Some Common Sweepstakes and Contests Questions Answered

Our teachers have told us that there’s no such thing as a bad question.  In that light, I’ve come up with 11 common (simple) questions about running a sweepstakes or contest.  And to prove that there are no bad questions, I’ve also gone ahead and answered them.  Enjoy!

Social Media

Q:        Can we require an entrant to share the sweepstakes on a friend’s timeline to get additional entries?

A:        No.  Stay away from personal timelines on Facebook.

Practice tip: You can ask an entrant to share the sweepstakes link with a friend to allow the friend to enter separately.

Q:        Can we ask an entrant to tweet, retweet, follow a Twitter user, or post an update?

A:        Yes.  Twitter is very promotion friendly.

Practice Tip: You should tell entrants to include your @username along with the relevant hashtag and to have their settings on public so you can track them.  But don’t ask entrants to tweet more than once per day – Twitter’s nice, but don’t push it.

Q:        Can we direct message the winners?

A:        Yes.  It may be the most practical way to get their information for prize fulfillment.

Practice Tip: Be sure to let winners know in the Official Rules that they will be receiving a direct message if they win.

Winner Selection

Q:        Can we pick winners from certain geographic areas so that our prize pool is spread across the country?

A:        No.  Random draws must be random and skill contests must be based on skill.

Practice tip: You can have a geographic range of winners if you create separate entry pools in the Official Rules and you can then pick winners from each of these pools.  For example, Pool A could be the Northeast States, Pool B the Southern States, etc.

Q:        Do I have to try to contact potential winners a certain number of times before going to an alternate winner?

A:        3 strikes you’re out is for baseball.  The key is to be reasonable.  If you’re giving away tickets to a game scheduled for the next day, a quicker response is reasonable.  If you’re giving away a $2 mug, you may want to give the potential winner a little more time.

Practice tip:  Tell entrants in the Official Rules how long they have to respond to a winner notification, especially if there is a tight deadline for the prize award.  And, at the very least, in your “congratulations” letter/email to the potential winner, let them know the exact date they need to respond.

Q:        Do I need validation paperwork (affidavits of eligibility, prize releases, etc.)?

A:        No.

Practice tip: For any prize over a minimal retail value, you should have the winner sign a standard affidavit of eligibility, prize release, and publicity release.  Note: publicity releases cannot be required from residents of Tennessee.

Small Sweepstakes

Q:        We’re giving away a bale of hay to whoever comes up with the best name for our pony  – do we really need to be concerned about promotion laws?

A:        Yes.  The laws are, generally, not written based upon the size of the promotion.

Practice Tip: You don’t need to go hog wild here, a simple set of Official Rules and adequate ad disclosures should be sufficient.


Q:        What’s the deal with endorsements and sweepstakes/contests?

A:        The FTC has taken the position that asking an entrant to (essentially) identify your product in a positive light is a form of endorsement.   For example, “tell us in 10 words or fewer why you like Yummy Yum Cookies” would trigger an endorsement.  Therefore, you must inform the entrant to include sufficient disclosure that he/she is receiving an entry for this endorsement.

Practice Tip: On social media contests, ask entrants to include “contest” or “sweepstakes” as part of the hashtag.  For example, “#XYZcontest” is acceptable.  The hashtags #sweeps or #sp or  #thanks[brand] or #partner may not be enough.  Also, don’t have a sting of hashtags.  Don’t ask me why the FTC believes #XYZ#contest#cool#win or #XYZsweeps would be any less of an indicator of an endorsement than #XYZcontest.

Beyond the U.S.

Q:        What do we need in our Official Rules in order to include Canadian residents?

A:        (1) Time, date, and location of winner selection.

(2) Mathematical skill question – since chance promotions are not allowed in Canada.

(3) Privacy notice – explaining how the entrant’s information will be used.

AND if it’s open to residents of the province of Quebec:

(4) Notice that disputes may be submitted to the Regie des alcools.

(5) Translation into French.

(6) Registration and bonding.

Q:        Why does everyone void Puerto Rico?

A:        I don’t know.  Puerto Rico used to have some stringent requirements, but since 2009 these requirements have been toned down.  Most U.S. sweepstakes can include Puerto Rico with minimal adjustments.

Practice Tip:  If you want to void Puerto Rico, make sure your Official Rules state that the contest is open to “legal residents of the 50 United States …”  Just saying “legal residents of the United States” could conceivably include not only the 50 states, but also Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories and possessions.  (Oh, so that’s why rules say “50 United States”.)


Q:        How do we deal with complaints from winners and losers?

A:        Point to the Official Rules.  The Official Rules form a binding contract with entrants, so hopefully the situation is covered in the rules.

Practice Tip: No matter how hard you try, every conceivable complaint cannot be addressed in the rules.  The best advice is to be reasonable and to keep your consumers happy as best you can.

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