Wednesday, 21 March 2018

On belligerence

Sometimes I win. Sometimes I learn. And sometimes I do the same thing over and over again in the hope that things will turn out differently next time.

Some would call that the very definition of insanity. And sometimes they’d be right. Sometimes, however, it’s less clear-cut.

Case in point: I used the same Faces for Florida entry for three weeks in a row. After failing to pass muster on the first week, the likelihood of a subsequent win was slim to nil, but since I didn’t have any better ideas, my only option was to hope the rest of the field had a bad day.

Fanciful thinking? Maybe so, but a long shot is better than no shot, as Steven Bradbury found in the 2002 Winter Olympics when everyone else in the 1000m speed skating final fell over, leaving him to collect the gold.

Unfortunately for me, in this instance, the other entrants blew me out of the water. But on the plus side, I don’t have to worry about taking a volatile eight-year-old on a long-haul flight.

Then there was the time, about three years ago, when I tried to win a Weetabuddy. For the uninitiated, this recurring competition requires entrants to scatter fruit on their breakfast in a sufficiently artful manner that it looks like a face. I chose the path less travelled, and skewered fruit to my biscuit so it could stand up.

My weetabuddy

As luck would have it, the promoter was looking for balanced breakfasts rather than edible voodoo dolls, and my entry failed to make the grade. Not that I really minded - at that point I was in thrall to the comping monkey on my back, and entering every effort comp I could find, whatever the prize.

But I kept the picture. It wasn’t like it was well composed, or for that matter remotely clever. But I did love how perfectly it encapsulated the absurdity of comping - after all, who in their right mind would pin blueberries to their cereal just to win a fluffy Weetabix? And more to the point, why would anyone even want a fluffy Weetabix?

I can’t answer that last question, but I do know that my mojo was wanting a boot up the jacksie towards the end of last year, and on a whim, I entered the competition again. With the same picture.

Common sense would suggest that having failed once, the picture would only flop again. But common sense can bite me. I won that fluffy Weetabix. And my son loves it. At long last, he can hug his favourite cereal - something I’ll never manage with granola.

So, what’s my point? Simple! Stubbornness pays.

Has your persistence, belligerence or plain old dogged refusal to quit, won you any prizes? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Great Oreo Cookie Quest

In case you missed it, Oreo is currently running a massive promotion as part of The Great #OreoCookieQuest - a campaign to celebrate special family moments.

Packet of Oreos

The on-pack promotion will see a whole load of earphones and wireless speakers given away, not to mention a trip to San Francisco for four people (for more on this, check out Di Coke’s post).

I was planning to introduce my lads to Oreos as part of a fun day out; The Beast from the East, however, had other ideas, and effectively snowed us in for the best part of a week.

After three consecutive snow days, the children were getting fractious and clearly needed an injection of joy.

Now, anyone who knows me will confirm that I’m downright tight when it comes to letting my kids have sweets or biscuits between meals. Nevertheless, there are clearly occasions when a small but fun treat is in order. Being held hostage by an arctic tempest is one such occasion.

In such situations, I can understand why some people use biscuits as a form of currency, or possibly ransom payment, in the hope of buying a few minutes peace and quiet. My view, however, is that if you have leverage, it’s best to hold on to it for as long as possible.

To this end, I dangle cookies like the proverbial carrot while I create a learning opportunity for my captive audience. I call it a learning opportunity, but really it’s just me seeing how long I can talk about biscuits before my own willpower gives out and I have to open the packet.

And so, in lieu of a physical expedition, I took my family on a Great Oreo Cookie Quest for knowledge.

The lesson is brief, and comprises the following key facts:

  • Oreos are an American institution, having been made in the country for over a century; and
  • the traditional way to consume them is to first dunk them in milk.

Milk & cookies

There’s also the matter of a fun little story about Oreos, which dates back to 2013.

This was the year when another American institution - the Super Bowl - had a hiccup. As hiccups go, this one was a doozy: the lights went out.

This wasn’t major news in the UK; in America, however, where almost nothing gets higher viewing figures, this was a massive deal. The power outage lasted a good half-hour, during which time Oreo’s marketing team seized the opportunity to tweet a cheeky little message: you can still dunk in the dark.

Picture of tweet by Oreo

That opportunist tweet got over 15,000 retweets and is still celebrated in marketing circles as one of the best guerrilla marketing plays of recent years.

And it got me thinking in a similarly opportunistic manner - if the perfect serving size for Oreos is two per person, and there are four people in this house, one little snack can probably buy me a whole hour of family joy. And so, a new game was born: the amazing game of DUNK IN THE DARK!

You can probably guess how the game dynamics work, but I’ve made a little video of my son playing, just in case.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to eating biscuits, children have remarkable muscle memory. To this end, I strongly recommend moving the metaphorical goal posts between dunks!

As you can see, this hastily improvised diversion was extremely well received by the little people - and happy little people means happy parents!

Do you know any other ways to turn a tiny snack into quality family time - let me know in the comments below...

