Note: This is an updated and expanded version of our first taxslayer post from May 5th.
Despite giving at least one filmmaker a written and signed guarantee that the 2010 Taxslayer.com video contest would not be canceled due to a lack of entries, Taxslayer shocked the poor suckers who wasted their time creating submissions for them this year when they announced that the contest was indeed being canceled…due to lack of entries. (From my count, they got at least 18 submissions which seems like plenty, doesn’t it?) The cancellation announcement came on May 5th; almost three weeks after the submission deadline had passed. Oh…and the filmmaker they gave that written and signed guarantee to was me. On their word that the contest would go on no matter how many entries were recived, I went out and spent approximately 50 hours and $400 writing, shooting and editing two entries for this year’s taxslayer contest. In total, I created 90 seconds of video content because the “taxslayer team” assured me that my efforts could be worth as much as $20,000 in prize money. I have tried repeatedly to talk to someone from taxslayer about why they lied to me and let me waste so much time and money on a contest that they knew was probably going to wind up being canceled. But so far, I’ve been met with nothing but mind-blowing levels of rudeness.
For three years, the annual Taxslayer.com commercial contest has been one of the highest profile and best known video contests on the web. In 2008, was selected as the winner of the contest. The filmmaker received $25,000 and the ad went on to air on national TV during the 2009 Tax season. In 2009, won the second annual competition and again, the filmmaker behind it was paid $25,000. Except this time (much to the surprise of many contestants) Taxslayer announced they were going to re-shoot the ad before airing it. . This re-shoot concept was never mentioned in the rules and many contests who created tv-quality entries were furious that taxslayer let them waste so much of their time and money when apparently, all they were after were ideas they could have a production company re-shoot.
In January, Taxslayer brought the contest back for 2010 but it came with some odd changes. For one, the prize for first place was reduced to $15,000 and a second place prize of $5,000 was added. But what was really bizarre were the strict submission guidelines. Filmmakers were required to submit both a 15 second and a 30 second version of their ads. So taxslayer was paying less money for more work. On top of the changes, Taxslayer would not confirm whether they wanted ads that could air on TV as-is or if filmmakers should just shoot something simple that taxslayer could remake later.
The complicated and unclear rules scared most filmmakers away but I entered and lost this contest in 2009 (my first loss ever!) and I had spent a whole year thinking of ideas I could shoot if it was was brought back. The taxslayer rules required that filmmakers upload their videos to youtube and then tag them “taxslayer2010.” So two weeks before the hard-to-forget submission deadline of April 15th, I checked youtube. The submission period had been open for 2 1/2 months but I found just ONE, SINGLE ENTRY!
Normally, seeing just one entry would make this a must-enter contest. But I remembered seeing something in the rules that said that taxslayer could cancel the contest if they didn’t get enough submissions. Entering a contest that is probably going to be canceled would be a pretty stupid waste of time. So on March 30th I sent an e-mail to Taxslayer.com. Here’s a piece of it:
I run a video contest blog called “The Video Contest news” and we’ve done a few posts about this year’s taxslayer contest. I, and many of my readers would like to enter the contest but I have a feeling that it is going to be canceled this year due to lack of entries. Is there a chance the contest will be canceled? If the contest is on for sure, and if I announced that guarantee on my blog, you for sure would get lots of new entries from our readers.
An hour later, I got this response. (The all-caps bit included)
The contest will NOT be cancelled. We regularly receive the bulk of our entries in early April.
A few seconds later, I got a second response from Taxslayer. This time it came directly from the head of the contest, Daniel Eubanks. Mr. Eubanks is the Assistant Director of the “Growth Division” at Taxslayer’s parent company, Rhodes Financial Services in Augusta, Georgia. I know all that because his electronic business card was attached to the e-mail. Here’s what he said:
I hope I didn’t sound rude in my previous email, I just wanted to make sure you knew we definitely won’t cancel the contest. Let me know if I can help with anything else.
Assistant Director of Growth
After getting such a positive response I wrote Mr. Eubanks back and said I wanted to do a post on VCN about the contest and try and clarify some of the confusing parts of the rules. Here’s a piece of my e-mail:
The filmmakers who read my website kind of make up the unofficial core of the video contest community. These are the people who regularly enter video contests and usually turn in some of the highest quality entries. After I posted about this year’s taxslayer contest I heard from a number of people who were confused by the new rules. I’ve read the rules from top to bottom and I’m still not 100% sure what is required. Would you be willing to answer a few questions and clarify a few things? If I posted these clarifications on my site, I think you would definitely see a jump in high-quality entries. The reason I asked if the contest was going to be cancelled is because from talking to other filmmakers, I get the feeling that many are going to skip this contest and instead focus on one of the other big contests that are running right now.
I then asked six questions for the article. To my surprise, Mr. Eubanks never responded. The rules implied that no questions about the contest could be answered so I took Mr. Eubanks’ silence to mean that he had already said too much and that I shouldn’t do the post.
