|The Workshop Hair Blog|
My friend Mark got the answer wrong (he said '58) live on Chris Evans' breakfast show on Virgin Radio, and wept as he rang me on his mobile to tell me (I wept too - he was going to take me with him).
Mark is an armchair anti capitalist guerrilla. He enters about 20 competitions a week with exotic and expensive prizes - and prides himself on never purchasing the products which the competitions are supposed to promote. He is a marketing executive's nightmare - an anti-consumerist competition freak who knows how to play the system - and win. He's won a year's subscription to a luxury gym (for women only) and a video of Bryan Robson's football management highlights (the video was blank). He entered a Safeway competition designed to promote British lamb 17 times. 'You must have eaten an awful lot of lamb,' I told him. He gave me a look of withering contempt - he hadn't bought any lamb, but had peeled 17 stickers off packs in Safeway's freezer cabinet. He impressed his current partner by taking her to Paris for a weekend - won through his local paper.
Mark is part of a growing band of 'compers' with their own magazine and even their own clubs in some parts of the country. There are websites devoted to sharing details of competitions, providing the answers and suggesting slogans for tie-breakers. Radical compers know perfectly well that the competitions are the tools of the advertising industry, designed to entice us to sample their latest products. It is a badge of honour to Mark and his comrades never to buy the product being promoted.
Possibly his finest hour was his entry to win a state-of-the-art wide-screen stereophonic television package, worth £1500. Mark spends his lunchtimes in WHSmith, flicking through magazines looking for competitions to enter. One lad-mag had a cover advertising the TV competition inside, so Mark wrote down the details and replaced the mag (he would never dream of purchasing such machismo nonsense). There were three questions on the history of television to answer, so he walked three doors away to Waterstones, browsed through one of their encyclopaedias for the info, and replaced the book. Naturally, he won the prize - the television - but it never came. When he complained he was promised delivery in three days time. But still no TV, so Mark phones the British HQ of this multinational electronic giant, and finds out the Japanese name of their chief executive. Mark's letter to the CEO (UK) was a masterly example of the guerrilla compers black art - he threatened to go public on the electronic giants failure to deliver the prize, so destroying their public relations campaign at a stroke. Mark now possesses not only his £1500 television but also a £700 video recorder which was added to compensate him for his inconvenience. (The fact that it wont fit into his tiny flat is irrelevant to a true armchair guerrilla like Mark).
Cuba, competitions, art, public, relations, electronic, TV, prizes, magazines, multinational, encyclopaedias,
Compers are full of tales like these. Their organisation always makes sure that someone asks for details of prizewinners and winning slogans. Famously, one of their members spotted her winning slogan in their magazine but had not received the brand new car on offer. An embarrassed marketing manager had to explain that his company had 'forgotten' to notify her that she had won. And most competitions can be entered with 'no purchase necessary' - Mark spent half an hour in Specsavers Opticians recently whilst they confirmed he was entitled to enter their £2000 holiday competition without having to buy a pair of glasses. (Games of chance must allow 'no purchase' entries, otherwise they become a lottery, for which a licence is required. That's why so many of them have tie-breaker slogans, and so can be called games of skill). And guerrilla compers always share the news of a good comp - mass action is much more effective (remember the Hoover free-flight giveaway? - it almost bankrupted the company).
Fancy being an armchair guerrilla?
Here are Mark's tips:
Never enter telephone competitions - unless they are freephone - as these are designed to rip you off via premium rate phone charges.
Pretend you have a company car, the make of which you can choose yourself. You will then be inundated with free offers of champagne, Marks & Spencer vouchers, 24 hour test drives and entry into scores of competitions simply for letting other manufacturers know when your 'car' is due for renewal.
Ring the freephone number in car ads for their bumf, which can be put in your local re-cycling bin after you've completed their questionnaire. (Mark can't drive)
Always lie on consumer questionnaires by saying you buy 'supermarket own brand' products. You will then receive numerous free offers for the products you really purchase. Wherever possible, use the facility to submit postcard or plain paper entries to avoid having to purchase the goods. Re-cycle prize-winning slogans (available on the Web) in different competitions - the same ones win time and again. Never pay full price for the Financial Times, Telegraph, Independent or The Times.
They always have long-running 'promotions offering copies at reduced cost, supposedly to introduce you to the newspaper, but in reality to massage their circulation figures.
Guardian readers should avoid entering the excellent competitions in The Guide (published with The Guardian on Saturdays) by telephone (which is a rip-off), but instead enter via the Web or with a freepost postcard, as detailed in the small print (Mark won a runners-up prize this way).
PS Since writing this, my friend Mark has been away in Majorca for a fortnight. When relaxing on his hotel balcony, his mobile went off. A bathroom furnishings company rang him to say he had won a £2500 bathroom re-fit. He had collected a weeks tokens from the local paper running this promotion. He hadn't bothered to buy the paper, of course. He simply clipped the coupons at the end of the week from the papers in his company's press office. He says the jacuzzi will be useful for keeping the coal in. And, encouraged by Mark, Ive just won £1,000 from a Guardian cricket comp.