December 19, 2006
Are Interactive Contests Meaningful Communication or Cheap Gimmicks? A Question Posed from a Fan Message Board

Although it was not a major conversation and only created a couple of responses, I was intrigued by a post on the As the World Turns fan message board over at Michael Gill's Media Domain. User Kimberly Walsh asks fellow readers about the variety of promotional programs Procter & Gamble Productions and CBS had been entering over the past several months.

First, there were Daytime Dollars, a promotion that gave a code sometime during each day's episode that viewers could log on and see if they match to win $500. This promotion ran several months, with a different star announcing the day's code at the top of one of the commercial breaks every day, although it was moved throughout the show to keep people from just tuning in to see the code.

The promotion received a little bit of attention outside the soaps press, including Adam Finley's bonehead comments over at AdJab which claims that the money is "almost worth the damage your brain will endure from watching these shows." Sounds like those guys in the Southern Medical Journal I wrote about back in March, doesn't it?

Now, CBS and As the World Turns have a See it, Text it, Win it Sweepstakes in which a trivia question is asked every week for fans to text the answer in for, with the chance to win $5,000.

Both are very loosely involving communication with fan communities, but this type of interaction is much lower on the ladder than even naming the DAYS baby.

On the message board, Kimberly Walsh asked what people thought about these various contests and if other fans thought it was a good idea for the company to be doing these promotions. "Personally I'd prefer them writing better story and stop trying to get me to play games. I'm too busy." Her post seemed to already fear retribution from other fans who may enjoy the game, but she got none.

Rather, she got comments from user gallyn, who said she didn't mind promotions from the networks since they've always had contests like these but rather that she wished TIIC (the idiots in charge) "would put as much thought into the writing as they do these promotions/gimmicks. Then we'd be unbeatable."

Similarly, user Rosebud1 said that she was not offended by the promotions since "the forte of the decisionmakers is promotion & marketing, not storytelling & it shows." This user writes that the problem is that soaps "rely on gimmicks & short lived concepts w/little thought to longterm goals or gains that may, or may not, come from these marketing ideas. They don't understand the concept of loyal, lifelong fans, or their importance to the overall success of a soap."

I think Rosebud1 makes a good point when saying that this doesn't have to be an either/or situation but that the time spent on these gimmicks does draw attention to the fact that marketers seem to have more focus on short-term fixes and gimmicks than what really draws people in: the story. "It isn't as though they would be presenting better told stories, be true to the show's history or suddenly 'get' what the audience wants if these gimmicks didn't exist."

I think this explains perhaps even more explicitly what I was trying to express before with the DAYS baby naming contest and the Fantasy Soap League.

I'm also amazed at the ways in which fans can sometimes have more savvy public discussions about these sorts of issues than anyone in the industry, for the most part. See my previous posts about soaps fans and their discussion of product placement here and here, as well as this discussion, which I questioned at the time might be "the most important discussion in the entertainment industry."

The problem may just be, as I wrote about earlier this month, the need to understand how to build soaps as long-term brands rather than through short gimmick promotions.