Friday, 18 January 2019

The little things in life

Never work with children or animals. I’ve tried both. Which is worse, I couldn’t say: cats by their very nature cannot, do not and will not cooperate; my first-born likewise.

That’s an exaggeration - he did cooperate once, when he was four. Since then, his behaviour has - as they say - explored boundaries. Combined with his extreme control-freakery, he’s not a natural at taking direction, generally only playing ball once you’ve tears in your eyes and are genuinely about to throw in the towel.

Exhibit A: Cooperating child

The net result is that every video comp I try to recruit him for turns into a complete ordeal with my wife asking why I keep putting myself though this. To be honest, I don’t really know. Time after time, I somehow manage to convince myself that if I chuck a kid or two into my video then the judges will love it. Sadly, and much to his frustration, the results don’t bear that out, making him even more reluctant to cooperate next time, meaning that the next video is even more likely to miss the mark. It’s a vicious circle. The cat, at least, is always consistently uncooperative.

There’s also the problem that having put in the effort, he feels the prize should be guaranteed. I get that. Failing to win an entry-form or like-RT comp is a statistical doddle; it’s also emotionally straightforward as there’s little to no investment. When you’ve spent hours on an entry but fail to make the podium, however, it’s disappointing, no matter how old you are. And more effort equals more disappointment.

He’s gutted that he’s not modelling for Gap, so I have to remind him how much he enjoyed doing his photo shoot. Likewise, he was disappointed not to win a heap of books when we spent the best part of a weekend turning a cardboard box into a Noddy car - but he was so proud of his work that he asked to do it again just a few weeks later. The video we made for an Oreo comp was an even greater success, although since that involved eating biscuits, perhaps there’s no surprise there.

There’s no point comping with children if they don’t enjoy the process. Of course, you could always say the same about adults.

If you have any tips for getting children to cooperate, PLEASE let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Going forward: 2019

Last year, my new year’s resolutions were simply to enjoy myself and to start extending this blog onto Instagram. How did that go? Well, my @garywasabi insta feed is proceeding at a rather pedestrian pace, averaging slightly over a post a week, which is less than I hoped for, but given the aforementioned pledge to be kinder to myself, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’ve also gone easy on myself in terms of trying not to overdo it (advents aside) and not worrying about missed deadlines. I stopped seeing my counsellor a few months back but I think she’d be pleased with my progress.

But what about this year then? Well, one of my plans is to have even more fun. To this end, I’ve started playing wishlist bingo with a bunch of other compers. So far this year I’m drawing a complete blank, but I'm hopeful of ticking off most of these things by December. A full house, however, might be wishful thinking!

I’m also planning to minimise time spent in my comfort zone. Instagram has been really good to me, but as it’s slowing down, I really need to diversify. Having updated my bookmarked searches to include everything on the bingo grid, I’m sure to be entering more web-based comps. I’ll also be entering purchase and effort comps where I can - although this will require more organisation on my part - even if that just means writing a shopping list!

Truthfully, I’m unlikely to stop being a fair-weather purchase-comper, but when it comes to promotions with hundreds of prizes, such as last year’s Bonne Maman Madeleine promotion and the Doritos & Pepsi Perfect Match giveaway, I’m sure I can make an exception.

As for those effort comps, I probably should update my photo library for those effort comps, but I fear that might be a step too far!

That’s probably enough to be going on with, but if you think I’ve missed anything, do let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Looking back: 2018

Last year was great in so many ways. Beating my personal best was obviously awesome, as was winning a tote bag advertising an oversized aubergine emoji, but more important was my growth as a comper. For example, I pulled off my first proper tie-break win; I made my first proper forays into purchase-necessary comping; and I made first contact with real-life compers!

Real-life compers?! The very idea! When I first started comping in 2014, I ploughed a lonely furrow. Ploughed it like a headless chicken, perhaps, but absolutely on my tod, if only because I was shy of barging in on other people’s conversations or tagging strangers on social media comps.

Fortunately, compers tend to be a lovely bunch, and my wall-flowering wasn’t tolerated for long. Even so, after years of online banter, I still found it hard to accept that behind the avatars, these people were bona-fide meat-based life-forms. Similarly, the likelihood of ever being unable to hide behind my online persona was sufficiently remote as to be academic.

Then, of course, came my Wimbledon win, and with it (to use the official collective noun), a great big hospitality suite of actual, physical, compers. This blew my mind.

I’ve never found social situations particularly easy, and the risk that I might have to respond to someone in real-time with no opportunity to hole up and craft my response with monk-like focus, made me extremely nervous. Fortunately, my wife was there to rescue me from social awkwardness and over-enthusiasm with the complimentary refreshments, while a brilliant comper I’ve admired for some time took me under her wing, and assured me that over-enthusiasm with the complimentary refreshments was actually my moral duty, and, moreover, next time I should bring Tupperware and pack a little something for the journey home.

A shared win, of course, is a wonderful day out, and it’s impossible not to have a good time. But what about a meet-up in everyday life - and one without free champagne at that?!

