Time To Ban Automated Entry Competition Services?

Posted on: March 7th, 2011 by Jason 24 Comments

Automated competition entry services are places where people can pay a site to enter competitions on their behalf. The sites “find” competitions and then using scripts automatically generate entries for these people. The entrants don’t visit the site, don’t know anything about the prize on offer and just sit waiting to hear of a win.

They effect a lot of competitions, yet it’s strange to us that no one is really being that vociferous about them! If a voting competition appears there’s a bit of an outcry about it being unfair, but a normal boring old prize draw – surely that can’t be cheated?

Well yes it can, and it’s effecting a lot more competitions than people realise. Thankfully some of these sites list the prize draws they’ve entered on their user’s behalf – last month these included Sport.co.uk, iVillage, Pocket Lint, The Telegraph, Tomy, Kikkoman, Hornby, Just Eat, Shudoo, Zavvi, Sendit.com, Herts24, Evens Cycles, La Senza, Cartridge World, Advanced MP3 Players, My Bag, Beds123, Mens Health, Roberts Radio, John Lewis, Elle UK, Lunchbox World, Mobile Choice, Splenda, Boxfresh, Alton Towers, Clash Music, The RAC, TP Toys, ESPN, Air France, Friday Ad, AJ Electronics, The Times, Mydeco, Treatme, The Body Shop, Lynku, Veggie Vision, Bafta, Phones4U, Bells Whisky, The AA and Denby.

And that was just one service and covers about a quarter of the sites they list.

Looking at another site they also have amongst the sites they target…

BBC Good Food, Sheerluxe, Marie Claire, Bighams, Instyle, Gardeners World, Absolute Radio, Company, Baby Expert, Wedding Magazine, Bluewater, Donald Russell, Dialaphone, Sendit, Crabtree & Evelyn, Chortle, 9bar, House to Home, English Cheesecake Company, Miele, The Daily Mail and Wine Pages.

Plus a lot lot more. By the way, the service doing the above has been advertised by a comping publication. In essence they’re saying that automated entries are fine – then taking your money for their magazines and online site. We think this is outrageous!

What Do Automated Services Mean for You?

This means, that as a comper you’re competing against people who haven’t visited the promoters website, who haven’t answered the question and who don’t even know the prize they’re trying to win!

Now some of the above do have terms and conditions in place that say “no bulk entries” or “no third party entries” and we can only hope some are doing things behind the scenes to disqualify automated entry service entries too.

And What About Promoters?

For promoters they’re not getting visitors (just a script), have no one interacting with their website so no chance of cross selling or advertising to them, and they’re getting the email address of someone who doesn’t even know who they are.

We know that some siteowners are far from pleased about these services. Last week we had two sites contact us regarding a mass of entries they’d received. Thankfully, especially in the case of one where they thought it was our fault, we advised them on automated entry services and sorted things out.

This is the kind of thing PromoVeritas should be pushing out into the greater marketing world, not the age old fact that people enter competitions as a hobby.

So What Can Compers Do About It?

Well you could just say nothing and hope the many brands mentioned above are taking action OR you could perhaps contact them and ask them? Let them know your concerns (if you’re concerned) – point them to this blog if need be. Let them know that you think people should have to visit their websites to enter their competitions and win their prizes.

It’s all well and good wanting to ban voting competitions on Facebook, but automated entry services effect a far more compers and a lot more promotions. Why compers are all quiet about it we don’t know?

So What Can Promoters Do About It?

Monitor your competitions and look for strange activity. Monitor IP addresses and mess about with your questions (randomise them for each user is a really good method). Force people to register with you before they can enter or even run your competition on Facebook. CAPTCHA is also useful to block some automated entry services.

Above all make your rules clear that you don’t want automated or bulk entries and that you will disqualify people. And then stand by them!

If your site does appear on the automated competition entry service lists AND you disqualify entries please do get in touch. We’re also interested if site’s have information on IP addresses of the automated entries they receive.

We’ll continue to tell promoters about automated entry services and encourage them to act against them. It’d be great to see compers having the same passion for this issue as they do for voting competition problems.

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  • bertykat

    The difference between the automated entries and voting comps is that the voting stuff is a little more in your face and easier to spot if it’s going on whereas the automated entries are completely cloak and dagger. Personally I would always wonder if I was paying to use a service that was taking my money and doing nothing in return.

    Voting comps you can avoid but how do you know that you’re entering a comp that allows automated entries? :-/

  • “how do you know that you’re entering a comp that allows automated entries”

    Unfortunately you don’t – which is why we’re posting the names of brands that appear on automated entry service lists from last month. We want them to see that there’s a problem and also for compers to try and maybe get promoters more aware of these services.

    The more sites that start investigating their competitions and the more compers who start asking questions the better (imo).

