My wife is redoing our living room and recently ordered replacement curtains from JC Penny. As you know I also helped create GetFiveStars (although I am not helping with the living room) but anything in regards to reviews gets my attention. So I was surprised last week when JC Penny asked me to write a review about the curtains.:
Several other things about it surprised me as well. One was that the call to action to write the review link was tiny, effectively buried in the bold red graphics. And secondly it surprised me that there was a sweepstakes contest at all. Aren’t contests for reviews illegal?
I dutifully clicked the link to be brought to a review and survey page that could only have been written by a committee with more requests for more types of feedback, reviews & ratings than any one human is likely to ever complete. Although now the stakes seem to have been raised to $1000 from the original $500.
Ever curious, I continued to scroll down the page trying to figure the whole thing out when I saw, far down the page, that I needed to opt in to the sweepstakes via a check the box to be eligible:
Never one to be slowed by a long form and what turned into an even longer set of rules, I clicked the See Details link and started reading the rules required for me to enter into the contest. As I read through the 2051 words that made up the guidelines I came upon the one nugget detailed about one fourth of the way in that lead to the epiphany:
Effectively that buried requirement would mean that 1)the contest was in fact legal 2)that very few souls would actually enter the contest by checking the check box and that 3)even if they did, they still wouldn’t know they needed to have the “secret code words” in their reviews to enter the contest. Those users that did check the box and dutifully wrote the review would not realize that they were not in the contest. The way its arranged JC Penny might not even be out the $500 (or is it $1000?).
The legality: Why did this make the review incentive legal? Incentives per se are not against the FTC rules. What is against the rules is not noting the incentives in the reviews so that readers would know that the reviews may have been influenced by money. These reviews would clearly indicate that.
The unlikely outcome: Given the length of the form, the almost hidden requirement for the opt in and the arcane requirements for entry mean that most reviews will not in fact be eligible to win the contest. But, because those users that did write reviews but didn’t make the Sweepstakes Entry comment weren’t actually entered into the contest, they were likely legal.
This “crafty” program will mean JC Pennys will get lots of reviews with promise of reward without the users actually entering the contest or being eligible for the reward.
Illegal? No or probably not. Totally disingenuous and deceptive yes. A plan that was likely concocted by a Reputation management expert and a lawyer. What a combo.
But I persisted. And I am now one of the (likely) few entrants in the contest. I will let you know if I win (and how much).