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

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