  • Emmasophie

    “Force people to register with you before they can enter or even run your competition on Facebook.”

    The increase in Facebook/Twitter comps will reduce the comps available to me as I don’t have a facebook account, mainly due to being worried about facebook – I could probably do with a comping with Facebook master class or Q&A’s to put my mind at rest as ‘m probably a cautious comper.

    It’s a shame site owners need to have captcha codes etc but I suppose for ‘real’ compers it’s a minor inconvenience that guarantees a fairer competition.

    Reading your article does make me sad as I do enter comps on some of those sites and abviously my ‘real time’ has probably been wasted. Thanks for a really informative blog it is good to have these sites highlighted. Are all of these sites aware of, and happy with Loquax or would our complaints highlight us as another group of people to watch out for and disqualify IYSWIM?

  • bertykat

    Who do you contact and what do you say? I think that’s another thing putting people off. It’s bad enough telling people you know about competitions and them thinking you nut nut but trying to approach a large company/brand and communicate what you want to say and be taken seriously is quite nerve wracking and of course the paranoia of disqualification is another thing.

    If webites themselves are blissfully unaware how can we make them ‘believe’ ? πŸ˜€

  • Polarbear

    Excellent blog jason. πŸ™‚ I think most compers hate these automatic entry companies, as you rightfully say the people who use them are interested in only one thing and thats what they will get for their fee. They don’t care about the company offering the prize, they don’t even care what the prize is, to them its just a bit like buying a lottery ticket or a raffle ticket and waiting to see if their number comes up.
    It does nothing to promote either the company or its products and the sooner the promoters realise this and actually do something to prevent those companies from doing this, the better. Simply stating bulk entries or automated entries are prohibited won’t, in my opinion, be enough, they will need to be physically blocked or the promoters taking some form of legal action against those companies to stop them exploiting such competitions by taking a fee from “subscribers” to enter on ‘their’ behalf and making money from the promoers website.

    However bertykat does have a valid point how do people go about informing promoters and companies about automated entries? do some of them even know what automated entries are and how such companies are exploiting THEIR website to make money for themselves out of prizes offered on that website.

    Berty is also correct, what exactly could you say that doesnt make you sound like a potential nutter or green eye monster trying to prevent others entering (albeit by an automated service if the promoter doesnt quite understand whats actually going on or the principal of automated “services”) and as she says there is also the paranoia that they might disqualify you for “questioning” how they operate their competitions or see you in just the same bad light (as a ‘serial comper’) as the automated entrants your trying to tell them about.

    It is good to know which sites have been listed on automated entries listings though, you just have to hope that those sites listed KNOW they are being targeted and are WILLING AND ABLE to do something about it.

    I guess more publicity in the open is a good way to go and a prayer that those persons or organisations targeted in such a way make note and take action as a consequence. Maybe promo or competition running websites should start charging automated entry companies for being listed without their prior knowledge or permission after all the auto entry companies charge their subscribers so why shouldn’t the competition running websites and promo companies charge the ‘sub’s companies a nice big fat fee?

    Automated entries companies are currently virtually getting “something for nothing”-ie- a competition listing and then charging subscribers for the priviledge of entering a free competition, its only right some of that money should be ploughed back to the people running the competition in the first place? (compensation for potential lost customers??) it might put a few of them off having to share their profits or force them into increasing the subscription prices which might put off subscribers.
    If the “compensation” demanded by the promoter or website running the competition is high enough it just might drive them out of business. (one can only pray)

  • caspertheghost

    I saw one of these sites advertising on Twitter and asking LOADS of people if they minded being added to their list of competitions so people could just auto enter. One person I was following (can’t remember who now) said ‘No, I don’t agree with the concept’ but the amount that said ‘yeah fine’ shocked me. Twitter comps annoy me anyway as the same names ‘randomly’ appear all the time, now it’s up against scripts??? What’s the point?!

  • “However bertykat does have a valid point how do people go about informing promoters and companies about automated entries?”

    Dunno πŸ™‚

    I’ll see if I can draft something – I’ll try a few contacts we have and see what kind of response we get from them.

  • ccaple

    I enter the weekly comp for Something for the Wickend, and have a reminder email each week. They say how many entries they have had which is usually in the region of 2 to 3 thousand, but I have noticed for the last couple of weeks the entries have suddenly gone up to over 7 thousand. I was wondering how they could suddenly have increased by such a huge amount, so I guess they must be automated entries as there is no captcha, just email required. If there are this many automated entries for each comp it’s no wonder we don’t win much!

  • @ccaple – why not drop them an email and ask how it’s suddenly jumped up? And whether they’re monitoring their entries.. be interesting to see if they are. Refer them here (or send me their email and I’ll ask them).

  • ccaple

    Their email address is candleshop@somethingforthewickend.co.uk. That is from one of the older emails. I have deleted the most recent ones, but assume the address would still be the same.

