Vote-Based video contests: A Cautionary Tale


Last fall, I found a contest sponsored by Fed-Ex called the “Why I need a bailout” video contest. Apparently, Fed-ex’s rival, UPS was lobbying for a bailout and the contest was designed to mock them. Fed-ex even built a whole website dedicated to making fun of “The Brown Bailout.”  The concept for the site and the video contest was harsh and kinda mean-spirited…so I knew I had to enter. The idea was that you were supposed to explain why you needed a bailout and Fed-Ex would give 5 people a thousand bucks each. Plus, every finalist would get 100 bucks!

Normally I don’t enter contests with such a low top prizes but since there were 5 prizes up for grabs and I figured it’d be worth a few hours of my time. So I wrote, shot and submitted what turned out to be a really good entry. But I had been a little too eager to enter this one. I read the rules after I submitted and realized I probably had just wasted my time….

The 5 winners were to be determined by a public vote.

Crap. Fed-ex was supposed to pick 10 to 30 finalists and the public would vote for their favorites. Turns out they only got like 30 entries and so everyone got to be a finalist. All humility aside, my entry was easily the best. Hands down, all the way, the best. I sent out links to friends and tried to get some votes. But immediately I noticed that the scores of certain videos were surging upwards. To vote, you had to enter your name and some other info, fill in a CAPTCHA and the hit the “VOTE” button. But I, and about 10 of the other finalists quickly realized that if you cleared your web browser’s history and then refreshed the page, you could vote again and again and again. And here’s the most outrageous part…the contest’s rules in no way forbid voting for yourself as many times as you wanted! In fact, the rules actually said You can vote for your favorite video as many times as you want!! A free-for-all was inevitable.


After a few days of trying to get votes, I gave up. All I could do was watch in amazement as some of the other contestants added hundreds of votes to their scores a day. In the end, the top 5 winners had thousands of votes. (and some of the losing videos had fewer than 50!) Going at a steady pace, re-peat voters were probably able to post 5 votes a minute which means they spent dozens of hours voting for themselves over and over and over. It was interesting to see some of them give up one at a time. Certain videos would get hundreds of new votes a day and then suddenly, their vote counts stopped going up. The 10-way race went down to a 9-way, then a 8-way, then a 7-way race. The people I felt sorry for were the ones that voted for themselves more than a thousand times but could never catch up to the people who eventually made the top 5.

It was obvious to anyone who looked at the contest site that the winners had cheated (well, technically they hadn’t “cheated” since re-voting wasn’t against the rules but it certainly looked like cheating) I tried to contact Fed-ex and got no response. I got an e-mail announcing the winners and that was it. But the winners were so embarrassing (seriously, some of them were like cell phone quality videos shot in dark rooms) and the cheating was so flagrant that Fed-Ex pretended like the whole thing never happened. They removed all the videos, hid the contest page and didn’t even mention the results on the “Brown Bailout” blog (they had been hyping the contest there for weeks.)  All links to the contest page had been removed from the site but I had bookmarked it.  They did list the winners but…and this blows my mind, there is no way to actually watch the winning videos.  What kind of video contest doesn’t even give links to the winning videos??  A really crappy one, that’s what kind.

On the bright side, at least they did send me my 100 bucks for making the finals.

A few weeks back I saw a listing for BlueBerry Muffin Tops’s “Blast of Blueberry” video contest and thought about entering for about half a minute. But then I saw in the rules that the sponsor would pick some finalists and then the “public” would vote for the winner…and that winner would only get a $1,500 prize. The logistics of that contest flashed me back to that sad, Fed-Ex “Brown Bailout” contest. That one sucked so much that I was too embarrassed to even write about it here when it went down. With those dark memories fresh in my head, I back-paged away as quickly as I could from the Blueberry Muffin Top site and thought to myself “I sure feel bad for the suckers who are going to enter that contest.”

Turns out, one of the suckers who entered that contest is a fan of VCN! A reader named Matt wrote me and explained he had made it to the “BBMT” finals. His entry is definitely one of the best and I voted for it. You can too by clicking here:

You have to register to vote of course. Matt’s entry is the one that has the thumbnail of a test subject talking to a scientist.  Here’s a direct link:  Matt’s Video.

Matt’s certainly going to have a tough time winning this one. If you’ve ever entered a vote-based video contest you know that money makes people go fucking apeshit crazy. Sure, $1,500 is a lot but some contestants will spend dozens and dozens of hours registering and voting, registering and voting, registering and voting just so they can win a little cash.

I’ve entered a few vote-based video contests over the years but Fed-Ex’s Brown Bailout contest was the last straw for me. After that one ended, I decided never again to enter a contest where the winners were picked solely by “public vote.” Really, it just isn’t worth the effort to pester my family and friends to vote for my video if some jerks are just going to sit at their computer all day and vote for themselves over and over. So heed my warnings; if a contest is letting the public pick it’s winner, DO NOT ENTER.

5 thoughts on “Vote-Based video contests: A Cautionary Tale

  1. So why didn’t you and your brother, and your friends, and your friends friends, just go on-line and vote for yourself all day long? Seems like an easy way to earn $1000. If the rules don’t say its ok, just keep voting.

  2. Since the rules said it was ok to vote for yourself over and over, I actually did try it for a day or two. But it quickly became clear that any such effort would be futile. There were at least 7 other contestants that clearly wanted it more. I remember thinking that even if I sat at the computer and logged votes for 40 hours a week, $1,000 was a pretty good week’s pay. But the other contestants were relentless and I didn’t want to risk wasting so much time.

  3. @David Rorie
    Beardy should not have worked for $2.50 per hour because he is a creative, not a data entry laborer. Come on David. Surely you were just kidding about this contest. This is one of those rare times where Beardy and I see eye to eye.

  4. Thanks for the commentary. I’m really sorry you didn’t submit a video entry.

    You’ll be happy to know that the Blueberry Muffin Tops video contest was a great one! With over 100 entries, we had a lot of people who entered who deserved both the chance to become a finalist and to vote on the finalists that have been chosen here This absolutely includes Matt’s great video.

    The winners of this video contest will go away with many prizes. Among them are a $1500 gift card, Elite gaming system packages, and large supplies of Blueberry Muffin Tops cereal. In my humble book, those prizes are easily worth the time and effort it takes to vote and rally friends and family to do the same in the spirit of competition. As you said, it really comes down to how badly you want to win. Good luck to each finalist!

    Blueberry Muffin Tops

  5. I forgot to mention in my previous comment that Blueberry Muffin Tops video contest voters can only vote once per day. That’s it. No cache clearing & refreshing can change that. Thanks!

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