Wednesday, 21 December 2016

2016: How was it for you?

Colour me happy: whether you measure by number of prizes or by prize value, 2016 has been my most successful year of comping. I won’t pretend that the majority of wins were anything other than modest, but any time I'm stuck in a dry patch (and I did have several this year), prizes like this play a key role in my motivation.

Some, I grant, were little more than cracker-fillers (the golf tees and the luggage tag spring to mind), and, perhaps inevitably, most of the little ones weren’t exactly exotic, but given the choice between winning a pint of milk or a viscose scarf that’s too small to function as anything but a flimsy handkerchief (yep - that was this year’s booby prize), then give me the milk every time.

As it happens, I won eight pints of milk. I also won a bag of coffee, a tube of toothpaste, several packets of granola, and more cheese than I could possibly hope to fit in my fridge. There was also the matter of the meat pie, but the less said about that, the better. My memories of the confectionery hamper were certainly sweeter.

On the subject of food, there was just the one dining experience this year: a family meal at Frankie & Benny’s. This came from a low-entry photo competition which required entrants to take a picture of the digger sponsored by F&B at Diggerland, Castleford  - there were three prizes and no more than ten entrants, so the odds were pretty sweet. This prize came in just a few weeks after I’d copped one of the runner-up prizes on F&B’s Facebook page, so who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?!

My first-born on a digger

Treats out are always great, of course, and this year I’ve won something for the whole family: I’ve been twice to see Norwich City play (although sadly only once in the Premiership…); meanwhile, my kids loved Cirque Beserk and my wife loved seeing Beyoncé at Wembley. I’ve also won a family ticket to the Harry Potter studios, so that’s something to look forward to next year.

Tickets for the Harry Potter Experience

I might not have won cash, but I did win the next best thing: vouchers. I was well chuffed that the Christmas list I posted earlier this month won a £100 gift card from Debenhams. This was on top of the £100 Co-op voucher I won for reciting a fair-trade shopping list; the £50 Sainsbury voucher for snapping my first-born in his back-to-school uniform; the £20 Rymans voucher for writing a limerick; and the £75 voucher I won from a local menswear shop. None of these comps had very many entrants; in fact, the last one had only one - me!

As for the big ones, my year was quite nicely bookended by wishlist items: an iPad Mini in January and, last week, a £200 voucher for Virgin Experiences, which I’m blowing on an overnight spa break for my wife and me - so I’ll have to take at least one night off the comping next year!

But that's enough chatter from me - I hope you've had a great year too! All that remains for me now is to wish you a really great Christmas and a lucky new year - see you in 2017!

How was 2016 for you? Did you tick anything off your wish list? What are your hopes for 2017?

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A year of comping dangerously?

December is customarily a time for reflection. Actually, that’s not strictly true: most of the month is spent headless chickening about Christmas shopping, Christmas plans and Christmas competitions; but there is, traditionally, a week at the end of the year where the introspection shifts from snatched moments (usually on the toilet) of wondering where it all went wrong, to a more extended period of pseudo-calm where you can at least remove your head from your hands and gulp a breath of air.

So, let’s imagine for a moment that we’re enjoying that seasonal moment of nirvana and look back on some of the key moments from 2016 when the cosy little world of comping leaked into the world at large, or at the very least, the gutter press.

The gutter is about right when it comes to the first of these episodes - but to give the tale a veneer of respectability, I’ll link to the Telegraph’s version of the story:  Russian teen wins month in hotel with pornstar in online competition.


No, really: it was his prize for being the 100,000th person to visit Cases4Real, a website selling virtual weapons for video games. Needless to say, the lad was “delighted” and his mum was “furious” (sample quote: “He is studying ... They should give us 100,000 roubles [£931] instead").

As for the boy’s father, he was quoted elsewhere as saying he will “take possession of the prize himself, as the boy’s legal guardian”.


Well, nearly wow.

The fact that the boy is an actor and the promoter failed to publish the terms and conditions for the “competition” do make the story a bit fishy, but who needs facts when the copy is this great, right?!

Competitions that smell fishy are one thing; but how about ones that leave a sour taste in the mouth? Yep, I’m talking about the Walker’s Crisps Spell & Go competition, where fewer than 1,000 of the 20,000 holidays available to be won were actually given away.

It’s a truism, of course, that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but as Walker’s demonstrated, with the right competition mechanic and the enough heavy promotion, you can certainly get a lot of people really stinking mad. Especially if you throw in an extra little teaser that is (to quote the ASA) “misleading and likely to cause unnecessary disappointment to consumers”.

Judging from the online chatter, some people felt the ASA went in too softly on this one. By contrast, they stuck the boot into Heinz - banning its can song ad due to concerns for health and safety. Given that there was a £5,000 prize running alongside this promotion, I hope they didn’t put the mockers on that too. [Edit: the winner has now been announced!]

Finally, no summary of 2016 would be complete without 124,109 examples of why asking Joe Public to vote on anything is a terrible idea - that’s how many people voted to have Boaty McBoatface as the name of the Natural Environment Research Council’s new polar research ship. 

It is of course a matter of comping lore that the winning entry didn’t actually win (the selected name, Sir Richard Attenborough, took 10,284 votes), which begs the question, why have an open vote in the first place? It’s not like such mischief is without precedent (although at least Greenpeace actually had the brass to give the public what they wanted, namely, a whale called Mr Splashy Pants).

What will 2017 hold for the wider world of comping then? Sadly I have no crystal ball, but if I was going to bet on one thing, it’d be people petitioning their local authority to name a street after Roady McRoadface.

What did I miss?! Please use the comments section below to remind me about any of the other big stories from 2016

Thursday, 1 December 2016

My Christmas list

God rest ye merry gentlemen? I should coco! The month is upon us, the geese are getting fat, and I've got three weeks to get this house festive, finalise the gifting, and make sure I don't repeat any of my usual seasonal foul-ups!

My chief failing always boils down to the labelling of parcels. Apparently, it’s not the done thing to scrawl names on wrapping paper with marker pen. Who knew?

