Engaging a Younger Audience With a Video Contest

While the blog has been monopolized by the Open Book Project for the last few months, marketing other theatre events was still going on. Earlier this year Actors Theatre of Indiana brought triple-threat, multiple Tony-winner, Sutton Foster to town for a one night engagement. I’m friends with one of the people on their marketing team, and that led to a unique opportunity to participate in the brain storming sessions for promoting this event. One idea that came out of that session was a video contest, that I helped put together.

The contest was engaging, viral, and easier to pull off than you might think.

ATI decided to move forward with this contest with very specific goals in mind. Selling tickets to the concert was important, of course, but the purpose behind bringing Foster in to begin with was to raise the profile of ATI. So marketing the concert just to people who are already on the ATI mailing list wasn’t going to accomplish that. We were looking for new audiences.

A big focus of the entire marketing campaign (not just this video contest) was local high school students. Most of these kids weren’t necessarily familiar with ATI, but might be interested in seeing a star of television and stage like Foster – a perfect fit for who we wanted to reach.

What the contest looked like

Entering the contest was as simple as pointing your iPhone at your face and explaining why you were a big fan of Sutton Foster. Thematically that makes sense with this contest, but also we wanted the videos to be unofficially providing testimonials for how good Sutton Foster truly is (and why you would want to buy a ticket to see her).

ATI could have selected the winning videos, but we had a better idea for spreading the contest virally. We would not have any say whatsoever in the who won the contest. Instead anyone viewing the videos could vote with the click of a button if they thought that video should win. The result is that anyone who submitted a video encouraged all their friends and family to come vote for their video. Along the way those friends and family members would learn about the upcoming concert.

We created a landing page for the contest that highlighted:

  1. what you win: 2 front row tickets to see Sutton Foster
  2. how to enter: an introduction video explaining the contest
  3. current entries: to allow people to vote and see examples of what type of videos had already been entered

Did it work?

We (barely) fell short of selling out The Palladium, easily one of the largest venues in our market. Although we didn’t quite hit the sellout benchmark the event was a huge success both financially as well as in raising the profile of ATI.

Now there were many more elements to the marketing campaign for this event than just the video contest – which is the case when any event has a strong box office. What we can look at specifically with the contest are how the videos were shared on social media and the number of votes.

In the first few days of the contest, I was very apprehensive. The contest only ended up receiving three entries. I had hoped for more, and was ready to chalk this up as a marketing experiment that didn’t pan out. But I was thrilled with how much the creators of those videos seemed to be pushing them around over Facebook and Twitter.

The social media attention paid off because each video ended up getting thousands of votes. Originally I had been hoping that the winning video would garner a few hundred votes, but the winner actually ended up with over 9000 votes.

The contest was probably even more successful at raising awareness of the ATI brand than it was at selling tickets to this particular event.

Now I actually think that I didn’t do a very good job of filtering out search engine bots when I set this contest up (in part because I didn’t think it would be large enough in the short time frame of the contest to get indexed very often). So I’m willing to bet that as high as a few thousand of those votes might have been from automated programs and not actual human beings. Even with that estimate, though, that means the winning video was voted for 6000 times. (The programming was set up so that you could only vote once per day from any given computer.)

I have to believe some of those voters were influenced into buying a ticket to the show. From a larger perspective, though, even people who didn’t end up coming to this performance for whatever reason (they don’t like Sutton Foster, they had another commitment that night, etc.) still saw the name Actors Theatre of Indiana every time they voted. The contest was probably even more successful at raising awareness of the ATI brand than it was at selling tickets to this particular event.

How it was set up

I did a few things to dress up the landing page for this contest, but at the core it is just a WordPress page. Like most platforms that offer blog capabilities, WordPress has the built in ability to leave comments on a page. Those comments include your name, email, and a website. (See the comment form for this post.)

We set our contest up so that anyone who wanted to enter just uploaded their video to YouTube, then shared the link with us. For this contest entrants just put the YouTube link for their video in the website field when they left a comment on the contest page.

There are also multiple WordPress plugins that make it easy to allow people to vote on the comments that have been left. I wrote my own version because I’m a web developer, but that’s not necessary.

My point behind sharing this is that the customization that I put into this contest made it more user-friendly and ultimately more successful, but you don’t need to be a web developer to run a video contest as an effective promotion for your show.

The contest is now closed, but you can still see the landing page.

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