7 Contest Ideas That Generated Over 1 Million Participant Entries

Discover 7 contest ideas that attracted over one million entries, including humor, targeted marketing, big prizes, and more.

By Will Blunt ・6 min read
Campaign & Contest Ideas

It’s that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow all digital marketers are chasing…Virality.What makes something go viral and how can you replicate it?That question has been tackled from dozens of different angles more times than I can count. Everyone has a theory of what the viral formula is.The truth is, there is no formula. Despite what most digital agencies promise, when marketing campaigns or content goes viral there is always an element of luck involved. Luck isn’t replicable.However, there are certain things we can learn from viral campaigns that will get you closer to finding “luck.” If you combine proven elements that have worked in the past enough times, and test enough combinations of those elements, then you will eventually hit the pot of gold. But the journey to that destination is not a perfect rainbow, it’s a winding, bumpy road of testing, iterating, throwing a bunch of stuff on the scrap heap, and trying all over again.One thing we do know is that contests and sweepstakes have a certain thing about them that feed the virality monster more than most other forms of marketing. In their most basic form, contests combine a number of proven “viral” marketing ingredients. So by running a contest, you are already halfway down the mad scientist’s road to that pot of gold.But if you just launch a contest and wish for the best your chance of attracting the number of participants you desire is unlikely. You need a well-constructed contest-marketing strategy and testing framework to make the most of this medium.

One thing we do know is that contests and sweepstakes have a certain thing about them that feed the virality monster more than most other forms of marketing.

To help you put that experiment together, here are 7 contest ideas that in combination attracted over one million contest entries. Now, that is viral! Enjoy...

#1. Chubbies Shorts Man Model Contest

Entries: 293,668Idea: Spice up your contest with a bit of humor. See it here.

Chubbies Shorts Man Model Contest

Chubbies Man Model ContestView and Create Your OwnThe premise around this contest was that men would submit photos of themselves in Chubbies shorts to become a Chubbies model. People of all shapes and sizes could submit photos along with a little blurb about themselves in order to sway votes. Other people would vote to choose the best model based on these entries.In the end, some of the top entries were comical, some were everyday people you might see on the street - in other words, most of them were not your typical male models! What helped this contest attract so many entries and engagement was its “everyone’s welcome” approach combined with a touch of humor.How can you spice up your contest with a little bit of humor?

#2. Target and Barnes & Noble College Room Makeover

Entries: 249,344Idea: Get laser-targeted with your contest participants. See it here.

Target and Barnes & Noble College Room Makeover

Target's College Room Makeover Contest View and Create Your Own For this contest, the idea was simple: Enter to win a college dorm room makeover.The contest was mainly focused on college students, but extended to parents of college students and other family and friends too. Once the contest was over, a winner was chosen and the winner received a $2,500 Target gift card.In terms of participation with this sweepstakes, it’s important to note that it is sponsored by two major brands that have an impact on college students. They both already have an audience, and this reach no doubt played into the success of the campaign from a participation perspective.Of course, simply “being a big brand” is impossible for smaller brands to replicate. What you can take from this example is the way it targeted a niche group of people, college students, and structured the contest promotion strategy so it talked specifically to that audience. If they simply gave a $2,500 gift card away to anyone and everyone, it would have been less compelling. By targeting college students the contest tapped into our human desire to be recognized in a group we associate with. It’s part of our identity.

#3. Coventry Log Home Giveaway

Entries: 149,699 Idea: Give away something BIG.

Coventry Log Home Giveaway

Coventry Log Home Giveaway View and Create Your Own With this giveaway, Coventry Log gave away a log home… Seriously, a whole home!!This is a huge prize for a giveaway and has the potential to create a lot of media buzz because of the significant contribution this could have for someone and their family. It’s a life-changing contest that many participants can become invested in.The sheer size of this prize is likely why this contest gained so much traction. People are simply more enthusiastic about the prospect of winning a HOUSE than they might be about winning a gift card. Obviously this fact helped with word-of-mouth. While both are great giveaway prizes for different purposes, the home is much bigger and makes more of an impact.

