Conversation marketing. Engagement marketing. Social media. Earned media. Consumer-generated media. User-generated Content. Crowdsourcing. Outsourcing. Co-creation.

No matter what you call it, the evolution of the way brands reach and interact with consumers has led to mass experimentation with the alluring yet often hard-to-execute marketing tactic: the video contest.

Achieving success with a video contest is no easy feat. We at Zooppa, a provider of user-generated advertising, have run contests with brands such as Google, Nike, Mini Cooper, Hershey's, and Microsoft by crowdsourcing from more than 60,000 creative community members.

Based on our experiences with some 100 user-generated ad campaigns, I can share the following 10 tips for a successful video contest.

Tip No. 1: Define Your Objective

The most critical step in running a video contest is defining exactly what you want to achieve. Here are several reasons video contests are becoming a regular piece of the marketing mix:

  • Getting a higher return on investment (ROI) from creative production expenses
  • Increasing engagement and time spent with a brand
  • Generating viral buzz and word-of-mouth
  • Sourcing consumer insights and perception feedback

Tip No. 2: Select a Theme

When selecting a theme, keep it aspirational and open enough to let contest participants insert their personality. Even if you have an extremely technical product, look beyond specifications to the brand-platform level and consider these questions:

  • How does your brand fit into people's lives?
  • What would the world look like without your offering?
  • What conversations are people already having about your brand?
  • What user-generated content is already being posted? Do you have fan videos on Facebook that reveal a theme?

A strong theme will compel participants to deliver your brand's message subtly, so that it doesn't read like a list of benefits.

Tip No. 3: Craft a Smart Creative Brief

Like traditional methods of producing advertising, the creative brief is a critical communication tool that will have a tremendous impact on the content you receive.

A basic rule of thumb: Simply tell people what you want them to do, and set constraints.

Write the creative brief in simple English, without adding too much colorful imagery—unless you want that imagery to show up explicitly in the videos.

Start with a compelling brand story and explanation of why you're looking for videos from them.

Make sure to include the following:

  • The audience that the videos should speak to
  • The tone and personality you want (e.g., funny, quirky, serious)
  • What video creators should not do
  • A call to action they should include
  • A description of any assets creators have at their disposal

Tip No. 4: Offer the Right Incentives

Determining a prize structure and criteria for winners is important for attracting not just top talent but the right kind of talent, based on your objectives.

Basic incentives include cash, product and travel packages, or visibility (such as having their work shown on television or the chance to work with a celebrity).

To generate response from cream-of-the-crop user-generated advertising talent, implement a significant (more than $10,000) grand prize, chosen solely by the brand or special jury vs. a "most votes" or "most views" process.

However, if your objective is solely to generate buzz or viral sharing, prize incentives should then be weighted to favor most views or votes.

In sum, weight your prizes in accordance with your objective.

Zooppa, for example, offers awards both for brand-selected winners and for winners with the most votes, achieving the right mix of quality and viral spread.

Tip No. 5: Promote Your Contest

Communities of creatives are self-organizing all over the Web. But even with a stellar theme and prize package, most video contests that are executed without the aid of a crowdsourcing partner (such as Zooppa) can go completely unnoticed. Here are some of the tactics we employ to engage audiences:

  • Engaging groups and communities in LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Reaching out directly to creatives on YouTube, Vimeo, and Twitter
  • Posting opportunities in the creative section of job boards, such as Craigslist
  • Building relationships with film school administrators and student groups

Tip No. 6: Put Some Thought Into Your Timing

Timing is critical for video contests. It takes several weeks not only to generate buzz about a contest but also to create quality work for a contest. Video contests typically last 8-16 weeks.

Another important factor is the submission deadlines of other competitions. As you'll see when you visit a site such as, you'll have several companies competing with you for the attention of video makers.

Schedule your contest so that it ends a few weeks after competing contests with awards equal to or higher than yours.

One major rule of thumb: Don't ever extend the deadline of your contest! That is seen as a breach of trust by video-contest submitters.

Tip No. 7: Moderate Incoming Content

Not every video-contest platform will allow you to moderate incoming content, so make sure you know how much control you'll have over what is being submitted. Moderation has major benefits:

  • You can work with creators to improve their content if they've missed the mark.
  • You can control your brand's identity.

It's important to be consistent in your moderation. If your contest requires strict adherence to the creative brief, make sure all creative you approve and display is held to the same level of scrutiny.

Tip No. 8: Create Urgency to Submit

There's something we call the "hockey stick effect"; if you've run a video contest in the past, you'll understand. It's when most of the content submitted is received in the last week of your contest.

Consider an incentive for creators to submit work earlier rather than later. For instance, Zooppa allows voting to accumulate from the very beginning of the contest, and we offer feedback on incoming submissions so that people can deliver the best possible final product.

Tip No. 9: Use All Your Video Content

A question we get a lot is "How are you going to use all that video content?" If you follow these 10 tips, you should expect anywhere from 50 to 300 video submissions.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Distribute the best videos through a site such as, and use search-engine optimization best-practices to get them discovered in search results.
  • Embed videos on your website to keep visitors on your site longer.
  • Run a contest to reward public voting for the best video. That extends the tail of the campaign.
  • Feature videos in your social-networking profiles to increase community engagement.

Having a plan in place and a promotional schedule for using even nonwinning videos will drastically increase the ROI of your video contest and extend the shelf life of your content.

Tip No. 10: Know the Law

Running a video contest holds several legal implications. Whether you choose to launch your own video contest or choose to work with a partner, here are some of the major considerations:

  • Protecting your brand against submission of copyrighted material
  • Securing online and offline usage rights of content
  • Having properly defined contest rules and terms and conditions in place
  • Adhering to Federal Trade Commission guidelines for online endorsements

Final Thought: Embrace the Crowd!

Opening up your brand-communications process to your consumers and to the broader creative community can sound frightening and counterintuitive to traditional brand-protective thinking. Consider this important lesson we're all learning from social media: The conversation is already happening!

Running a video contest allows you to see a true interpretation from the crowd of how your brand is perceived. If you want to get the most out of the crowd—listen to them, engage with them, and embrace their participation.

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Wil Merritt is CEO of Zooppa (, a provider of user-generated advertising. Contact Wil at or 206-623-1587.