This year will be different - I’m going for dogtags (as in tags shaped like dogs rather than the necklaces of retired marines) - how cute are these little fellas from Debenhams?!
Scotty dog gift tag
Scotty dog gift tags
And since I’m in Debenhams, I’m going to grab a few more things to spruce up the house.

First, the wreath. I won’t take sole responsibility for this, but in twenty years of living together, we’ve always failed to sort this most elementary of decorations: the piece that says 'Hello!' and 'Welcome to our festive home!'. So far, so grinchy. Thankfully, this charming red number is perfect for two reasons: (1) it’s my wife’s favourite colour and (2) our front door was glossed black just a couple of months ago, so it’ll look smart as a button.
Red berry wreath
Red berry wreath
Next, bunting. Everyone loves bunting. Actually, that’s not strictly true: there’s a short register of sociopaths with something against it, but mercifully they’re all locked up (as Dostoevsky said: "The degree of a society's civilisation can be judged by observing its prisoners") - but I digress. Bunting is key to any festival - except for Christmas, it would seem, when it becomes "garland". But as the song says: you say tomato, I say royale with cheese.
Let it snow garland
Let it snow seasonal garland

There's also the matter of the annual Christmas decoration I buy my mum - a tradition that started when I finally moved out of the family home, some twenty-odd years ago. This beautifully embroidered guardsman decoration is handmade with velvet and gold metal threadwork, with sales benefiting the work of Help for Heroes, meaning that it looks good and does good. 
Christmas decoration
Help for Heroes tree decoration
The final item, I confess, we don’t actually need - not least because there isn’t a square inch of space left on our Christmas dinner table to host it. But HOLY FLAMING ANTLERS! You will not see a better candelabra this year. I know - I've Googled.
Silver stag candelabra
Silver stag candelabra
So there’s the preparations sorted, but what about the giftlist?

Well, the most important question is how far the family should be indulged. As this clip shows, opinions tend to differ.

Now, let’s just say that I did want to indulge the boys - and that I had the budget to do so - I’d sort something for my youngest first, quite simply because he's the easiest to buy for.

There’s a saying: Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. In which case, be Batman.

That, in essence, is my boy's philosophy. I can't describe how much he loves Batman (the tantrums when his Batman tee-shirts aren't clean, however, I can detail to a forensic level). In fact, he's not content to spend his waking hours being Batman, he sleeps him too. 

Sleeping two-year old in Batman mask

What he lacks, though, is the wheels. So what I’m about to show you, you must never tell him about, as there's really nowhere I can put it, but were he to learn of its existence, I’d never hear the end of it. In short, check out the 6v electric Batmobile.
6v Batmobile
The electric Batmobile! 
My first-born meanwhile, is a more complex creature. I'd go as far as to say deviant. I don't mean "a deviant" - just deviant, as in he simply doesn't function like other children. Example: most kids are happy to get a sticker from their dentist - mine demands a surgeon’s mask and latex gloves.
boy dressed as dentist

I just can't predict what he will engage with. For example, I gave him a scooter for his third birthday (everyone loves scooters, right?!) - he left it in the shed for two years.  

Fortunately, he's now old enough to write a Christmas list ...

a christmas list (untidy)

... Perhaps next year he might even write a legible one!

Having discussed his wishlist with him, one thing is clear: what he really wants is decorator’s overalls. Seriously! In a world where you can be Batman, he wants to be a decorator. Sure, there's less chance of long-term injury and it’s probably easier to hold down a relationship, but still.

I’ve looked into this, and you know what? They don’t make decorator’s overalls for six-year-olds. Fortunately, we’ve negotiated a compromise. You can - thanks to the popularity of Super Mario - buy a plumber’s outfit.

For the purpose of clarity, he doesn't want a Super Mario costume per se - indeed, I don't think he's even heard of Super Mario. He just wants overalls so he can pretend to be Colin, the chap that painted our kitchen. And since there isn’t much demand for Colin costumes, I’m looking at this ensemble right here.
Plumber's costume
Plumber's costume
The moustache won’t last a day, but that’s fine - Colin is very clean shaven.

My next purchase is an easy one - but only because I asked my wife what she wanted. She said she wanted to look less tired.

Crucially, she didn’t say that she wanted to be less tired, for that would be nigh impossible. Even if we went on holiday we’d have to take the children, so we’d still have to wake up ridiculously early in order for them to meet their self-imposed quota of mindless yelling and pointless arguments with us.

In short then, my wife wants something to paper over the cracks. In other words, make-up.

I confess this isn't my area of expertise. However, I do know that she swears by Benefit Lemon Aid. By all accounts, it gives the illusion of having had an additional 35 minutes of sleep, which is sorcery by any other name.
Lemon Aid make up
Lemon Aid
That just leaves yours truly. If I'm honest, however, I haven't had time to think about me.  All that springs to mind is the Christmas list my father would wheel out every year. I used to think he was being obtuse, but in hindsight he simply had no desire to waste his wishes on winter woollies.

So, like my father before me, I'm going to wish for two things: peace on earth and goodwill to all men!

Have a great Christmas!

This is my entry for the Debenhams Win Your Wishlist” Blogger Competition.
Links to all items can be found beneath the product images.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The season to be jolly


The advents are coming.

I’m assuming you’ll want me to expand upon my earlier statement, so: “Bah!”; and a further “humbug” for good measure.

I don’t actually hate the advents. But I am wary of them.

It was 2014 when I first tackled the advents. Thanks to Di Coke’s tips, I was - for a newbie - relatively coordinated and pretty efficient, and as a result, I comped HARD.

‘Hard’ is of course relative: I comped much harder than I’d ever done before - not as hard as some folks, certainly - but well beyond my natural appetite.

I was putting so much effort into chasing that winning buzz that if I wasn’t comping, I was itching to get back to it, to tick off the ever-growing list of draws closing that day. Those comps were on my mind A LOT. And when the season came to an end, I was bereft. It was Christmas Day, and instead getting stuck into the festive cheer, I sat there all fidgetty, thinking, ‘Damn! What do I do now?!’ That hole lasted well into January, accompanied by the longest period of low mood that I’d ever experienced.

