The best piece of junk mail I’ve ever seen came to a colleague of mine, a paleontologist at the ROM in Toronto who received a Publishers’ Clearing House-like package emblazoned with Mr. Royal O. Museum, you may have won $1 million! or some-such offer.
I thought of that this morning when the following email arrived in my in-box because I’m a subscriber to The New Yorker:
I usually throw email like this away without reading it, but I am, so to speak, unusually engaged with The New Yorker brand, so I read through it. What jumped out at me was the incentive offer:
As a thank you for completing this survey, you will be entered into a sweepstakes giveaway for a chance to win $50,000*.
Fifty thousand dollars seemed like an awful lot of money to spend to bulk up a list of “preferred subscribers.” I could understand $500. Or a chance at an iPod Touch. Or a free T-shirt. But $50,000 — from The New Yorker? And then I read the fine print (emphasis mine):
NO PURCHASE OR SURVEY COMPLETION NECESSARY. To enter and for full rules, including alternate method of entry, click here. Starts 12:01 AM ET January 12th, 2009 and ends 11:59 PM ET March 31st, 2009, when all entries must be received. Open to legal residents of the 50 United States/DC, 13 years of age or older as of the date of entry, except employees of Sponsor, Administrator, Promoter and their immediate families. Odds of winning depend on the number of Creative Presentations. If this Creative Presentation is selected, the odds of winning depend on the number of entries received through this Creative Presentation. Void outside the 50 United States/DC and where prohibited. ARV of Grand Prize: $50,000. Sponsor: ePrize, LLC, One ePrize Drive, Pleasant Ridge, MI 48069. Administrator: Equation Research, LLC, 453 E. Wonderview Avenue, #250, Estes Park, CO 80517. Promoter: The Condé Nast Publications, 1166 Sixth Avenue, 19th floor, NY, NY 10036.
So, setting aside that I’m not a US resident (something that The New Yorker should know, given that they mail me a magazine to my house in Canada every month), there’s the curious sentence “Odds of winning depend on the number of Creative Presentations.” But what exactly is a “Creative Presentation?” For this you have to turn to the contest rules. These say, in part:
Sweepstakes is offered in conjunction with multiple companies (“Promoters”) through different Web sites (“Creative Presentations”), announcing many different prizes. The Promoter for this particular Creative Presentation is The Condé Nast Publications, 1166 Sixth Avenue, 19th floor, New York, NY 10036. One (1) winner will be selected in a random drawing from among all entries received across all Creative Presentations. The prize for which an entrant is eligible depends on the Creative Presentation through which the entrant entered the Sweepstakes. All applicable federal, state, and local laws apply. ONLY ONE (1) GRAND PRIZE ACROSS ALL CREATIVE PRESENTATIONS WILL BE AWARDED IN THE SWEEPSTAKES.
If I’m reading this correctly it means that a whole bunch of companies are throwing in to run a contest together, with a single prize. And the prize is different depending on what door you walk in to sign up for it — presumably The New Yorker’s “a chance to win $50,000” could be “a chance to win $250” attached to a bag of potato chips, or “a chance to win a bag of potato chips” attached to a hot dog.
What’s even freakier is the way they pick the winner: first they randomly select one of the participating “Creative Presentations”, then they randomly select a winner from all the entrants who entered that way. The rules describe the odds of winning like this:
The odds of this Creative Presentation being selected depend on the total number of Creative Presentations. If this Creative Presentation is selected, the odds of winning depend on the number of entries received through this Creative Presentation.
Because information about the Promoters and the Creative Presentations, and how many of each there are is hidden it’s completely possible that there are 5,000 companies with 10 websites each, with hundreds of thousands of entries through each website.
In other words, the offer from The New Yorker that I will be “entered into a sweepstakes giveaway for a chance to win $50,000” is, essentially, a fake offer. Even if I were eligible to receive it, the possibility of millions and millions of other entrants makes my odds of winning small enough that it’s not really an offer at all.
So I’m not filling out the survey.