Written by Carlo Pacis
Get Carlo Pacis to personally send you his new posts.

5 Back-to-School Promotions That Work Better than a Sale

Children are crying, parents are silently rejoicing… and marketers are furiously at work.

It’s that time of year again - back to school!

If it wasn’t already obvious from the ridiculous number of commercials and the influx of sales on Sharpies, staplers, and everything school-related, back to school is prime time for marketers to reach potential customers.

While you’re gearing up for the upcoming school season, I’d like to share a few of the most engaging back-to-school contests from last year that businesses ran through the Wishpond platform. I’ll dive deep into each example and show exactly what made each contest successful.

Here we go!

Download the Complete Guide to Website Contests & Promotions to learn how to create successful contests and maximize their benefit to your business.


Back to School Contest #1: Jet’s Pizza

Contest Overview:

Agency Strive Creative ran a simple back-to-school contest for American pizza franchise Jet’s Pizza called #CaptionTheJetMan, a caption contest featuring their mascot, Jet Man (go figure).

The premise was simple: users captioned Jet Man’s “school photo”, and their captions were publicly voted on. The entry with the most votes won a $50 Jet’s Pizza gift card.

back to school contest

The Numbers:

Jet’s caption contest was viewed 10,302 times and garnered a massive 60.1% conversion rate, which added up to a total of 6,195 emails in exchange for just a $50 gift card! The contest racked up over 2,800 entries and over 3,200 voters.

How You Can Find the Same Success:

  • Keep it simple: There’s no doubt that Jet’s fantastic conversion rate and overall success was due in no small part to how easy it was to enter. To enter, people just needed to write a quick caption - something that takes only a few seconds.


  • Promote on other channels: Jet’s Pizza shared their back-to-school contest to their 5,000-plus Twitter followers, and created some creative graphic content to go along with their campaign. Creating unique branding materials for your contest will help increase engagement with your audience.
  • Run a vote contest: A vote contest is great because entrants are likely to ask their friends to vote, which drastically increases the reach of your contest. Jet’s also embedded social share buttons with each entry, which made it easy for entrants to spread the word about Jet’s contest.

Back to School Contest #2: Cricut

Contest Overview:

Cricut sells personal electronic cutting machines that allow users to design projects from their computers, tablets, or smartphones, which they can send to their Cricut machine to be produced from different materials including vinyl, cardstock, and leather.

Cricut hosted 70 giveaways in 7 weeks for their back-to-school photo contest with prizes ranging from $40 to $685, including Cricut machines and other art supplies. The theme of the giveaway was “teacher appreciation,” so only teachers were eligible to win.

There were two methods of entry:

  • Teachers could nominate themselves, by uploading a photo (usually of themselves or their classrooms) along with a short blurb about why they want to win.
  • Parents (and others) were also allowed to nominate teachers with a photo and the reason the teacher should win.

Each week, Cricut chose 8 winners and the community voted for the remaining 2.

back to school contest

The Numbers:

Cricut’s back-to-school photo content managed a humble conversion rate of 25.8%… but get this: They had 1,264 entrants and 24,905 votes! Because voters were eligible to vote once a day, they scored a total of 37,884 conversions. Awesome.

How You Can Find the Same Success:

  • Multiple winners: A lot of people (myself included) don’t enter contests because, well, what’s the point - we’re probably not gonna win anyways, right? Having multiple winners like Cricut suggests to people that they’re more likely to win, meaning they’re more likely to enter. back to school contest
  • Make people care: The theme of “teacher appreciation” created an emotional connection with entrants and especially voter, who were more likely to convert because they wanted to see their favorite teachers win. You’re likely to get a greater number of conversions if your audience cares about the campaign they’re interacting with.
  • Run your contest for a longer period of time: This is connected to the previous point. Because they had so many prizes, Cricut was able to generate buzz consistently over seven weeks thus allowing the campaign to grow the way it did. This increases the likelihood that your target audience will become aware of your campaign through channels like social media.

Back to School Contest #3: Prismacolor

Contest Overview:

Prismacolor ran a back-to-school vote contest with four prize packages valued between $250 and $900. Entrants were required to upload photos of their artwork created using Prismacolor markers or pencils, along with a testimonial explaining why they enjoyed using Prismacolor products.

Because the contest ran around back-to-school time, it ensured parents and children alike kept Prismacolor top-of-mind when shopping for art supplies.

back to school contest

The Numbers:

Prismacolor’s back-to-school contest amassed 17,789 views, 206 entries and 3,515 votes. The total value of their prize packages was around $2,300.