There were, of course, other factors contributing to my mood (not least the sleep deprivation associated with having small children!), but anyone who has seen gambling addiction first-hand will recognise that these are the signs of compulsive behaviour.

Now, let’s not over-egg the pudding. Comping is hardly a vice, and it’s undoubtedly more benign than gambling. All the same, it still feels great to win, and it’s understandable that people enjoy winning as often as possible.

The important thing, however, is to be aware of when this changes from a hobby to an obsession. So, if you find yourself starting to neglect your chores (or even your family) in order to squeeze in a few more entries, please take a break. To borrow the words from the Gamble Aware campaign – when the fun stops, stop.

I like to liken the advents to a bottomless pitcher of eggnog: novel in moderation but impossible to finish - and by God will you suffer if you try!

Hoe Hoe Hoe (Christmas Dad Joke #17)

So, let’s keep things merry this Christmas - here are my recommendations for keeping the fun flowing:
  • Don’t enter everything! Focus on the prizes you really want.
  • Set time limits not entry targets.
  • Take regular breaks – look after your eyes as well as your mental health!
  • Download a red-screen app such as f.lux or Twilight to protect your eyes from screen glare once the sun goes down (and help you sleep after a hard night of comping!) 
  • Socialise – chat with fellow compers on Facebook (or whatever other forum you prefer).
  • Be creative – break up the form filling with more challenging comps.
Now go out there, do your prep (see appendix!), and enjoy yourself!

How do you comp through December? Do you enjoy the advents? What are your tips for staying sane in this hectic period?

I mentioned Di Coke’s tips - they’re available here
I also recommend Grant Robson’s post on surviving the advents

If you know of any other posts on the subject, please post a link in the comments!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Looking for the edge

Would you like to win more?

That’s one of those rhetorical questions, isn’t it?

A more literal question is: how much harder do I need to work to improve my win rate?

I was pondering this just recently so conducted a quick poll on Facebook to see how many comps folks enter every week, and how well they do.

Lest I offend any statisticians out there, when I say ‘quick poll’, I mean a small convenience sample that totally fails to represent the wider comping community, and likewise fails to use mathematically consistent units (after all, it’s possible to complete a whole bunch of entry forms in the time it takes to finish a tie-break or tap out a droll anecdote). In short, the kind of survey that obtains data good enough for naught but spurious hypotheses and quack statistickery. But since such data works so well for the Great British press, it’ll be perfectly sufficient for our present needs.

Indeed, for the purposes of this post, all we need to know is that the best result was a reported win rate of 1.6 per cent; the worst, 0.03 per cent. Well, a couple of folks did report a win rate of nil, but I’m assuming this was for dramatic effect. In any case, the mean win rate was under 1 per cent.

So what does that mean?

On the one hand, I can take solace that my win rate isn’t so bad. It doesn’t top 1%, but it could be much worse. On the other hand, if I want to average an extra prize a week, elementary maths suggests I’ll have to comp at least 100% harder. 

Or will I? The other interesting thing I observed was that those compers who entered the most competitions tended to have the lowest win rate.

While this observation absolutely doesn’t reflect win value, it is an advert for focusing your game. Indeed, the person with the best win rate reported entering about 30 comps a day, but winning 15–20 prizes a month. How did she do it? By focusing on two things: creative comps and wishlist comps.

Now, as the person who conducts your annual review will tell you, no one has weaknesses - just scope for improvement. So, if someone more successful than I kindly shares the source of their force, I figure they’re pretty much spoon-feeding me opportunities for development.

Identifying the areas for improvement is one thing. Making objectives specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic and trackable is quite another (I can’t believe I’m actually talking about SMART targets of my own volition - I can only apologise!).

Take creative comps, for example. I was pretty sure there wasn’t much more I could do: I’m a member of a Facebook group for creative/effort comps and must check Loquax and PrizeFinder for creative comps every other day. I may not have the wit or skill to enter everything I find, but I certainly enter what I can. I must have scratched my head for a good half hour before it came to me - those three little words that everyone longs to hear: “comment to win”. That search string has so been added to my daily routine!

As for wishlist comps - this area has never been my strong point. For starters, most of my wishlist is too vague - I might as well type “win nice stuff” into Google. Secondly, I just don’t try hard enough to win these things! True, any basic giveaway listed on the main prize sites is going to have thousands of entries, but the bottom line is simple (if clichéd): you have to be in it to win it. So my pre-new year’s resolution is simple, if a little bleedin’ obvious: take time out to define my targets and then actually work towards them.

To this end, I’ve started by working on my wishlist bookmarks - searches for everything from spa breaks and Macbooks to wellies and razors. Last year, I found a competition for an electric toothbrush that - besides me - had just the one entrant, so I’m hopeful lightning can strike twice.

In closing then, it bears repeating that throwing more hours at this game isn’t necessarily the answer. There’s always something we can improve. At the same time, however, don’t try to change everything at once: no power lifter bench-presses 400 pounds on their first visit to the gym - improvements come in increments!

How many competitions do you enter in an average week? What’s your win rate like? What are your tips for improving comping success?

Thursday, 10 November 2016

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

Comping isn’t a sexy hobby. There - I’ve said it. Sega isn’t making a videogame franchise for compers; Her Majesty won’t be knighting anyone for being really good at it; and the odds of the BBC replacing the Great British Bake Off with Extreme Comping UK are so long as to be nonsensical.

Few civilians will salute your dedication to your art. Some will even sniff at it.

I did a quick straw poll of my Facebook friends to gauge their opinions on the matter. I got two responses: a positive comment from a fellow comper, and a like - from my mum.

Based on that convenience sample then, I’m assuming at best that my friends have the same interest in comping as they do in the shoe size of my neighbour’s plumber; or at worst, are so cheesed off with Facebook incessantly interrupting them with the tedious minutiae of my comping activities that they’ve muted me already.

A lack of enthusiasm I can live with. More disheartening, however, are the stories I hear about people laughing at compers - ‘you're wasting your time with competitions - no one ever wins them!’