#4. iFly KLM Mauritius Luxury Trip Contest

Entries: 145,693 Idea: Connect contest participation with ongoing brand interaction. See it here.

iFly KLM Mauritius Luxury Trip Contest

iFly KLM Mauritius Luxury Trip Contest View and Create Your Own Luxury trips are always a great option if it fits your market because of the instant interest in a potentially free vacation. The initial market for this contest from iFly KLM was newlyweds, but in the end, it wasn’t limited to that audience. As you can imagine a trip to Mauritius appeals to a lot of different people.One thing that was interesting about the marketing for this contest was that entrants had to stay up to date with the iFly KLM Facebook page in order to see who the winner was. At the bottom of the entry page, it directed everyone to like their Facebook page where they eventually made the winner announcement. This was a smart way to encourage people to follow their page and provide ongoing brand interaction in the future.

#5. Serve the Stars of Summer Sweepstakes

Entries: 133,551 Idea: Create contest virality by giving away entries with referral links. See it here.

Serve the Stars of Summer Sweepstakes

Serve the Stars of Summer SweepstakesThis contest is sponsored by several different brands, which gives it a bigger audience reach, to begin with. Beyond that, what makes it interesting is people are encouraged to come back every day to enter again for the $750 grand prize or a chance at 84 gift cards.Contestants are also encouraged to invite their friends and family through their referral link to get an additional entry to the contest. This last component is what helped the sponsors gain traction because participants are incentivized to share the contest with friends and family and are reminded of that every day. This “referral juice” creates a compounding impact on the potential reach of the contest.

#6. IcelandAir's Trip to Iceland

Entries: 85,903 Idea: Piggyback on popular events to get attention for your contest. See it here.

IcelandAir's Trip to Iceland

IcelandAir's FIFA World Cup ContestHere is another trip-based contest that was focused on the FIFA World Cup. The World Cup is a massive worldwide event that millions of people are invested in. In the most recent installment, Iceland became the smallest ever country to qualify. To mark this historic moment, IcelandAir wanted to maximize the tourist-power of this worldwide event to attract people to their country and get the name of their airline out there.The winner of their contest would get a trip for two to Iceland to see the country as well as some friendly football matches featuring the Iceland team prior to the World Cup. For extra entries, participants could share the contest with their followers on social media.By connecting their contest with the World Cup and encouraging entrants to follow their social media page, they were able to get fantastic participation and ongoing brand recognition. The takeaway? See if you can link your brand with popular events to get attention for your contest.

#7. Get Moving and Win with SunRype

Entries: 72,353Idea: Tie your contest to a lifestyle choice and offer prize tiers to generate more winners.See it here.

Get Moving and Win with SunRype

SunRype's Get Moving ContestThe “Get Moving and Win” contest was all about encouraging entrants to adopt a healthier lifestyle by “moving” more. They offered six prize packs including an Apple Watch, snacks from SunRype, and gift cards. Each week they would draw a new winner as well as offer instant prizes to a percentage of entrants.The big prize packs would draw people in but the smaller rewards would keep them interested week after week. The real kicker? These smaller prizes were discount vouchers for their other products!The key takeaway is to link your contest to a lifestyle choice and offer prize tiers to generate more winners.


There are a lot of ways to host a contest but if you want to be successful, you need to make sure that you do something innovative as well as something that encourages participation.One thing that all of these examples have in common is the fact that they are interactive in one way or another so people get more involved than just filling out a form.How are you going to find that pot of gold at the end of the contest rainbow?

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About the author

By Will Blunt ・6 min read

Will Blunt is the founder of Sidekick Digital by Will Blunt - B2B Marketing Expert - Sidekick Digital, a publishing business that launches, manages, and grows brands with content marketing.

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