10 Things We All Hate About Sweepstakes and Contests

Avoid These Pet Peeves to Run a Successful Contest

There is much to love about entering sweepstakes. Not only winning prizes, but also learning about new products, making friends in the sweepstakes community, surprising family members with presents beyond what we could afford to buy, dreaming about prizes to come, and much more.

But if you've been entering sweepstakes and contests for a while, there are probably some things that have started to get under your skin. Here are 10 things we all hate about entering contests and sweepstakes. Kudos to companies that manage to avoid these pet peeves and run good, solid giveaways!

Prizes That Never Arrive

Man looking into mailbox
Waiting for a prize that never comes is a pet peeve of sweepstakes fans. Malcolm MacGregor / Getty Images

Picture this: you get all excited after receiving a win notification, you return all of your paperwork on time, and then you wait for your prize. And wait. And wait some more. The time frame for your prize to arrive in the rules is long past, and your mailbox is still empty every day.

This is definitely one of the parts of entering sweepstakes that everyone hates.

Although most people who enter sweepstakes experiences a missing prize now and then, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your chances of it happening to you:

  1. Track your sweepstakes prizes so that you'll know when your prizes are due to arrive and which ones have slipped through the cracks.
  2. If you notice a prize is late, politely contact the sweepstakes' sponsor or the sweepstakes administrator handling the prize. Your win notification is a good place to look to find contact information. Let them know your concerns. Remember that delays do happen, and aren't necessarily a sign of bad faith on the part of the company running the giveaway.
  3. If your request for additional information isn't answered, try to find another contact method. Many companies pay a lot of attention to what is said about them on social media, or reaching out to a sweepstakes administrator by telephone might get you a quicker response.
  4. If all attempts to contact the people behind the sweepstakes fail, you might want to consider taking legal action or contacting your state's attorney general for assistance.

Companies That Use "Congratulations" in Subject Lines for Non-Winners

Image of a Tablet Computer Reading "Congratulations You Win"
Congratulations can be so exciting, or a big disappointment. Image (c) Kaan-Tanman / Getty Images

Speaking of getting excited for nothing, a pet peeve among sweepers is the dreaded "congratulations" email that isn't for winning a prize.

For example: "Congratulations! You've Entered Our Sweepstakes!" or "Congratulations! You Have Another Chance to Win" or "Congratulations to Our Winner" when that winner is someone other than the person receiving the email.

Any of those subject lines will get your heart racing, only to have it drop into your shoes when you realize that there's nothing to get excited about. It always leaves me feeling grumpy toward the company who sent the mail.

Sweepers want a congratulations message for just one thing: winning a sweet, sweet prize. Not filling out an entry form, not joining the email list, not for having the taste to visit the sponsor's website, not for "qualifying" for a special coupon. Just for prizes.

All of you companies out there: for every type of email other than a win notification, using a different way of wording your message will save you from the ill will of sweepstakes fans.

Sweepstakes That Require Notarization for Small Prizes

Freshly Embossed Official Corporate, Approval, Accreditation, or Notary Raised Seal
Needing to get a notarized affidavit for a $10 prize? Ugh!. Phil Cardamone / Getty Images

Most sweepers don't mind getting a notarized affidavit for a prize of some value. But when you've won something minor like a t-shirt or a free movie ticket, the hassle of getting an official witness for your affidavit is a pain.

Luckily, there are many places to find a free notary public. Even if it's annoying to have to take the extra step for a small prize, you might be able to combine the trip with other errands like going to your bank or checking some books out of the library.

So even though it may stick in your craw to have to notarize an affidavit for a small prize, it's better than not winning at all. And remember that it has no bearing on your taxes; notary or not, you're supposed to report those small prizes on your taxes.

CAPTCHAs That Won't Accept Your Responses

Young man with letterpress letters surrounding his head
CAPTCHAs that won't accept your answers frustrate many sweepstakes fans. Guido Cavallini / Getty Images

OK, we all get the need for CAPTCHAs or other verification methods to prevent cheaters (another pet peeve, see below) from rigging giveaways. But couldn't they just work nicely?

Sometimes, you're faced with a CAPTCHA that is little more than word salad. You think you've entered the answer correctly, but you keep getting rejected.

Or you may be faced with "Are You a Robot?" questions like "pick all of the pictures that show a tree" when some of the pictures are so out of focus that there's no way of picking the right answer.

And if you can't see well, these "simple" puzzles gain a whole new level of annoyance. Does it really have to be so hard?

Dealing with verification methods that screen out people as well as cheating bots is a part of entering sweepstakes that everyone hates.

There are some tricks to try when CAPTCHAs won't work, which can solve some of the most commonly-encountered problems. Other than that, there's little you can do other than keep trying until you are able to prove your humanity.

Sweepstakes That Make You Hassle Your Friends

woman screaming in megaphone, other woman keeps shut ears
Tired of hassling your friends for a chance to win? So are many sweepers. Michaela Begsteiger / Getty Images

All of us sweepstakes fans understand that good giveaways are a win/win for the sweepstakes sponsor and the entrants. We know that companies need to meet certain targets if they are going to keep offering chances to win, and we understand that spreading the word about the giveaway is valuable for the sponsor. We're happy to do it, in moderation.

But everyone hates sweepstakes and contests where you need to hassle your friends to get entries. Begging for votes every day, having to tag your friends on social media before you can enter (as opposed to doing it voluntarily or for additional entries), or needing to convince friends to enter before you can enter yourself are all activities that frustrate many sweepers.