Notwithstanding the fact that belittling people for enjoying themselves is a pretty pathetic form of bullying, the suggestion is plainly fallacious, as a brief review of the facts will testify: pull out your phone, pull up your spreadsheet and smile sweetly. If you feel it necessary, then by all means draw attention to your most recent wins (or your most impressive, if you feel that would be the better response) - the important thing to remember here is that it doesn’t matter if you win big or you win small: either way, you’re a winner.

And it’s not just prizes that make a winner - it’s attitude too. What’s the one thing that repeat winners share? Determination. Whether you call it perseverance or plain stubbornness, no one gets through the first couple of months without it. I can't begin to imagine how many thousands of competitions I’ve failed to win. Such trivia I shrug off with the day’s dandruff (at least, I would if I had hair). If I can handle a quiet week, I can certainly dismiss a doubting Thomas.

‘You’re just lucky - I never win anything.’

I tell you what … I’ll see your old chestnut and raise you another, because the harder I work, the luckier I get.

To be sure, there’ll never be Olympic medals for comping. But if there's one thing this hobby has in common with the innumerable sporting disciplines out there, it's that if you want to win, you’ve got to train the right muscles - in this case, your luck muscles.

(At this point, I should stress that if you’re after a luck coach, I’m not your man - not because I’m prohibited from sharing such arcane knowledge by some shady guild of freemason compers, but rather that I’d be selling you short. Anyone who wants to be more lucky should start by reading Di Coke’s Superlucky Secrets - and then reading it again!)

It has been said that jealousy can play a part in some folks’ attitudes. But, as my old man used to say, never attribute to malice that which can be put down to ignorance. It’s amazing how many mockers and gloom-mongers button up once they’re on the end of a larger birthday gift or an extraordinary little treat.

To paraphrase Gershwin: keep the laughers busy - that’s how people are.

After all - you’re the winner, aren’t you? Who's got the last laugh now?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of negative comments because of your comping? What’s your approach to dealing with negativity?

Friday, 4 November 2016


What makes a power comper? Dedication and success, I’d venture - and there’s a direct correlation between the two: in this game, you make your own luck. Sure, I could win more, but I’d have to try harder, and I'm not sure that's an adjustment I should make - after all, we all must find our equilibrium, right?

All the same, I like to improve. This has been my best year for consistency with my comping. Consistency is good - partly because it’s a reflection of my better mental health, and partly because it means staying on the win wagon.

I like the win wagon. It’s like a little happy-bus. It’s exciting when it goes fast - anything better than a win a week, in my case; and while I love all the stops, some are undoubtedly extra special. I’m not just referring to big-ticket prizes here - though these are undoubtedly great; rather, I’m thinking of personal milestones. In my case, this was the week I hit a new personal best - specifically, prize value in a single calendar year. By no means does this establish me as one of the community’s high-rollers, but with the rest of November and December still to come, this year can only end on a high note!

And in case you're interested, the prize (a £75 voucher for Frankie & Benny's) was for snapping a picture of the F&B digger at Diggerland Yorkshire - as far as I can see, there were only five entries for the month I entered!

A small digger and a small child
Happy Days at Diggerland!

Wishlists aside, what sort of comping goals do you set? What’s been your best ride on the win wagon?

Monday, 31 October 2016

Stack that cheese

Ghost town competitions. There’s probably an official name for them in the comping community, but that’s what I like to call super-low entry comps - the ones where the number of entrants doesn’t even hit double figures. The comps that have flown under the radar.

I confess that I’ve never asked, but I’m pretty sure that promoters hate it when this happens. They’ve endeavoured to create buzz around their brand, but for whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened.
Understandably, some of these promoters aren’t in a hurry to announce their winners. They’re not exactly leaving the masses hanging, after all. They also have plenty of other, more pressing, demands on their time.

With notable exceptions, most people are only human, and it's all too easy for these demands to muscle their way to the top of their to-do list. Before you know it, that little job of picking a winner gets put off, postponed and sometimes even forgotten entirely.

For me, this period is even more excruciating than waiting for a big-prize announcement - at least with big prizes, I can be reasonably sure that the chance of winning is minimal and I might as well forget I entered in the first place. If, however, my odds of winning are better than one in ten, it just eats me. (I imagine it's even worse if it's a low-entry effort-based comp where the other entries are a matter of public record and you know - you just know - that that your entry was, objectively speaking, way more totally the awesomest!)

Anyway, back in May, Pilgrims Choice ran a competition to win a heap of cheese - which is to say, a heap of cheese vouchers (a year’s worth of cheddar delivered on a single pallet would be a bittersweet prize, to say the least). They asked to see Joe Public’s cheesy dance moves. Sadly for them, Joe Public was shy. Despite the company having many thousands of Facebook followers, only three were inclined to share a video.

(At this point, I should stress that my entry was categorically NOT as awesome as humanly possible; I was simply one of the three people to share a video.)

The competition closed, but no winner was announced. Folks kindly asked on my behalf whether the winner had been chosen - still there was silence. I followed up on Twitter - still nothing. One of the other entrants asked too. Nada.

And so the pursuit of cheddar fell down my to-do list, displaced by the obscene number of tedious chores associated with parenting, and by October, I’d largely forgotten the competition. Until, that is, on some hashtag day or other, I found an excuse to tweet the promoter about an altogether unrelated matter, and by way of a blag, sent them a link to my video. They liked it enough to send a few vouchers my way, blessing me with cheese and the warm sense of reassurance that, although it might not have been quite what I had in mind, at least it hadn’t all been in vain and, perhaps more importantly, I could draw a line under it.

But fate snatched that pencil from my greasy paw - a week later, the promoter contacted me on Facebook to let me know I’d won the May competition after all!

He's a cheesy brother...

I’d love to say it was my nudge that edged it, but the very next day, one of the other entrants contacted me to congratulate me - it turned out that she too been seeking closure, and just a couple of days prior had contacted the promoter to see if any winners had been announced.

Cheese aside, there are some key lessons takeaways here - and perseverance is just one of them. The most important of all, however: never underestimate the value of being part of a community!