This post is an entry for BritMums #OreoCookieQuest, sponsored by Oreo

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Unboxing February 2018

Apologies for the lack of posts this month - more on that in due course. In the meantime, here's the fun bit - be lucky!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Unboxing January 2018

What with lots of promoters announcing the winners of their advent comps in January, this month started off really well. Things quietened off after that, with just a couple of small wins for #NationalTriviaDay that I won on Twitter. That’s an American hashtag day, however, so I’m unlikely to see most of those prizes as I directed them to my US-based sister to distribute among her brood  (and I definitely don’t expect those macadamia nuts to last till I next visit!). Luckily, there was a turnup for the books last week, with one prize arriving within 24 hours of winning (result!) and another that I hope to feature in next month’s roundup.

Finally, I should add that this video is longer than it needs to be - sorry about that. It’s just that my second-born was especially taken with one of the prizes, so I indulged him with a little extra camera time. I do hope you’ll forgive me!

Be lucky!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Faces for Florida

Fingers are crossed but I fear we need more tweed! #FacesForFlorida

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A prize from The Moon Under Water?

This isn’t a winning story. For a start, there’s no such promoter. The Moon Under Water was a fictitious boozer invented by George Orwell back when the Evening Standard was paying him to write pretty much whatever popped into his head.* It’ll be a long time before anyone pays for my jibber jabber, but then again, the dubious luxury of writing sans client does mean that there’s no one to stop me from doing likewise. So, with this in mind (and with a respectful nod to Mr Orwell, on this, the 68th anniversary of his death), let me tell you about the fabulous competitions being run by The Moon Under Water.
Picture of George Orwell which appears in an old accreditation for the Branch of the National Union of Journalists (BNUJ)
George Orwell: Probably would have had strong opinions on comping. Dunno, just guessing.
The promoters at The Moon Under Water have seen comps on Instagram that fail to mention that they are being run on multiple channels, and they feel this is at best ambiguous and at worst misleading. For this reason, The Moon Under Water promotes its giveaways across all its media channels. It has pinned posts on Twitter and Facebook, as well as attractive creative on Instagram. All these posts direct potential entrants to its website, where every last detail about each competition can be found in its full glory - the entry mechanic, the prize, the T&C - the lot.

The Moon Under Water wants people to engage with its brand. It wants to embed its name in people’s minds so that everyone who has taken part - even if they haven’t won - will associate The Moon Under Water with happy memories. For this reason, it never asks entrants to mindlessly like and share or follow and retweet, because it knows entrants will have already forgotten their name in the time it takes to fulfil those actions. Likewise, it never directs entrants through a mystery tour loop of allied companies it would like them to follow as it knows this will dampen enthusiasm for its brand. It also never obliges entrants to click through a dozen Gleam or Rafflecopter entry widgets, as it knows that ticking boxes is no way to engender brand love.

For this reason, The Moon Under Water always runs effort-based competitions. Sometimes it invites entrants to create an original - and impossible to plagiarise - photograph with a certain item, or something that corresponds with its latest marketing campaign, be that seasonal (say, Christmas) or activity based (say, jumping for joy). Certainly, whenever it asks for a selfie, it publishes T&C that define EXACTLY what the word “selfie” constitutes.

From time to time, its competitions require entrants to submit a brief video clip: sometimes something simple and silly such as mixing the promoter’s name into a tongue twister; sometimes more demanding, such as a sketch or a monologue, that - again - resonates with the latest marketing campaign.

The Moon Under Water also loves tie-breaks - indeed, its company slogan was originally coined via a tie-break competition.

Entries are always limited to one per person. No one gets additional credit for tagging more people, reposting the competition or kissing promoter ass.

Winners are never decided by public vote. Rather, winning entries are judged by an independent third party. Furthermore, winners are contacted directly rather than announced, untagged in a social media post.

The Moon Under Water never extends the deadlines for its competitions. They always close on a defined date - rather than, say, 10,000 followers. Likewise, winners are always announced as scheduled. Winning entries are published on all social media feeds, and, where possible, old posts promoting the competition updated to point to the announcement.

Sometimes prizes are big; sometimes they are small. But whatever their size, they are relevant to the brand and both delightful and useful to the winner. When The Moon Under Water produces merchandise, its mugs are artful, its pens built to last. More often though, it gives away its own product or gift vouchers (as opposed to discount codes) for its online shop, as it knows this will encourage genuine word-of-mouth enthusiasm about its brand. And from time to time, it also partners with like-minded brands to provide bigger - but, crucially - congruous prizes. These additional prizes always complement The Moon Under Water’s product and its present marketing campaign, whether that be in the form of traditional concepts, such as champagne and chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or immersive horror experiences to tie up with Halloween.

What it doesn’t do is give away iPads for the sake of it. Competitions to win iPads are great, but they are ten a penny. They also have no congruence with the Moon Under Water brand. Instead, each prize is carefully considered for the unique circumstances of the promotional campaign in question.

Perhaps you know of a promoter such as The Moon Under Water, or one that runs giveaways with even greater panache. If so, I should be glad to hear of it - do please let me know in the comments below!

