The section of the Take a Year Off Contest's rules that were cited in the disqualification were: "Finalists are prohibited from obtaining votes for any Submission and Video by any fraudulent or inappropriate means, including, without limitation, offering prizes or other inducements to members of the public, vote farming, or any other activity that artificially inflates such Finalists' votes as determined by Sponsor in its sole discretion."
There are some very clear ways that people can break these rules. Paying for votes, using fake Facebook accounts to get more votes, giving away prizes or the chance to win prizes for people who vote -- those are clear violations.
It's fairly clear that the entrants are encouraged to ask people to vote for their entry. But the boundaries for asking for those votes are not clear in those rules -- not to me, and not to the disqualified entrant, who is a lawyer himself, and who took pains to follow the rules to the letter. I guess that no one would call it cheating if entrants would ask for votes on their Facebook pages, right? But would it be OK if they created a separate Facebook page or event to reach a broader audience? Would it be OK to send an email to their friends? What if they were on a large email list, like the PGA newsletter list that apparently helped an entrant win a $10,000 prize in a former Pampered Pet Contest? Could you take out a billboard to ask people to vote? Is simply asking people to tell you if they are also in contests, without even promising to vote back, an inducement? If you asked your mom to vote for you in a contest where the prize was a trip, and said you'd take her if you won, enough to get you disqualified for inducement? If you told your friends you'd buy them a round of drinks with cash you won an inducement?
I think it's a very interesting case, because on one hand, the companies WANT people to go out and drum up votes. On the other hand, they don't want any bad PR. They take a real risk when they leave the winner up to the public, and I wish they wouldn't do it. They can easily make voting a part of a contest, without it being a deciding factor. If you want to win a big prize like this, you simply have to reach more than your immediate friends and family.
In my opinion, the sponsor's rules were not clear enough. If they did not want people to exchange votes, they should have spelled it out. I have the feeling that if other people hadn't accused the winner of cheating, there would have been no problem awarding the prize.
The winner also had a good point in saying that some of the other finalists had broken specific rules in the contest, about the length of time of entries, the use of stock images in entries, and more. According to Theodore Scott, those entrants were not disqualified, whereas he was disqualified for a much more nebulous clause in the contest. Is it OK for the winning entry to have broken a rule that actually was spelled out?
The sponsor was smart enough to leave the rules open-ended, so they could disqualify for nearly any reason they chose, so they are probably within their legal rights. But wouldn't it have been better all around if the contestants acting in good faith would know what they could and couldn't do under the rules?
It's also an important reminder to everyone who enters contests. Reading and understanding the rules is vital. If you have any questions, be sure to contact the sweepstakes sponsor.
What do you think? Do you think that Gold Peak Tea should have disqualified Theodore Scott? What do you think about how voting is used in contests? Click on the "Comments" link below to share your thoughts!
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