How good are you at playing the waiting game? What’s the longest you’ve had to wait? Do you find yourself getting more impatient with low-entry comps, even if the prizes are smaller?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Desert boots

The past few weeks haven’t been so kind to me (Instagram, was it something I said?!), so that probably means it’s time to mix up my game a little. Among other things, I'm giving special consideration to checking out some old haunts.

In the grand scheme of things, Pinterest is one of my oldest stomping grounds. But it's been a while - I haven’t won anything there since my first year of comping. In fact, it’s pushing two years since I’ve paid it a second's thought, in a comping sense at the very least.

Back in my first year of comping, however, I won a couple of prizes through Pinterest - one for a Father’s Day board and one for a board dedicated to outdoor living. The Father's Day board was my first ever attempt at a Pinterest comp (and it shows!) but fortune smiled on me as there weren't many entrants; the latter one, however, took a lot more effort, but as it was for a £100 Wild & Wolf voucher and there was plenty of time to work on it, I figured it was worth a crack.

I was still a total novice when I put this board together, and was yet to see any of the guides to making kick-ass boards (such as Di Coke's tutorial or the tips available to Compers News subscribers), so there was no way anyone was ever going to think my higgledy piggledy effort had been put together by a professional...

Pinterest board preview

Pinterest board preview

Where it did succeed, however, was in the comments. Pinterest is (spoiler!) a highly visual social media channel, but people forget that a picture says a thousand words, and quite often, that leaves too much to the imagination. In this case, I figured that promoters like folks to engage with their brands, so I made as many puns as I could based on the words “wild” and “wolf” and the company’s different product lines ... and you know what? It turns out that someone out there does actually like dad jokes!

Happy days, but as I mentioned, I've not been back to Pinterest for a while now. Perhaps it's about time I reacquainted myself...

Do you ever get dry spells? How do you turn round your luck? And have you seen any good Pinterest comps lately?!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Tube

In case you missed it, Safestore is running a ​Spooktacular Writing Competition for Halloween. The prize is a £50 Waterstones voucher. I've not done any creative writing for a while, so thought the practice would do me good. This is my entry - hope you like it!

Oh, hi there … yes, my wife has just kicked me out so I need to rent somewhere to put my gear till I can get a new place sorted.’

‘An hour it took us. From Sheffield till it spits you out at Farringdon. I’ll be damned if there’s a faster way to get here. But you’d not do it twice.’

‘Erm, sorry old boy? Perhaps you misheard me? I just need to rent a unit, perhaps 25 square feet...’

‘The unholy stench at the end is the least of it. That washes away after a week or so. The bruises, they heal too. The acid burns? Well, the scabs last months and the scars they stay. Everyone knows if you came by tube. You can’t hide the scars.’

‘You’re having a laugh aren’t you? I see that cheeky glint in your eye…’

‘I miss my wife, my lads, course I do. But they’re richer without me. I can’t provide owt. What do I know about cutlery? That’s why they put us in the tube - poaching albatross.’

‘Sorry, could you brush some of that beard out of your mouth, only I thought you said albatross?’

‘And heaven help those what test the watch. Contempt of deportation they call it. And if you’re in it, you get yourself deported some more - but this time with your kin. And there ain’t no child has ever come through that passage alive.’

‘Can we wind this up, only I’m late for my bassoon class…’

‘I was lucky to make it through as I did. I say lucky, but it’s the worst what makes it through. The bad - they’re bitter - too bitter to keep down. That’s why they’re dumped out here, in this sewer of sin.’

‘Hold on a minute - that's not you on your lanyard - it's a sticker of a albatross, isn't it?!’

‘The gamblers, they don’t move on. They prey on those what’s still wet behind the ears - and failing that, one another. The robbers, they congregate out west with the swindlers and schemers. The murderers, they go wherever they want. Who’d stop 'em?
Some are big enough to do it again. Not me - no one, no thing’s gonna swallow me again. Look at this skin - I’m nigh-consumed already. I’d never make it past the tongues. The untold tongues, flailing around for something to latch onto or lacerate. Tongues as big as circus vipers, flaying you softly, like a cat’s tongue through butter. I’d come through all right, but not in one piece. Not with those teeth. No bigger than yours or mine, I’d say - but every one as sharp as needles. Have you ever been dragged over a bed of nails and dropped in a cauldron of scalding vinegar? Because that’s what the next chamber feels like. The good, they die there. Fertiliser for this blessed plot.
For the rest, our breath is nigh snuffed as we’re pounded and harried through that eternally dark, oppressively putrid tunnel, until ultimately we pass through the sphincter of John Bull, usually more dead than alive.
Aye, that’s the tube. Setting forth from all over and terminating only in death or damnation.’

‘I'll come back later.’

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Select it. Project it. Expect it. Collect it.

Mostly, I don’t hold out for specific wins. Sure, hope springs eternal, but that’s not quite the same as hardcore expectation. That’s not to say I never follow the mantra - I expected pretty hard for a summer holiday, to the extent that I even renewed the first-born’s passport. But nothing did I collect. Maybe I didn’t project hard enough…

Projecting and expecting is possibly easier with the creative comps. You put more into them - and sometimes you even get to see the competition, so you have an idea of how good you are doing versus the pack. That said, it’s easy to lose objectivity here - the two weeks my wife entered the Chicago Town dance-off I was convinced she was going to be the winner. She didn’t even place on the first week, and I was mad as a cat in a hot tin bath. Not least as it was her first attempt at comping, and she dances a million times better than I do.

But back to the moment: I am, as we speak, once more on max expectation.

Joules recently ran a competition to write a wee children’s book. The prize is not just a £1000 Joules giftcard, but also a Micro scooter (something from my wishlist!) and a heap of Puffin books. By my own broad measure, that makes the prize niiiiiiiiiiiice, at the very least.

Per the Joules logo, the lead character of my story is a hare (not a rabbit - I checked!); he rides a scooter and his best mate is a puffin. Heck, I even named him after the company’s CEO and the puffin after one of their tweed blazers! Too much, perhaps? After all, nobody likes a try-hard … Oh well - the deadline is now well past, so it’s out of my hands … All that’s left to do now is to expect - harder than I’ve ever expected before - till the end of October.

