The Bare Minimum (Big Suggestions For Little Promotions)

Client:             Do we need Official Rules for our sweepstakes?

Attorney:         Yes.

Client:             But we’re only running a one-day sweepstakes giving away a one-way bus ticket to Cleveland.

Attorney:         Sorry.

Client:             But we’re no Goliath.

In the sweepstakes world size doesn’t always matter.  While as practical matter, a tiny sweepstakes may seem too trivial to warrant full Official Rules, as a legal matter some mandatory rules are needed.  But thankfully, giving away a pocket-sized prize doesn’t have to put a dent in your pocket-sized budget.  At a minimum, a simple set of rules with the following provisions can cover a nationwide promotion:

The Bare Minimum

1. No Purchase Necessary.  This is the “stop, drop and roll” of all sweepstakes.

2. Who Can/Can’t Enter: Set an age minimum and a geographic limit (such as “Must be U.S. resident, 18 or older.”  And exclude employees and anyone who’s involved with the promotion.

Age issues:
i. 13 or older: If you’re online and want entrants under 13 you need to  comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
ii. 18 or older: You want entrants of “legal” age so that they can validly enter into contracts.  The applicable age of majority in all states, except AL, NE and MS, is 18.

Geography issues:
i. Keep it in the U.S. – going foreign is a little advanced for a modest sweeps.
ii. NY/FL: Require registration and bonding if there are prizes over $5,000 – but that would be inconsistent with our theme.
iii. RI: If you are a retail establishment offering prizes of over $500, you need to register in RI

3. How/where to Enter.

4. Prize and its Approximate Retail Value.

5. Odds of winning must be immediately adjacent to the prize description.

6. How winner will be selected.

7. How/when winner will be notified.

8. Release language – not legally required, but a simple release is a good idea.

9. How to obtain a winners’ list.

10. Name and address of Sponsor.

These 10 items can fit into a very compact set of rules and they will give you what you need to run (almost) any sweepstakes.  But, of course, there are some additional items to consider depending on your particular sweeps.

Additional Items to Consider

1. Direct mail:  Federal law and a few states (CO, TX, CA) have specific requirements when the sweepstakes is being advertised through direct mail.

2. Regulated industries:  Promotions involving dairy products, gasoline, tobacco and alcohol have additional regulations that need to be considered.

3. In pack/on-pack promotions: These promotions require specific ad disclosures.

4. Social media: A number of social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) have their own guidelines for running sweepstakes on their sites.

5. Contests: If your winner is not chosen by chance but by skill, your official rules should also include judging criteria (and you can omit the “odds”).

The same rules apply to David as they do to Goliath.  If you’re going to jump into the sweepstakes ring, you don’t necessarily have to strap on that bronze helmet and coat of armor weighing five thousand shekels, but make sure to bring at least a sling shot.

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