Not only does it leave us feeling like unpaid corporate shills for a company that we don't necessarily even believe in yet, but it's really unfair to our friends. Our friends aren't necessarily sweepers, and we should have the freedom only to let them know about giveaways that we genuinely feel they'll be interested in entering.

Not only does that make us better friends, but it also makes us more effective when we really do want to share sweepstakes information.

Contests That Rely on Votes to Choose Winners

Vote word in the meeting room
Voting contests can be easily manipulated, a pet peeve of many entrants. TongRo / Getty Images

At first glance, using a vote to determine which entry wins a contest sounds like a good idea. The entry that most people likes best should win, right?

The problem is that voting contests are generally easy to manipulate. In many cases, the winner isn't the person with the best entry, it's the one who has access to the biggest email list, or the person who bribes people into voting for them, or even just the person with the entry that some group of online trolls thinks would be funny to have win.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this story of a Papa John's contest where a school for the deaf was chosen for a Taylor Swift concert thanks to trolling by Reddit, 4chan, and other online sites, or the story of an entrant who put her husband's access to the PGA's mailing list to work to get her dog chosen as the most Pampered Pet.

Even in the best of cases, voting contests make you work hard to hassle your friends, a pet peeve listed above.

No one likes to put a lot of hard work into a contest entry just to lose to an even better entry, but we really, really hate losing because someone has manipulated the system. So many people skip over pure voting contests altogether.

There are some good ways to use voting in contests without making the winner so dependent on them. For example, letting voters choose (a relatively large number of) finalists that the judges will choose among, or having votes be a part of the judging criteria (preferably worth 20 percent or less of the total judging score).

Contests That Won't Follow Their Own Rules

Below view of referee showing penalty against the sky.
When companies don't follow their own rules, many entrants call foul. skynesher / Getty Images

While we're talking about annoying reasons to lose a contest, here's another one. Before you entered, you made sure to read the rules carefully, and you scrupulously followed each one of them to the letter. You've created the best entry you possibly could, given the restrictions that the contest's rules set out.

So you're disappointed when you find out that you weren't selected as the winner, and you're eager to see what the winning entry did that you didn't.

But your curiosity turns into anger when you realize that the judges chose an entry that should have been disqualified because it didn't follow the sweepstakes rules. Aaarrrgh!

This is one common example of a time when a contest doesn't follow its own rules. Maybe the rules stated that no logos other than their own, but the winning entry has other logos. Maybe a recipe contest entry didn't include required ingredients, or a photo entry didn't fit the contest's theme. Or maybe quality writing was a criterion of a writing contest, but the winning entry has spelling and grammatical errors throughout. All of these are frustrating.

There are other ways that contest sponsors can ignore their own rules, too. They can change their minds about how winners are chosen, or seem to ignore their own judging criteria or change the entry dates listed in the rules.

Contest sponsors rightfully expect entrants to follow their rules, but they should be equally vigilant in sticking to the rules themselves. Otherwise, it can leave a bad impression of their company, and perhaps even lead to legal troubles.

Giveaways That Make You Jump Through Too Many Hoops

Businessman Looking Down Road Lined With Hoops To Jump Through
Sure, sweepstakes have to profit their sponsors, but too many hoops drive entrants away. DNY59 / Getty Images

We've already covered that good giveaways have advantages both for entrants and for their sponsors. But one thing that sweepstakes really hate is when sponsors take too much advantage of their desire to win and try to make them jump through lots of hoops to enter.

Examples of ways that some sponsors take advantage of their entrants include having to page through pages of "special offers" for the entry to go through, being required to like or follow the social media pages of dozens of partner pages (blog contests are infamous for this), or deluging the entrant with spam after their entries go through.

Everyone hates being taken advantage of, and companies that push their entrants too hard risk making a bad impression.

There are a few steps that you can take to protect yourself from giveaways that are a little too predatory, including:

Sweepstakes' Sites That Crash or Are Often Unavailable

Under Construction
Sweepstakes websites that don't work can drive sweepers crazy. Dragonian / Getty Images

To win sweepstakes regularly, I recommend setting aside a certain time every day when you can sit down and get your entries done. So it's really frustrating when you have set aside some precious sweepstakes time, then find out that the website for one of the sweepstakes you want to enter simply isn't working.

Websites that crash frequently, freeze your browser, or are unavailable when you need to enter are all problems that will turn sweepstakes fans away from your giveaway.


scam alert
Cheaters drain the fun from many contests and sweepstakes. xubingruo / Getty Images

If there's one thing that's sure to leave every sweepstakes fan seeing red, it's people who cheat contests or sweepstakes.

Cheaters are bad for the sweepstakes hobby in every way. They take up sponsor's time and resources, making it more expensive to run giveaways (resulting in fewer chances to win). They take prizes that should have been won by legitimate entrants. And they make it harder to enter, since sponsors have to take steps like using CAPTCHAs to shut down cheaters.

Some examples of cheating include people who use bots or scripts to manipulate voting contests, people who use IP switching and fake names and email addresses to enter more often than allowed, and people who enter giveaways that they're not eligible to win (i.e., ignoring restrictions that say you can only enter if you're a smoker, if you are above or below a certain age, or if you have kids).

I know it can be tempting to cheat when you're desperate to win, but it does a lot of harm to everyone in the long run... even you. Especially when sponsors catch on and disqualify you, or even blacklist you. Remember that contest fraud is a crime, and you could end up in legal trouble as well, as with this mother-daughter team who were arrested after cheating a Coca-Cola sweepstakes.

Stick to the rules and play fair, and the prizes will come.