*For the absence of doubt, this post bears no relation to the Wetherspoon’s pubs that desecrate Orwell’s vision with such reverence.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

My Harry Potter Win: Part 2

Of all the queues, the one to actually commence the tour was the largest and most densely packed. It would probably have been less stressful had my children been on reins, so I will bear that in mind for future reference. That said, as the numbers built up, the oppressive hubbub worked wonders for intimidating them into line, and it was only another twenty minutes or so before we were in the Great Hall.

Many words come to mind on entering this cavernous space, but I’ll settle for ‘Gosh’. The room is so big that I’d always assumed it was shot on location. Well, you know what they say about assumptions. I’d love illustrate the vastness of the set with an awesome photo, but sadly my camera was giving me lip and I was unable to diagnose the problem while my offspring ran pell-mell about the place. Also, we had only about five minutes to take it all in, so by the time the children were contained, everyone was being booted out. In short, you’ll just have to take my word for it: gosh, indeed.

Next was the hangar full of props. Oh my. I can’t remotely do this justice. It’s not just costumes and wands in here, but rooms - whole rooms - like Harry’s dorm, the Griffyndor common room, Professor Umbridge’s office, the Weasley kitchen, and the potions classroom, with the forbidden forest and Platform 9 3/4 just around the corner (along with the Hogwarts Express). You’ve also got a first-hand introduction to the special effects in here - and not some basic show and tell affair either. You want to sit at Hagrid’s table or summon a broomstick? No problem. Heck, you can even buy a video of yourself riding that broomstick or sitting on the Hogwarts Express as it gets attacked by dementors - though you might want a word with your bank manager first, given that photos are (as I recall) £14 each and video footage £25 a clip.
Sitting at Hagrid's table - my eldest is a giant!
I didn’t mention the wand fighting lessons did I? Well, you’ll need them later on when you’re duelling with death eaters on the Hogwarts Bridge. In my case though, my kids were more interested in Hagrid’s motorbike and the flying car from the second movie, which were parked nearby, so the 10 inches of wooden dowel I was waving around like a prat was purely for my own benefit.

It’s about this point that refreshments are called for. Given that the WB studio is one of possibly four places in the world where one can buy butterbeer, we made a point of grabbing ourselves a beaker each. Which is to say, I bought a couple of beakers to share: at £6.50 for a half-pint or so, I’ve definitely bought cheaper champagne. It’s also horrifically calorific, and long-term use is practically guaranteed to require remedial dentistry. ‘But how does it taste?’, you ask. Imagine a blend of butterscotch and cream soda … My children hated it, and personally, I’d stick to the cheap champagne, but if you’re determined to rot your mouth, I understand that Flying Cauldron butterscotch beer is pretty similar.

Outside the refreshment area you can also have a nosey at the night bus and take a quick tour of the Dursleys’ house (again - I can’t believe this scenery was built for the movie - I honestly had to touch it to believe it!). You’re also only minutes away from the incredible Diagon Alley, but don’t get ahead of yourself - there’s all the CGI and robotic FX to take in first!
The Dursleys' front room

Just one of the treats on Diagon Alley

If, like me, your time in this zone is curtailed by one of your offspring having a tantrum while the other harasses the staff, the one thing you absolutely MUST experience is the bit where you get to control a fully-rendered animation of Dobby the house elf via real-time interactive motion capture. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Dobby dab, dance the robot or whatever else takes your fancy.

The penultimate area is dedicated to the set designers - the unsung heroes of the franchise - the folks who, thanks to their vision, conceived the entire franchise. Their sketches offer a first-class insight into the production process and leave you genuinely in awe of their imagination.

Finally, it’s time for the money shot: the absurdly intricate 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts. That translates to a model almost 50 feet in diameter. I really can’t overstate the incredibleness of this structure - for reference, the man-hours put into building and reworking the model, if totalled, would exceed 74 years!
Hogwarts (only smaller)

More Hogwarts

So, all that remains is to exit through the gift shop. Here’s the sucker punch. Everything - but everything - is obscenely expensive. For example, the markup on relatively pedestrian pocket-money items, such as a pack of Top Trumps, is at least 50 per cent over the standard market rate for similar (but non-Potter) items. You want a magic wand? That’ll be £35 please. Understandably, my son wanted a souvenir, but when a chocolate frog costs a month’s pocket money, the world was hardly his oyster. He settled on a pair of Harry Potter glasses for £4 - of the quality you might expect from a Poundland fancy dress kit, that - yes - also contained other plastic tat. But his red mist for acquisition was at least sated and we could move on.

In sum then, the tour is plainly one of the most magical things I'll ever experience and I totally recommend it to anyone with only a passing interest in the Potterverse. I'd probably counsel against taking small children - or, more specifically, my children - but despite their best efforts, it was worth the wait. It's also worth mentioning that I'm really terrible at getting my act together, so if it hadn't have been for comping, I might never have got round to doing this. To this end, I'm also grateful to this hobby for giving me the nudge to get more out of life!