Still good, as it happens. A pilot group of four Norwich compers convened towards the end of last year, and to the best of my knowledge, we all survived. Certainly, I did anyway. Better still, plans are afoot for a larger meeting, though whether it’ll be large enough for me to do a little wall-flowering for old times' sake remains to be seen.

So, I’ve grown socially, but what about those purchase-necessary comps? For a number of reasons, I’ve historically steered clear of these, not least because I get most of my groceries delivered and I can’t trust Tony Tesco to pick the right products. I’m also not going to stuff my face with deep-fried calorie-dense junk on the off-chance of winning a keyring.

By the middle of 2018, however, I realised that I was comping myself into a corner. It’s easily done, of course. When your only opportunity to comp is the two minutes before school while the children are wrestling with their shoelaces and/or each other, you reach for the easiest option - in my case, Instagram.

And for a while, it was working. By the middle of the year, I had averaged one Insta win a week - better than the rest of my endeavours combined. But nothing lasts forever. As Instagram became a more fertile source of giveaways, so my fortune declined. Maybe that was due to the rise of the infinite-entry comp, or maybe more comps are being run across platforms. More likely, it’s that seagulls follow the trawler because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.

The fact is, nobody can know for sure, but it’s more useful to do something about it than dwell on it. For this reason, I once more stepped out of my comfort zone, and had a good sniff of the purchase-necessary comps.

What I found here is that not all purchase comps are created equal. For a start, there’s a major difference between a comp that wants a unique code and one that wants a batch code and one that wants a barcode. Last year, my Anchor Butter barcode scored a lunch-bag on the second attempt, while my Dairylea Dunkers’ barcode got more play than Daniel Sturridge - and definitely won more. Likewise, the batch code on the Pepsi Max bottle I found while attending a mindfulness course back in July has probably had a greater impact on my long-term mental health than the course itself.

As for the unique codes … well, there’s the rub. It’s one thing to buy an alternative brand of loo roll when the competition packs are on special, but it’s quite another to sink a jerrycan of Powerthirst in the hope of scoring anything beyond Type 2 diabetes. But each to his own line in the sand. Personally, I’d love to win an Xbox from Lucozade, but since I can't bring myself to cough up more than fourpence a bottle, the eggs in my basket are strictly wombled.

As you will no doubt have surmised then, when it comes to unique code comps, my career track record is brief: two plushies. These were given away by Plenty in a promotion that its marketing agency promised would “really inject some fun and excitement into the Household Towel category, not only by adding value with every pack, but also through recruiting younger families into the category and ultimately driving incremental volume”.

So, I might not have won big, but when it comes to fun and excitement in the Household Towel category, you really can’t put a price on those memories.

How did you get out of your comfort zone last year? Does your local comping group ever meet up and if so, what do you get up to? Do you enter purchase-necessary comps? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Prize Unboxing December 2018

December's unboxing is a day late, but given all the seasonal distractions, I hope you'll forgive me!

The video excludes the £30 John Lewis voucher I won from Velux, as this was emailed to me, but it does include the heartwarming moment where - well, I won't spoil it, but Rebecca Beesley, you are an absolute poppet!

Finally, I've no idea why the last section filmed itself in mirror format, but you'll work it out!

Have a lucky new year!

Sunday, 30 December 2018

2018: A year in numbers

6541: Estimated prize value (£). In a world where RRP bears little relation to market value, and some prizes are in any case not available to buy, this figure is naturally informed by a bucketload of guesswork. My day out at the ladies’ Wimbledon final is a case in point. Anyone looking for a vaguely similar experience would be spending £3000 on debenture tickets. Even without access to the hospitality zone, the cost of lunch and afternoon tea for two, along with centre court tickets and a keg of Pimms would have pushed me so far into the red that I’d have been living off glacĂ© cherries and expired medicine for the foreseeable future. Obviously, there's more than one way to skin the proverbial accountant; in the present case, however, the flaying technique is academic: 2018 has been my most successful year by some margin.

1400: Volume of liquor won (ML). With a bottle of Italian gin and a bottle of Irish whiskey in the bag, this has been my best year for the hard stuff. Complementing this, there were also a dozen bottles of beer and a dozen bottles of cider to ease the trauma of parenting. Maybe next year I’ll win some Alka-Seltzer too.

390: Highest-value prize that was nothing to do with tennis (£). These watches were designed by a madman. Some days they make my brain hurt so much that I have to wear something different instead. But aren’t they just the cutest?

378: Value of vouchers won (£). Unlike cash wins, vouchers are great because the cretins at E.On can’t nick them after lousing up your gas bill, again. Most excitingly this year, I’ve had £150 in John Lewis vouchers and £100 to blow on the absurdly beautiful shirts made by JL Berlue. I’ve also had vouchers for Decathlon (£90), Screwfix (£25), the Google Play Store (£15), Starbucks (£10), Toymaster (£10) and Amazon (£3) - the latter coming from the brilliant Ribena promotion where the prizes may have been small, but boy were they persistent.