Still, I now had personal guarantee from the head of the contest so I immediately started planning an entry. How could I not? Not only did I have inside information that the contest would not be canceled no matter how many entries were received, (and it looked like they weren’t going to get many) I had a written and electronically signed agreement to that fact from the head of the contest! That’s a legally binding contract right there, my friend! Mr. Eubanks knew that his guarantee would result in me and possibly my readers (I e-mailed a few of them about the guarantee and I know of 2 for sure that did entries) creating entries for the contest so it would be ethically and legally irresponsible as well as just plan dumb to cancel the contest after entering into such an agreement….right?
I was so excited about my inside information that after I finished my first entry (consisting of a 30 second and 15 second version, remember) I started thinking that maybe I had enough time to do a second entry. Like a sign from above, just as I was about to upload my first submission, I got another e-mail from Daniel Eubanks at Taxslayer.com on April 6th. Here it is. Presumably, everyone who entered the contest last year got this same message.
We are quickly approaching the April 15th deadline for the 2010 TaxSlayer.com video contest. We noticed that you submitted an entry last year but have not done so yet this year. We value all of our submissions and hope to receive one from you this year. If you have any questions at all about the contest please let us know. If you are already working on an entry and plan to submit it soon please reply to this email and let us know so that we can be on the lookout for your submission. Thanks for your help and we look forward to hearing from you soon.
-The TaxSlayer Team
They were begging for entries! Looking back, that e-mail really infuriates me since Taxslayer probably knew that the contest was going to be canceled when they sent out their last minute call for entries. I’m guessing the head of the contest decided he should at least make it look like he tried to get more people to submit. But how many people can really pull together a TV-quality production in just 9 days?? I can’t help but suspect that they knew that anyone entering the contest at that point would just be wasting their time and money.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking so negatively at the time. But I was worried I might knock myself out shooting another submission only to find out that the deadline was being extended. So I e-mailed Mr. Eubanks again and he said “At this time it doesn’t look like the contest will be extended.”
I just about lost my mind. This was an unbelievable opportunity and I was probably the only filmmaker who knew about it. I wrote a second script and put up a call for actors on craisglist that very day. By April 15th, I had created two complete entries for the taxslayer contest consisting of 4 videos total. The day after the deadline I checked youtube and found 18 entries for the 2010 contest and posted them all here on VCN. My odds of winning at least $5,000 was 1 in 4.5. As you can guess, my hopes were high.
So I was completely flabbergasted/crushed/befuddled/pissed when on may 5th, Taxslayer.com sent out an e-mail to everyone who submitted videos for this year’s commercial contest and announced that the 2010 competition was being CANCELED due to lack of submissions. Again, this announcement came almost 3 weeks after the April 15th cut off for submissions and just about 2 weeks before they should have announced the winners.
I have been following and entering online video contests since 2007 and I have NEVER seen this kind of thing happen before. I have seen one or two small contests disappear before any entries were recived but I think canceling a video contest after the deadline might be totally unprecedented. It’s a huge shock and major disappointment that one of the most established and best known contests would do this to all the people who spent precious time, money and resources making videos for them. Among those 18 entries I found on youtube, I saw several that I thought would make great winners. Some were professionally produced and ready for TV. I guess taxslayer didn’t feel the same way though. Here’s the e-mail they sent out:
Dear Contest Participant,
First we would like to thank you for your entry into the 2010 TaxSlayer.com Commercial Contest. We received some great submissions and are very thankful for your efforts. Regrettably we did not receive the required number of entries for the contest. Pursuant to section four of the Official Contest Rules, “If a minimum (number of)… entries are not received by the end of the contest period…the contest will be void and no prizes will be awarded.” With this in mind, the contest will be voided effective immediately. Once again we would like to thank you for your participation. Please know that as a result of this, you are released of all of your duties and obligations pursuant to the official rules.
The TaxSlayer Team
What really bothers me about this message is that the “Taxslayer Team” implies that they had no choice but to cancel the contest if a minimum number of entries were not received. This however, is not true. This is the statement from the above e-mail:
“Pursuant to section four of the Official Contest Rules, “If a minimum (number of)… entries are not received by the end of the contest period…the contest will be void and no prizes will be awarded.” With this in mind, the contest will be voided effective immediately.”
And this is what “section four of the official contest rules” actually say:
“If a minimum twenty five (25) (submitted by separate individuals) entries are not received by the end of the contest period, at the sole discretion of the sponsor, the contest will be void and no prizes will be awarded.”
As you can see, those ellipses replaced some crucial details. Taxslayer.com was not legally required to cancel their contest if they didn’t get more than 25 entries. The contest could be voided AT THE DISCRETION OF THE SPONSOR. Translation; we don’t have to cancel it if we don’t want to. Yet taxslayer intentionally omitted that fact from their letter to contestants and made it sound like the rules forced them to void the contest. That was a really scummy move.
