If you want to win giveaways, understanding the methods that sponsors use to choose winners can be a big help. Depending on how the giveaway works, you might be able to tweak the odds in your favor.
For example, have you ever wondered if you could improve your chances of winning sweepstakes by entering at a specific time of the day? Or whether decorating envelopes can raise your odds of being picked as a mail-in winner?
The answers depend on the method of drawing winners that the sponsor uses. Once you know that, you can tailor your entries to give you a better chance to be picked as the giveaway's winner.
Here are some of the most common giveaway drawing methods and how they work.
Drawing Winners From a Mailbag
When sweepstakes accept entries by mail, a simple way to draw the winner is to simply pick a name by hand.
As envelopes for mail-in sweepstakes arrive, they are sorted into bags. When it's time to pick the giveaway winner's name, a mailbag is chosen at random.
A person designated by the sponsor then reaches into that bag, pulls out an envelope, and opens it. The person whose envelope was picked is then the potential winner (subject to verification).
Pulling Names From a Container
Giveaways where you drop an entry blank into a box work in a similar way. The winner is drawn by having an employee of the sponsoring company reach blindly into a box and pick an entry form at random.
When the giveaway winner is chosen by manually picking an envelope or an entry form, you can't tweak your odds of winning by picking a specific time of day to enter. You have no way of knowing which mailbag your entry will be placed into or which will be chosen to draw the winner.
There are some tricks that you can use to help you get an edge over the competition, however. Some mail-in sweepers swear by decorating the envelopes of their entry forms. The idea is that someone glancing into the mailbag might be attracted to an envelope that is brightly colored, has a cute or funny picture on it, or is flattering to the company sponsoring the giveaway.
Another strategy is to make your envelope or entry form stand out by feeling different when a person is reaching into a bag to draw the winner. You can do this by adding texture to your envelope or by crumpling or folding your entry form into accordion pleats.
The Winning Entry Chosen Is Chosen by a Random Number
This is the most common way to pick giveaway winners. Each entry into the giveaway is assigned a number in the order in which it is received, whether the entry is made online, by mail, or through another entry method.
On the drawing date, a number from 1 to the last entry number is chosen by random. The entry that corresponds to that number is the giveaway's winner.
See How HGTV Chooses Dream Home Winners for more details about how a famous giveaway uses this method to choose its winners.
This method of drawing winners can be used for online entries, mail-in sweepstakes, or sweepstakes with a variety of different entry methods making it both fair and flexible.
It's not easy to tweak this entry method to give yourself an advantage. There's no way to know ahead of time which number to pick. Instead, you should focus on maximizing the number of entries that you can legally receive to boost your odds of winning.
For example, if the giveaway allows daily entries, be sure to return every day. Or use options to refer friends or share on social media to boost your odds.
Drawings Using a Randomly-Chosen Time
This entry method is often used to choose winners of instant-win sweepstakes. The sponsor randomly chooses one specific time per prize before the giveaway begins. The first entry made after that winning moment is the giveaway's winner.
Amazon sweepstakes also use a similar drawing method.
This drawing method works best when the giveaway is offering multiple prizes. Otherwise, if the randomly-selected time is too early, people will be entering until the giveaway ends with no chance of winning.
It's impossible to know which winning times will be chosen in advance, so you can't tweak your odds by knowing which time to enter.
However, there's also another element to winning instant sweepstakes: how many people are entering at any given time.
If thousands of people are entering sweepstakes at once, you have to enter at precisely the right moment to be the winner. But during slow periods of entry, there might be several minutes after the winning time when no one enters.
This means your window of opportunity is wider if you enter during slow times.
Because winning entry times are just as likely to be in the middle of the night as during the afternoon, entering when fewer other people are entering improves your chances of being picked as the winner.
So entry times for instant win sweepstakes do matter, but only slightly. No matter how many people are entering, you still have to be lucky enough to play around the winning time.
You may have a slight edge if you enter instant win sweepstakes late at night, on holidays, or during big events like the Super Bowl that will keep people away from their computers.
But remember that people do win at all times of the day. You shouldn't exhaust yourself by getting too little sleep or give up on instants altogether if you can't enter during non-peak times. That kind of destructive behavior is a warning sign of gambling addiction.
Get an Advantage by Entering a Giveaway When It Starts
Giveaways that have multiple drawings, like those that give away prizes every day or every week, give an advantage to people who enter shortly after they begin.
For one thing, you're in the running to win every prize when you start right away. You won't miss any of the drawings.
But you also have better chances to win before word starts to spread and more and more people start to enter. In many cases, the odds of winning in the first days or weeks are significantly higher.
It's also a good idea to remember that now and then, a giveaway stops accepting entries a bit earlier than their rules state.
For that reason, try not to wait until the last minute to enter those sweepstakes. It's better to get your entries in early and avoid the risk of getting shut out.