Competitions 2: Expanding the caller base

There are few callers more irritating than the ‘prize pig’ – the person who always calls in to take part in phone-in competitions and then invariably seems to win. We know who they are and the listeners know who they are; but they keep on calling and keep on winning.

The reason they keep on getting through is because we let them. We don’t sift them out. I know of a number of radio stations that try to do this but are outwitted by prize pigs who enter competitions under pseudonyms or use their neighbour’s or friends’ names and contact details. They’re sneaky little fuckers. A further justification for hating them.

Another reason they keep on getting through is part mathematical, part psychological. The reality is that most listeners don’t take part in competitions, because they think they’ll never win, so only a fraction of a station’s listener base actually phones in. This means the chances of the same person winning are, mathematically, much higher than if we all had our local radio station’s competition line hot-keyed into our cellphones.

But why don’t more people phone through? That’s because human psychology around this is a little weird. We think that because everyone would like something for free, everyone will phone in for a competition. However, the moment you give the competition line number out on-air and say “phone now” the average listener thinks “there’s no way I’ll get through”, so they don’t bother. Prize Pig on the other hand feels nothing. He or she hits the hot key on their cellphone, gets through, wins the prize and the other listeners think “oh no, not Agatha Bumfluff again – she always wins”.

Do not despair. If a competition demands listeners phone in (as opposed to texting or using social media), there are two ways in which you can cut prize pigs out of the equation. One is to swamp the station with other callers, i.e. increase the size and diversity of your caller base, thereby reducing the chance of them getting through; and the other is simply not allowing them to qualify.

Remember what I said in the previous update about ‘maximising reward’? Essentially, the more successful competition is one where as many listeners as possible take part. Now if you want them to cross the threshold and become contestants (i.e. pick up the phone and enter a competition) you have to make them think that as few callers as possible are going to phone in. The listener’s logic works this way: “if fewer people are allowed to phone through, it increases my chances of winning”.

And this is where you get sneaky. Instead of opening a competition to every Tom, Dick or Hennie, you restrict the qualification criteria, but in a fun and entertaining way. You say something like this: “Today the competition is only open to people with more than one vowel in their first name”. This means Tom and Dick are not allowed to take part, but Hennie is. It’s quite possible that Hennie would never normally take part in a competition but if he thinks that fewer people will qualify, he stands a better chance of getting through and therefore winning; so he is more inclined to pick up the phone. Of course no one is telling Hennie that thousands of other people are now thinking exactly the same thing.

Doing this also provides the added value of getting every listener to react a bit more. In the above example you can almost guarantee that every listener is thinking “Hmmm, does that mean I would qualify? Let me think – A-L-B-E-R-T-I-N-A. By golly, yes!” They may not actually phone in, but they have thought about whether or not they qualify; therefore they have reacted to the competition.

This is also a good tool to use if a prize is relatively small but you are looking for a contestant to use as a toy (see previous update). Let’s say you’re only giving away movie tickets, but you’re looking to add a little fun to your show and you don’t want Prize Pig to win. You can say something like this: “Today the competition is only open to people who gave their maths teacher at school a wicked nickname.” The moment you’ve said this, every listener will then think back to when they were at school and the names they gave their maths teachers – or any of their teachers for that matter. They are also more likely to stay listening to hear some of the wicked names other people called their maths teachers at school. In this competition the prize is secondary to the fun you can have when someone phones through and says, “We used to call our maths teacher ‘Numbnuts’”. You can then ask them why, and develop the link from there.

More importantly, when Prize Pig phones through (and they will) and you recognise them (off-air, because you never take a caller cold on-air), you can tell them that the name they gave their maths teacher (‘cause they’ll just make one up, they’re that sleazy) wasn’t particularly wicked, but have a nice day anyway, goodbye! Well done, you’ve just lost the pig.

Here are some other examples that would help sift out prize pigs, increase your caller base, provide possible topics of entertainment and encourage people to stay tuned for the fun that could follow: “Today the competition is only open to people who….”

“…were dumped by their boyfriend or girlfriend last night”

“…know of a particularly painful way to remove unwanted body hair”

“…saw their neighbours doing strange things recently”

“…have a dog or cat with a funny name”

You can push the envelope a bit by saying “Today the competition is only open to people who are wearing black underwear”, and then when someone phones through you insist that an independent third party has to verify (on-air) that their underwear is indeed black. Or you can ask them to describe their underwear in detail. That way when they get to work (unless they’re at work already) everyone will know what their underwear looks like.

The secret here is to be inclusive and selective at the same time. You can’t be too inclusive (“…people with both their eyebrows”) because that just defeats the whole object. At the same time you can’t be too selective; after all you’re not going to get that many callers if you say something like, “today the competition is only open to people who have the Mona Lisa tattooed on their butt”, or “today the competition is only open to people who can list the entire Croatian national curling team”.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but opening a competition to more callers by being more selective in the qualifying process increases your chances of getting a more diverse selection of contestants. By being a little off-the-wall in your selective criteria you add a little more entertainment and increase your chances of holding the attention of the listener who is not going to phone in. Using both these tools will therefore increase the impact of competitions on your show and, at the same time, help you filter out those irritating callers who hog all the competitions – the prize pigs.

It will also help you keep ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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