through Facebook, Twitter and other websites.
It’s all part of the game, says Sanjay Mehta, a joint-CEO at Social Wavelength, a social media marketing agency. “The main objective of a brand is to get a good number of followers among their target audience and the contest is just a means to that end,” he says.
And participating doesn’t have to take up your whole day either. It only takes five minutes to win an expensive voucher in an online contest, says Abdul Azeem, an analyst at a securities firm in Mumbai, who’s been able to watch seven movies for free “by simply retweeting, and writing funny one-liners that hardly took a few minutes.” His tricks: “Engage with the brand during non-contest times as well.”
Prize is right
But when it comes to a big catch, such as Adobe Photoshop software worth a cool Rs 68,000, which IIT student Suvajeet Dattagupta won recently, no one minds spending an extra few minutes or hours. “I tweeted a live event with a certain hashtag over 148 times in seven hours,” says the 26-year-old.
In an Airtel digital TV contest, participants had to play a game and the one with the maximum points stood to win a Maruti Alto. Deepak Agarwal spent 14 hours working up his points, and eventually won.
So if you’re someone who hasn’t even won a slice of pizza so far, what do you do to up your game? Be prepared to take it seriously, says 25-year-old Ram Krishna, an executive with HP and a contest veteran. “Create at least two identities of yourself. This way, you’ll not end up spamming your friends’ and your own timeline. Befriend regular winners, be seen on the brand’s page even when they’re not running a contest.” He recommends picking the contests wisely. “Instead of participating in contests that require you to rope in friends to ‘like’ something on Facebook, play the ones that value originality.”
Most of the consistent winners have a high number of friends on Facebook – Krishna alone has 3,000 – and they say it’s all part of the plan. “It helps to join groups of contest veterans,” says Krishna, who won a trip to Ladakh recently.
But what if there’s a competition on and you don’t care for the prize? Enter anyway. So when you win you can sell your prize and make money off nothing. Shveen Gupta made a cool Rs 50,000 by selling the gadgets she had collected in the last two months. Who needs luck when you’ve got smarts like this?
How to be a winner
Be original and you will stand out.
Be active and interactive. Don’t simply participate and disappear.
Don’t be desperate; it shows!
Look for genuine brand updates every day.
Make sure you have a fast and uninterrupted Internet connection; contests are often a test of time.
Make friends with regular winners so you can trade favours like likes, referrals and votes.
Humour and creativity-driven contests offer better odds than lucky draws. But you have to be your wittiest best.
Deepak Agarwal, 29, Operations manager at Altisource, Bangalore
“In the last six months, I have won goodies worth over a lakh. I make it a point to participate in every contest that challenges my creativity and humour, and not the ones that require hundreds of likes or votes.”
From HT Brunch, January 13
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