Tom Hare - from a Joules competition

In the meantime, if you’ve got any spare capacity for projecting or expecting on my behalf, I’d be very grateful!

Do you project, expect and collect? Are you waiting to collect anything particular right now? Perhaps you entered this one too? If so, do you fancy sharing your story? You can see mine here if you want to compare!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Small talk

This week I have mostly been chatting with Lorna Beattie, Blogger in Chief at Mission Competition.

For those that don’t know Lorna, she’s a geography undergraduate at Glasgow University. She might have only a couple of years of *serious* comping under her belt, but don’t for a minute think she’s green behind the ears - she’s already won about £7k of prizes this year, including a whole bunch of fancy tech. So yes - I’m very much in her shadow! But here’s the thing: she’s also a very helpful sort. While I’m busy overthinking the minutiae of this noble pursuit, she’s sharing her knowledge about how compers can improve their odds of winning. In other words, on any given day, you will undoubtedly learn more from her than me.

Zoinks. Sorry about that! Tell you what, if you promise to come back, I’ll endeavour to be more useful in the future - even if it means getting Lorna to write my tips for me!

In the meantime, why not have an eavesdrop on our conversation? Who knows, maybe there’s even a nugget of wisdom in there!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A few of my favourite things...

Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens. That’s is the last time you’ll hear me mention them in the same breath as like-share and follow/RT comps. I’m not saying I’m above either, but of the numerous grumbles I have volleyed at them, right now I’m focusing my froth at the way they require literally zero interaction with the brand.

Why is this so important? Because if promoters don’t create the right kind of buzz around a brand, they’re focusing their marketing effort on garnering short-term interest that’ll be forgotten as soon as the page is closed - and the brand with it. And I do so hate to see hard work go to waste.

That’s why I prefer creative competitions, especially those that force entrants not just to make an effort, but actually to immerse themselves in the brand.

Sorry, that probably sounds a bit poncey, but let me give a couple of examples.

First, consider the Human Centipede. I’ve little positive to say about this nauseatingly vile franchise, but when the DVD of the last movie was released, I had to applaud the promoters for going the extra mile. That they were giving away the DVD was no surprise. The marquee prize, meanwhile, was a massive fancy telly - a great thing in itself, but as prizes go, not really fizzing with originality. Where the promoters excelled, however, was the entry mechanism. No one was accepted into the draw without first submitting a photograph of themselves on their hands and knees. Why? So the promoter could photoshop them into a giant centipede.

Unique? I’d say so. If there has been another occasion where compers have willingly lined up to have their mouths digitally stitched onto the anuses of complete strangers, then I for one want to know.
I imagine many folks might consider such a comp to be in poor taste. I won’t deny that. But it was certainly an immersive experience that complemented the movie perfectly.

Another campaign I enjoyed was back in 2014 and was run by Hafele, the furniture fittings and architectural hardware company. This was a two-part campaign to raise brand awareness by getting people to talk about the brand, or more specifically, trying to pronounce it.

It was a simple conceit - record yourself saying “Hafele!” and upload it to the Hafele Facebook page. Every entrant was then sent a branded t-shirt and asked to tweet a picture of themselves wearing it in order to be entered into a sweepstakes for £5,000, with something like 50 electric drills for runners-up. Power tools, I concede, aren’t everyone’s bag, but £5,000 is quite some draw.

In a matter of weeks, two of the biggest social media platforms were swimming in pictures and videos about Hafele. And in case you’re wondering how it’s pronounced, as you can see below, they don’t actually care! 

It's the originality of competitions like these that really makes me smile because they help keep the hobby fresh. The truth is, I won nothing in the Hafele draw, and I didn't even enter the Human Caterpillar comp (for logistical rather than moral reasons!), but because of the engagement factor, these campains are indelibly imprinted onto my mind - such is the power of awesome promotion!

Can you remember any other classic promotions? Use the comment section below to refresh my memory!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wasabi's theory of relativity

Nerd question: I’ve heard lots of compers say that the big one is just around the corner ... but just how big is that biggie?

Personally, I concentrate hardest on the smaller, more frequent wins. It’s not that I dislike big wins (as that would make me a fool) but I do have a fondness for smaller odds, and smaller odds tend to be associated with smaller prizes. The stats certainly bear this out for me: nearly half my wins this year have had a face value no greater than £10.

In the world of seasoned compers, this possibly marks me out as a part-timer. So be it. But it does mean I’m never blasé about £50 prizes, and if I’m lucky enough to score a £100 win you’ll find me high-fiving the mirror and whooping like an immature ambulance. On the few occasions I’ve topped the ton, I’ve actually felt a little unwell, like I’ve been on the waltzer with a belly full of fizzy pop and candy floss. I daren’t imagine what would happen if I won a car, but I’m pretty sure it’d require a doctor.

In any case, the fact remains that for me, a £100 prize is exceptional. As such, I’d call it a biggie. However, if I was winning a prize of that size every week (let me imagine that for a second!) then no doubt my opinion would be different.

I know my place

In short, “big” is relative.

Does this mean we need an objective metric-style system for measuring prize size?

Certainly, we could always assign a bunch of adjectives to a vague set of boundaries, such as under £50 being “modest” and over £1000 being “jumbo”, but it’s all a bit arbitrary and far too hard to remember.

So, here’s my plan: let’s call all our wins “nice”.  You’ve won a pen? Nice. A luggage tag? Nice. A £100 watch? Ah, you’re right, that is better. Have another “i”. Niice. A £200 giftcard? Niiice. A Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid car? You can type those vowels yourself!

Are you you due a biggie? And how big is a biggie anyway?!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Simply the best?

Someone asks you what your best ever prize is - what do you say? Is it possible to answer that question objectively, or am I just over-analysing? Would you answer that question differently depending who asked you?

To the non-comper, the monetary value of a prize is probably the most obvious way to measure its greatness. To me, however, that’s just accountancy - and quack accountancy at that. Why? Well, for starters, list price and market price just aren’t the same thing. My favourite way to illustrate this is to browse Amazon for fire-sale timepieces - ie watches that are currently on sale with “99% off!” tickets.