How You Can Find the Same Success:

  • Feature entries in a gallery: By having a gallery of art created using the product being promoted in addition to testimonials from Prismacolor users, anyone visiting the contest landing page would see the quality of the products and genuine product endorsements. This incentivizes visitors to enter the contest and pushes them to keep Prismacolor in mind when shopping for art supplies in the future.

back to school contest

  • Highlight your prizes: Prismacolor featured all four of their prizes with product shots and their prices in a graphic on the contest landing page. By making potential entrants aware that their prizes were worth up to $900, Prismacolor likely received entries from people who may have thought they would just be winning a set of markers.
  • Collect user-generated content: Requiring entrants to use their products in their entries and provide testimonials allowed Prismacolor created a library of real content they could use in their future marketing efforts. Though in this case it had no direct effect on the contest itself, you can use UGC to market the contest as it’s happening, which adds variety to your marketing materials.

Back to School Contest #4: IHT Spirit System

Contest Overview:

IHT Spirit System, a developer of wearable technology and physical education assessment software, partnered up with Adidas to present the IHT Spirit Challenge - a back-to-school sweepstakes.

To enter, participants needed to provide their emails and post to Twitter saying they were “committed to doing 1 healthy thing today” with the hashtags #UnleashYourBestSpirit and #PhysEd, in addition to mentioning @IHTUSA.

The prize was a “complete spirit system” valued at over $10,000, which I’m assuming was a rather extensive series of wearables, assessment software, and curriculum resources.

back to school contest

The Numbers:

The contest received 689 views and 181 conversions, with a conversion rate of 26.3%.

How You Can Find the Same Success:

Though the number of leads the campaign generated seems underwhelming considering the value of the prize package, there are a few things you can take away from IHT’s contest.

  • Team up with influential brands: By partnering up with Adidas, IHT increased the legitimacy of their contest. Seeing a familiar brand makes people less hesitant about trading their information in exchange for a contest entry, which has a positive impact on your conversion rates.
  • Require social interaction from entrants: Requiring participants to post on social media about the contest you’re running serves two primary purposes. First, it spreads the word about your brand, which helps to disseminate information and increase awareness within the market. Secondly, it helps to inform people about your contest which will increase the conversions you receive, giving you more leads.

back to school contest

  • Use testimonials from past contest winners: IHT featured a testimonial from one of the past winners of their IHT Spirit Challenge on their landing page, which highlighted the benefits they experienced after winning. The testimonial was accompanied by a picture of the winning school’s PE teacher and several students, which helps to “humanise” the contest and increase conversion rates. Like partnering with other brands, this also increases legitimacy.

Back to School Contest #5: The PEACE Fund & Los Angeles Unified School District

Contest Overview:

I’m cheating a little because this contest didn’t run during the back-to-school season, but it saw great success and is full of takeaways you can use for your own back-to-school contest.

The PEACE Fund, a non-profit charity with a mission to make a “positive difference to the lives of children living in extraordinarily difficult circumstances” ran a contest called “A New Year, New Opportunities” with the Los Angeles Unified School District. They chose 30 classrooms to participate in a contest, 9 of which won 10 Microsoft Surface tablets.

To enter the contest, The PEACE Fund required each class to create a video showcasing their classrooms and explaining why they needed to win. Winners were chosen by public voting and were announced on The PEACE Fund Radio Show and LATalkRadio.

They split their contest into three - one contest each for elementary, middle, and high schools. I’ll be using their elementary school contest for this example.

back to school contest

The Numbers:

The PEACE Fund’s elementary school contest had 13 school entrants. It received 35,672 views and 4,978 conversions for a conversion rate of 14%.

How You Can Find the Same Success:

  • Find fitting participants: The prize for the contest was undoubtedly going to have a significant impact on the entrants. In this case, it was a good idea to pre-select the entrants for the contest to ensure the prize package went to a fitting winner. Because The PEACE Fund’s goal was to spread awareness of their charity by attracting voters, it didn’t matter that they only had 13 entrants.

  • High-effort entries: Requiring their entrants to create videos to participate made the contest compelling, both visually and emotionally. Voters were able to see the people they were interacting with and directly affecting, which made them more likely to convert and care about the contest. This has certainly helped to keep The PEACE Fund in voters’ minds, increasing the likelihood that they would donate in the future.
  • Run multiple contests: If you have several prizes to give, you may find your conversion rates are higher when you run multiple contests. Splitting contests up using some factor (age, location, etc.) decreases the number of entrants per contest which subsequently increases potential entrants’ chances of winning. In addition to this, dividing vote contests into several groups may make them more “fair” (it’s probably not that fair to pit a trained artist against a preschool student in a painting vote contest).

Conclusion

I hope these tips help you out as you’re gearing up your business for the back-to-school season! We all know by now that contests are a great way to spread awareness and increase your reach - it’s just about sticking to best practices to maximize your results.

Let me know what you think! Are there any other awesome back-to-school contests you’ve seen?

Written by Carlo Pacis

Carlo is a Content Marketer at Wishpond who lives and breathes all things social media. He also has an obsession with music, sneakers, and coffee. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @carlonathan.