  • keriku

    They were promoting one of these companies on a shopping channel one day.I think it was Win24 on Ideal World. You have to pay them a fee. Not my idea of fun!

  • littleanne

    It would be good to know how to contact them and see what their response will be thank you for listing the sites and hope that they take notice and do something about it

  • bristolgirl

    Obviously anyone who joins these sites just does it for money. it would be interesting to see how much it costs and what the average return for your *investment* is. not that I have any intentions of joining one, i don’t look on comping as a money making scheme, i’d be very poor if i did

  • sftw2011

    Hi this is Dave at Something For The Wickend. We have now blocked the IP address of the company that was spamming loads of extra entries into our weekly draw. I am now capturing the IP addresses on the entry forms so I will be able to see if it happens again. I shall put a note on our draw page that all automated entries will be disallowed. (Not that anyone using an automated system will see it).

    I have disallowed a large proportion of the entries this week that were spammed in this way, although some may have got through before I acted yesterday morning.

    Good luck!
    http://www.somethingforthewickend.co.uk/acatalog/weekly_draw.html

    Dave

  • gwazi

    Is there no governing body that could get this stopped such as ASA or whichever deals with competitions who could then get the people who set the comps to show that ip numbers etc are being scrutinised? Please don’t shoot it was just a querie as I never know how these things work

  • sandra63

    I expect most targetted companies would not be happy to receive such entries. It is good to see you have taken swift action against them Dave at SFTW. Maybe others just need to have their attention drawn to the existence of such automated services.

    I think I noticed a competition service being advertised on a shopping channel too – it could have been Ideal World.

    It certainly doesn’t seem a fair way of doing things.

  • bertykat

    Awww PB, I love you xxx

  • compfan

    The automated entries are not fair to legitimate compers and certainly not fair to the companies running the comps. The reason they have comps is to get people to visit their websites and is in effect low cost advertising for them. For the price of a giveaway prize they can make hundreds of people more aware of their brand/product. What we need to do is make sure the companies running the comps are aware of this problem and take measures to deter the bulk entry comp services who are turning the comps into a useless exercise for the sponsoring companies.

  • maisietoo

    I’m a hobby comper and have won a twitter comp. with Zavvi and a general comp with Company magazine. But it’s good to know that I stop wasting my time with these sites. I just wonder if there is any way of getting a list on Loquax of competitions that definitely don’t allow automated entries? Would that be useful?

  • promoveritas

    Hi , we at PromoVeritas would agree that automated entry clubs are not in the spirit of promotions and fair play.
    Wherever possible we build in the clause about ‘Automated entries…..are not allowed’ but there are still times when we are contacting a winner and they are totally oblivious to the fact that they even entered the draw, let alone won it.

    This will be the topic of our next press release and we will be happy to act as evangelists pushing the point to promoters to take more care with their back end systems. Nowadays most promotions are done to build a database for future marketing, so no brand manager wants to have loads of names of people who have no interest in his brand – it is a waste of time and money. Best not to let them get in the first place, or root them out via back end systems.

    Jeremy

  • I’d like the compers to be the evangelists – it’s there hobby after all – but if PV can get the word out to big brands to start opening their eyes to this then I guess that’s good – although to be honest your last PR article should have covered this, not the age old “pro-comper” angle.

    Building in clauses though isn’t enough. Sites need to manage their competitions better – watch patterns of entry, check IP addresses – even be devious and rotate questions. Force registrations, CAPTCHA etc all help too. Facebook – although not everyone’s cup of tea, is another way to avoid things too.

    @maisietoo – we’ve been slowly emailing some of the sites on the lists. One group has already listened and steps will be taken – they weren’t best pleased. Also every site that submits a competition to Loquax is being notified about these issues.

    Creating a list of good sites would probably take forever, but sites that require logins to enter tend not to be targeted.

  • Smarty

    I have never heard of companies like this before! At first I thought it meant my roboform lol!!

    I think it’s very unfair that people will be entering comps that they don’t even want, it would be like me entering one for a pushchair or something when i have no young children. I always think as well you could be depriving someone who really needs it, I would struggle with my conscience on that …

  • kitty20

    Perhaps that is why I haven’t won anything for absolutely ages in spite of spending at least a couple of hours a day entering comps. Hardly seems fair.

  • ch56

    I agree with maisietoo, a list would be helpful, I only enter comps that I would like to win, I was astounded when somethingforthewickend said a couple of weeks ago that they had , had over 7000 entries for their weekly competition, I had given up doing it since I read that, but even so they usually have had well over 2000 each week normally. I’ve taken note of the ones you have said take automated entries and will now give those a miss, at least it will save me a bit of time , seems like they are spoiling a nice little hobby for me.

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