The list price of these watches puts them up there with your Omegas and Tag Heuers - only you won’t see any Omegas or Tags here, because the genuine high-end brands don’t do fire sales. Likewise, you won’t see anyone buying these pseudo luxuries at their full price simply because they aren’t really luxury goods.

Anyway, I'm losing sight of my point, which is that using a price-tag as a proxy for awesomeness is a blunt instrument at best. It makes no allowance for aesthetics or utility or any other criteria that might be especially important to the individual.

Of course, you could always refer back to your win-list spreadsheet and grade every prize on a scale of 1-10 using whatever arbitrary criteria are most meaningful to you, but that would be a whole new level of bonkers, pure and simple.

And all this is before we even get to the ‘money can’t buy’ experiences.

So what prompted this rambling train of thought? Simply that I was recently asked what I considered my best prize to be and I froze like the proverbial spot-lit bunny. I’m regularly hamstrung by pointless pedantry, and have terrible bother filling in forms, and in this case I simply couldn’t move beyond ‘best, how?’

Fortunately, I was granted a little grace here, so I’ll share it with you. For me, ‘best’ means most cherished (although I reserve the right to revise this at any point!). And my most cherished win is the iPhone 5 I won during my first summer of comping.
selfie with iPhone
Happiest day of my comping life. The promoter hated my pic.

I didn’t have a dozen wins under my belt at this point, and the first thing I remember on receiving the winning notification was a sudden burst of nausea, as if, I don’t know, someone was going undo my win (and indeed, to this day, I never feel like something has been truly won till I’ve unwrapped the parcel!).

After that I was just giddily impatient. I was using an abysmal phone at the time and I hated it like you can’t imagine. It was mediocre when I got it, and 18 months into my contract it was barely even unfit for purpose.

Now, I’m pretty sure the ‘new’ phone was a reconditioned model (the fact that the promoter was a phone repair company was a major clue here) but I didn’t care - from that point, every call I made, every text I sent, reminded me that I was a winner. Remember, this was still my early days of comping, so it was like getting dozens of pep talks a day! On top of all that, I was able to enter so many more photo comps (my previous phone didn’t even have a selfie cam!) that the prize single-handedly pushed my comping game up a gear.

In short, the prize changed my life. It probably wasn’t the most expensive thing I’ve won (given its provenance, I'm just guessing what it would have cost at the time), but I’m pretty sure it made me a better person - if only because I was cursing less!

What does ‘best’ mean to you? What’s your ‘best’ prize and why?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Back on the win wagon

My longest dry spell for well over a year has come to an end! Two (albeit modest) wins in as many days has certainly helped kickstart my mojo and get my game back in to 2nd gear (let's end the car analogy there - I seldom hit fourth and couldn't find fifth with a Haynes manual).
Hangover cure ... I'm told!
The first win of the last few weeks - which I have a feeling I'll be needing pretty soon
I guess the simple fact is that nothing succeeds like success, and - by extension - nothing sows the seeds of success like successfully sowing success seeds (note to self: stay off the analogies, yeah?). 

So, what are these success seeds? If I’m honest, they’re magic beans by any other name. The first is that positive mental attitude I mentioned previously. Happily, I hadn’t lost this along with my mojo, but as a little celebration of past wins never hurts, I booked afternoon tea and champagne for me and my wife. I won this voucher last December but couldn’t get a daytime babysitter until now. (And given that - as every parent knows - getting a babysitter is a triumph in its own right, I’m adding that to my win list too!)
Cash in the old wins ... for cake!
As for the second seed, that’s the skeleton routine. You know, a super pared-down autopilot routine that maintains some basic semblance of comping normality. For me, that’s basically opening a set of comping bookmarks (local comp searches and daily lotteries). These bookmarks take seconds to open and, at most, minutes to close. Anything I do on top of this - whether catching up with Facebook groups or hashtag searching on Instagram - is a bonus.

Speaking of Instagram, the other thing I've started doing again is comper stalking. I'd forgotten all about this for the last few months. And what a time to forget too - since I last looked, Instagram has much improved this facility, so you're no longer restricted to the last 24 hours of an instagrammer’s life. They kept that update quiet!

To be sure, stalking is also possible on Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve always found it like panning for gold in a haystack (sorry - I promised to stay away from the analogies didn’t I?). The sheer volume of like-share and RT noise makes it nigh impossible to identify the low-entry comps. Instagram by contrast, “has yet to be fully exploited by promoters”. A correlate of this is that it is also yet to be fully populated by compers! It is still possible to find comps with under a hundred entrants. Case in point: this year I have won a Kindle and tickets to see Beyonce on Instagram, and in neither case were there 15 entrants.

As luck would have it too, I’ve been laid up in bed for the last couple of days (doctor’s orders!) so I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about my comping game than I have over the preceding month. That’s not to say I recommend minor surgery as a route to improving one’s winning streak, but if you’re gifted an opportunity, don’t look it in the mouth!

How’s your summer been? Has the hot weather tempered your comping game? How do get yourself back up to speed when your mojo starts to splutter?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016


Compers’ mojo is a funny thing. I’ve lost it before, but last time it was different. Last time was in the deep midwinter. It was my first year of comping and I’d been overdosing on advent competitions. Come January there was a great big hole in my comping day and not enough other distractions to, er, distract me. Coupled with winter blues, I can’t say that I was a bundle of fun. But eventually, the days got brighter and I got sufficiently chirpier to summon some vim and get back in the saddle.

All went well for the next 18 months or so, but then I had the kind of week where business does not go as usual. I prefer to keep sob stories out my comping, so I’ll forgo the details, suffice to say there have been a lot of extraordinary demands on my time, on top of which my cat ran away too. (Sorry if that last bit sounds a bit sob storylike - I do actually sympathise with the mog - he dislikes my children and he dislikes the medicine I have to give him every day, but even so, I can’t help but feel peeved!)

I mention all this not as a cry for sympathy, but rather to illustrate that one can lose one’s mojo for a whole multitude of reasons - not just poor mental health or frustration with a dry spell. Life can broadside us all, and loss of mojo - in the grand scheme of things - is just a detail. A time-limited stain.

