How not to run social media prize promotions

You and I may have spent the summer jetting off to foreign climes (if only!), but the good folks at the ASA have clearly been hard at work. They recently upheld a trio of complaints – against fashion retailer Pretty Little Thing, health and beauty experts (their description) Get the Gloss and the consumer electronics company Hughes TV and Audio.

These three complaints were similar in that they all involved prizes draws run through social media channels and they were all beset by problems due, I would venture, to a lack of knowledge and expertise on the part of those administering the promotions. Collectively they are a good example of how not to run social media prize promotions.

Complete a long list of actions

Turning first to Pretty Little Thing, in order to take part in a draw to win Valentine’s Day prizes that included a Cartier ring and £5000 in cash, entrants had to complete several actions on Instagram. Now it’s certainly possible to extract data from Instagram and therefore track entries, but not for all Instagram actions.

For example, saving a post was part of the entry process for this promotion, but can’t confirm that a post has been saved by a particular individual, and if you can’t confirm all the actions have been completed by all the entrants, it isn’t a fair draw. Which is what the ASA concluded.

Get the Gloss also ran a Valentine’s Day promotion, in which you could win a self-care bundle for yourself and a friend. This was worth £288 in total, so not quite as valuable as the Pretty Little Thing prize, but nice to have nonetheless.

Share for a bonus entry

To gain an extra chance to win you could share the giveaway on your Instagram story. However, the ASA’s complainant claimed that the promotion had not been administered fairly, because it was simply not possible to track who had shared the post as an Instagram story and thus who had boosted their chances of winning and qualified for an additional entry.

And d’you know what? The complainant was essentially right. The only way to track what’s happening in Instagram stories is to sit there in front of a screen and manually capture every story featuring the appropriate hashtag.

If your promotion lasts just 24 hours that’s theoretically do-able, although I can’t say I’d want to be the one charged with the actual doing, but if it lasts longer than 24 hours you’ve had it really, because, of course, stories disappear after a day.

As there is currently no reliable tool available for extracting data from Instagram stories, at Prizeology we would never use stories as part of the entry process and if a client asks us to, we politely dissuade them.

I won’t go into the full details of how Get the Gloss selected its winners, but I will tell you that in its response to the ASA the company said a member of staff scrolled through the comments on the post without looking and then pointed to a comment at random.

So choosing the winner was a bit like a game of pin the tail on the donkey, then? I’m not quite sure how to make this point forcibly enough, but a human being cannot choose at random. That’s what you need a machine for, so the prize draw was palpably not fair. Again, this is what the ASA concluded.

Combine entries from different platforms

Looking now at the complaint against Hughes TV and Audio, it concerned prize draws to win a Beko AquaTech washing machine on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The closing dates for the three promotions were the same and the complainant surmised that there was, in fact, just one draw. However, he or she challenged whether it is possible to combine all the entrants into a single draw and therefore whether the promotion had been administered fairly.

Hughes did have a system in place for picking the winner of the washing machine (and there was just one) at random. It involved assigning numbers to platforms and entries, and using a random number generator.

Clearly someone had given it some thought. However, the CAP Code states that prizes must be awarded in accordance with the laws of chance. The ASA ruled that this method wasn’t verifiably random and entrants were likely to have had different chances of winning. So once more it upheld the complaint.

Speak to the specialists in simplicity

Actually, it is possible to scrape (in the jargon) and combine entry data from different platforms, but we prefer not to do that, because it’s impossible to track whether someone has entered across all those platforms and that’s information we like to have.

By the by, what I would say, though, is that it’s vital if you’re running a cross-media promotion, as Hughes was, to make it clear that there is only one prize pool and that it is shared across all entry channels. If you don’t, entrants could assume that it’s three different prize promotions with three different prize pools rather than one shared pool of prizes.

The plethora of prize draws on social media looks like a win for consumers, doesn’t it, but if those prize draws aren’t being administered fairly then I would question whether they actually are a ‘good thing’.

The truth is that lots of social media promotions are run by social or PR agencies, who simply aren’t specialists, and who don’t have the knowledge and the expertise to conduct those promotions fairly and legally.

As these three rulings against brands show, it’s quite complicated to administer a prize draw on social – so my advice is get a company like Prizeology to do it for you, because we do have the knowledge and the expertise

If you’d like Prizeology to help you run a promotion on social media properly, do give us a call on 020 7856 0402 or email us via

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Founder and Chief Prizeologist. 

© Prizeology and The Prizeologist Blog, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



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