200: Cash won (£). A £200 injection into the bank account is always great, even if it does end up in some faceless utility company’s slush fund.

90: Number of wins. Despite a couple of dry patches and (all things considered) a relatively quiet December, I’m not far off two wins a week. I’m well chuffed with that!

55: Number of Instagram wins. More than half of my wins came from Instagram this year, but what started as a purple patch regressed into a blue period not long after the summer. Based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence, I suspect this was due to more promoters running comps over multiple channels, and more comps allowing multiple entries, but I couldn't possibly say for sure. Sometimes the ball just bounces the wrong way.

7: Value of spoiled wins after my serum sample smashed on the bathroom sink after my first-born hit the bathroom cabinet like a bull in a bran tub (£). Hilarity did not ensue.

4.69: Value of wombled winnings (£). After finding a suite of McDonald’s Monopoly stickers par terre, I indulged my first-born with a Big Mac Meal, which he tackled like the aforementioned bull in a bathroom cabinet. Temporary adoration ensued.

4: Cost to redeem Lucozade win (pence). Again, still?! That’s two years in a row that I’ve had to pay to receive my “free” bottle of Lucozade prize!

1: Comping mother. Now that my mum has moved down the road I’m doing my utmost to induct her into the comping community (read: nagging and nagging and nagging till she enters certain comps). In the last four weeks, she’s won a Bonne Maman hamper, £30 John Lewis vouchers and posh handcreams and house fragrance stuff from Lavender & Lillie. Considering that she’s only entered about ten comps, that's quite some win rate…

So much for the numbers, but what about the graphs? Well, to be honest, I failed to record a bunch of useful information this year, so my pie charts would be neither use nor ornament. I can, however, offer a long-tail graph to illustrate the distribution of prize value...

As one would expect, most of the prizes were worth under £50. Twenty-one (23%), however, were worth at least £50. Again, I'm really happy with that!

What do the stats say about your year? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The wider world in 2018

When seasonal devastation abounds, the view through one’s fingers generally provides the ideal vantage point to look back upon the year. As it’s probably too soon to comment on how 2018 has treated me (after all, with a week to go, anything could happen), I find myself instead reflecting on some of my fondest memories from the last 12 months in the world of comping.

Personally, I'm always drawn to those stories with the kind of ridiculously mild drama that only a true comper will really appreciate - in other words, compers' problems.

The classic comper’s problem, of course, is winning more than you bargained for. Traditionally, this entails the logistical challenge of fitting, say, a year’s worth of cheese into a fridge the size of a biscuit. Less commonly, it involves winning a fridge large enough to hold not only said cheese, but also take the biscuit and one modestly sized person to chow in situ.

My heart was thus suitably gladdened when this indeed came to pass in Thailand, back in January, when a couple of lads who had won a refrigerator figured that the best way to get it home was on the back of a moped.

Less obviously droll, however, was Cadbury’s White Creme Egg promotion - a scavenger hunt plagiarised from the world of Willy Wonka, but with additional ick in the golden ticket, if the confectionery suffered anything like as much unauthorised unwrapping as I suspect.

Cadbury hasn't confirmed the volume of product spoilage, but I'm guessing it was outweighed by the value of the column inches the promotion acquired, given that round 2 is being promoted already, although (small print alert) the eggs aren’t being released till January.

When it comes to gaming the system with purchase-necessary competitions, there is of course a line in the sand. For the absence of doubt, contaminating food with cooties is over that line. Likewise, while wombling Lucozade bottles is perfectly acceptable, stealing McDonald’s Monopoly stickers at knifepoint is absolutely not.

I can understand someone's reluctance to munch through that much junk food, but it’s important to know when a promotion simply isn't for you. Case in point: US$300 prize money would never get me sitting in a coffin for 30 hours, but each to their own. As Tina Seelig might say, how you make your luck is a matter of individual choice (and to state the obvious, knife crime is a BAD choice).

For the purpose of clarity, it's always worth distinguishing between fortune, chance and luck. To return to Tina Seelig (with thanks to Di Coke for sharing this article!):
Fortune is things that are outside of your control, things that happen to you. I’m fortunate to be raised by a loving family. I’m fortunate to be born in this place and time. I’m fortunate to have blue eyes. Chance is something you have to do; I have to take a chance. It requires action on your part in the moment. Buy a lottery ticket. Ask someone on a date. Apply to a job. Luck is something where you have even more agency. You make your own luck by identifying and developing opportunities in advance.
A few years back, I chose to be more lucky - and so I am. I didn't get here by magic - anyone who makes the right decisions can make themselves equally lucky - if not more so.

To this end, I hope your 2019 is full of great opportunities and really good decisions!

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 30 November 2018

Prize Unboxing November 2018

A relatively quiet month as far as unboxing goes, but I did also win a pair of tickets to watch Ruby Wax in a couple of weeks time, along with a download code for a videogame. I've definitely had worse months!

Here's the video...

Be lucky!