I’m guessing that Taxslayer has gotten a lot of angry e-mails in the last few days. Sadly, they don’t even respect contestants enough to answer these messages individually. I contacted Taxslayer and asked a number of questions. They ignored my questions and e-mailed me the same form-letter response they apparently sent to everyone. Here it is:
First let me apologize on a personal note for the cancellation of the contest. I apologize if there was any confusion as to whether or not the contest would be canceled. We understand that everyone who participated committed valuable time and resources and for that we are grateful. Please note that this is our third video contest and we have never had to cancel before. In years past we have received well over the required number of submissions. Please know that we never anticipated coming up short this year. In many cases we have worked with more contestants than just the winner. That being said the number of submissions wasn’t enough to work with this year. All of the videos will remain on our radar as we plan our marketing for next tax season. If there is a video or idea that we feel would work well with our plans we will be sure to contact that contestant on an individual basis and they will in turn be compensated accordingly. Please be assured that your submissions will not be disregarded just because the contest has been cancelled.
Wait a second Mr. Eubanks…you “never anticipated coming up short this year?” Well that’s just a lie. You and I discussed that very possibility via e-mail!And you “apologize if there was any confusion as to whether or not the contest would be canceled???? I’m not confused…I was lied to! If I was confused it’s only because you confused me.
I’m sure there was a lot of pressure on Mr. Eubanks as head of the contest to get as many entries submitted as possible. But did Taxslayer really want him to go so far as to trick people into entering? After I got the canned complaint response, I wrote Mr. Eubanks again and said that his form letter did not answer any of my questions. I did hear back from him and he seemed amazed that I still cared about this dumb, ole’ contest. He gave me his number and said if I could call him if I wanted. I said I would, but first, I thought he should have this:
That’s an invoice for my time and expenses for the projects that Mr. Eubanks greenlit. The letter with the invoice explains why he’s legally obligated to compensate me for the work I did. The guy works for a “financial services” company though so I’m sure he knows full well that he screwed up and got me to enter the taxslayer contest under false pretenses. Just for the record, that invoice accurately reflects that amount of time I spent on my taxslayer videos and the amounts are based on my rates for production work. For two 30 second ads and two 15 second ads I expect to be paid $4,447.00. Trust me, that is a hell of a bargain. If I wanted to be unreasonable about this I’d also bill them for the $1,200 in new production gear I bought to shoot my entries.
Anyways, anyone care to guess how Mr. Eubanks reacted to the invoice? If you guessed “like a total jerk” you guessed correctly. My e-mails to Mr. Eubanks have all been ignored. I’ve called him several times and he never picked up. I left several messages and he never called back. Today, I finally called him from an anonymous number and he picked up. I told him who I was and guess what he did…
He hung up on me.
I wasn’t too surprised though. Earlier that day I called Rhodes Financial Services and talked to the operator. I asked for the name of the director of the “Growth division” (that would be Mr. Eubank’s boss) Can you guess what the operator did?
She hung up on me too!
I called back and she sounded pissed. I got the guy’s name though so if this Daniel Eubanks guy is not enough of a professional to deal with the mess he made, I’ll try his boss. And if anyone reading this entered the taxslayer contest this year and would like Mr. Eubanks’ boss’ contact info, just let me know.
I started this blog nine months because simply put, I love video contests. They’re fun, they’re great ways to get experience and best of all, you can make a lot of money with them. But in the last 9 months I’ve watched filmmakers get screwed every which way you could think of in these contests. 9 times out of 10 there’s nothing you can do about it. But this time, the person who got screwed is me and I just happen to have the law on my side in this matter. Mr. Eubanks knew that if he lied to me I would go out and create entries for the taxslayer contest and he knew that if he told me the truth (that the contest could have been canceled) he knew I would NOT have created any entries. I understand that the rules said that the contest MAY be canceled if fewer than 25 entries were submitted and the other people who entered this contest accepted the risk that the contest could be canceled under certain conditions. But n my case, Mr. Eubanks’ personal, written guarantee to me as a representative of taxslayer.com supersedes the generic terms of the contest rules. Why did the guy lie to me to get me to enter the contest? I don’t know…but he did. And now he and his company need to step up and fulfill their obligations. In the real world, you don’t just get to waste people’s time and money and then shrug your shoulders and walk away. You can’t just lie to people and then hang up on them when they call looking for answers. That’s not how you treat your customers. Oh yeah…that’s what really sucks about this. I’m a paying customer of taxslayer.com! I used them to file my taxes this year because I wanted to support a company that supported video contests! From here on out though, I’m a Turbo-Tax man.
UPDATE: Oh snap. We seem to have gotten the attention of someone at taxslayer.com. It looks like someone at taxslayer’s parent company, Rhodes Financial Services tried to leave this angry comment in response to this post:
Dude…get over it. You are right, as you proved, it is nearly impossible to create a quality commercial in 9 days. Your entry was awful. You would have lost anyways. Grow up, you should be ashamed of yourself. On another note I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy and his company slap a slander suit on you so fast your head spins.
That comment was made by someone using a fake name and a fake e-mail address. But I checked my web stats and it’s pretty clear that this comment was made by someone at the Rhodes Financial offices in Augusta, GA. Presumably it was the head of the contest, Daniel Eubanks since he knows I run this site and that I have been blogging about the cancellation of the contest. For a full explanation of how I could tell where the above comment came from, click here: https://videocontestnews.com/2010/05/12/did-this-angry-comment-come-from-the-head-of-the-taxslayer-contest/