Things always settle down eventually. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for life-hacks to get my comping back up to fifth gear. If you have any, do let me know!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The one with the pie

I won a pie last week. I was expecting a voucher, not a fresh meat pie. Certainly not a fresh meat pie that had spent the weekend in a courier's warehouse without an ice pack. In June. Possibly I'm a bit precious, but I didn't eat it. Did I mention it was also a day past its use-by date? Is there such a thing as ornamental pie?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Rise of the Robots

Twitter bots. Everyone hates them. I say “everyone”, but who knows for certain? Their proponents aren’t especially vocal on the matter.

In case you missed the memo, a Twitter bot is a program that can be used to (a) automatically follow Twitter accounts and (b) produce automated posts, such as retweets. And in case you haven’t yet put two and two together, this means that they can hunt out follow-RT comps on Twitter and enter them - automatically.

Evil robot! Evil!

This is where the frown starts to spread across most compers’ faces. But why is that? What’s actually wrong with automation?

Have you ever used keyboard shortcuts or a form-filling plugin such as Autofill on Chrome, or an app such as Roboform, to fill in your address details? That’s automation by any other name, so isn’t it in the same ballpark?

Short answer: no.

For a start, there’s the matter of targeting. If you’re using Autofill to populate some address fields, you’re doing so for a competition that you have decided to enter. Twitter bots are a ruthlessly efficient way of scoring the odd win, much like the indiscriminate dredging of sea beds is a sure-fire way of catching a crab or two. Dredging for crabs would cause untold collateral damage to other marine life and the environment. Twitter bots are likewise wasteful and damaging. Prizes are won that can’t be claimed and promoters get wazzed off with people wasting their time, not to mention any negative publicity associated with the poor sportsmanship. In any case, it does the comping community no favours.

Promoters host competitions to raise the profile of their brand or their products. They want people to interact with their brand - to engage. This, after all, is the first stage of customer journey - the “first moment of truth”, I believe they call it. And these robots, while all very clever, don’t engage. Autofill might save a few seconds of typing, but (a) typing your address isn’t brand engagement, and (b) if nothing else, you have at least paid the promoter the most basic courtesy of reading their name.
In sum: employing a robot might not always break the letter of the law, but it’s certainly not in keeping with the spirit of it.

But what to do? Compers could tell promoters when it looks like a robot has won their promotion - but would that help or would it just shine a bad light on the comping community? Furthermore, how many people would actually tell a promoter if they suspected a winning account of being bot-driven? Who wants to be a grass or a bad loser?

It’s not like promoters can add a CAPTCHA test to their tweets, is it? Or is it? Even the most basic of effort hurdles could help here. Sure, keep the follow & RT entry criteria, but require a pertinent comment or photo and the bots will be stopped in their tracks. Enough of this and they will wither and die. We can at least dream, right?

Terms & conditions on Twitter comps are notoriously lacking, meaning that automated entries are not expressly forbidden as religiously as they are for regular web comps - how does that make you feel? What would you do to change this? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

How to be a winner (when you're not winning)

“But how do you stay positive when you’re not winning?”

It’s a common question, but the first thing to remember is that no one wins all the time. Even world-class compers have dry spells. I suspect their droughts are shorter, but everything is relative. The important thing is maintaining a positive outlook.

That, of course, is easier said than done. And what works for one person may not work for another. For instance, some people have a portfolio of motivational mantras. That’s not really my bag, though I would agree that:
  • the dictionary is the only place where quitting comes before winning; and
  • winners are just losers who don’t give up.
Some folks, meanwhile, put great stock in karma. Dismiss this as hokey superstition if you will, but first take a moment to dress it differently. Call it community. Invest in it and there will be dividends. Find yourself some comping buddies. If you see comps local to them, or with prizes you know they want, or effort-based comps that play to their strengths, then let them know. The favours will be returned. Support will be reciprocated. Karma by any other name would smell so sweet.

But what if you need something more empirical? When I need to feel lucky, I just remind myself that I *am* lucky. I’ve a number of ways of doing this, but mostly they boil down to the same thing: celebrating previous wins.

Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to dig out the spreadsheet. You have a spreadsheet, right? (If not, stop reading NOW and don’t come back till you’ve read everything Di Coke has to say on the matter.)

There are two ways of considering this data: frequency and bottom line.

Bottom line is great. In the UK, at the very least, that’s your tax-free haul. Cool stuff you haven’t paid for. If you’ve had a few big-ticket wins, it makes even better reading.

My bottom line isn’t outstanding. That’s not to say I’m unhappy with it - on the contrary, it’s a very reasonable conversion rate given how much less effort than some people I put into comping. But what really works for me is my win frequency. I like it when people who don’t know me from Adam call me up or e-mail me just to say Hey! You! The winner over there! My kids don’t do that. My friends don’t do that. And I certainly can’t imagine ever having a job where my boss would do that. It’s validation that civilian life just doesn’t offer.

Of course, all this is just numbers. A more tactile way to feel lucky is to get your hands on those prizes right now! Last year I won a watch. Every day when I put it on I think, “that’s my lucky watch”. It’s the perfect piece to accessorise my lucky tee-shirt and my lucky hoodie. Heck, I’ve even got lucky pants, for when things really get tough. In short, dress lucky. It doesn’t matter if those wins don’t coordinate, or if it means wearing three dressing gowns to go down the Co-op, because you are literally dressed like a winner.

Lucky pants
I guess I should have ironed them. Sorry.

While you’re at it, dig out any vouchers you’ve won but not yet redeemed. No doubt there’s a reason why you’ve not yet spent them, but if you’re feeling like luck is running dry, make time to remember the good times. Get yourself a baby sitter and enjoy the fruits of your labours!

Last, but certainly not least, take a minute or two to reflect on your game. Don’t sulk about what you haven’t won - that’s not remotely helpful. But do ask yourself if you could do better. Again, I won’t dwell on this because Di Coke has covered it already. And besides, it’s really hard to type in these lucky mittens.

Now, begone and be lucky!

Have you got any tips for weathering the dry spells? Let me know in the comments below!