A Short History of Sweepstakes

Sweepstakes and contests have been around for longer than you’d think. Hardly a modern phenomenon, the term “sweepstakes” dates back to the 15th century (in reference to a common game where everyone placed in a “stake” and the winner thus “swept,” or won, all the stakes).  The term “sweepstakes” remained a generic term for any activity in which one or few winners won a prize for many years.

Sweepstakes History

Photo Courtesy of Roadsidepictures on Flickr


The 1950’s: the Rise of the Modern Sweepstakes

Sweepstakes as we know them in modern society didn’t become commonplace until the 1950’s. Advertisers began to realize that the promise of a free prize could play a huge role in advertising. By offering the chance to win a product for free, customers became more interested in that particular product. They’d be more likely to remember and purchase that product in the future.

In fact, sweepstakes were often much cheaper than running a traditional advertising campaign (and boasted much higher brand recognition for the company). Customers would often purchase more products in order to “win”– buying more boxes of cereal to gain more sweepstakes entries.  Of course modern sweepstakes laws require that no purchase be necessary to enter or win.

The 1960’s: The First Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes

After witnessing the success of the Reader’s Digest sweepstakes in 1963, Publishers Clearing House rolled out its own in 1967. The company’s marketing team saw potential in  holding a sweepstakes as a great way to get more attention for its magazine deals. Over the years, Publishers Clearing House enticed people to enter with deals on not only magazines, but a wide variety of other merchandise and collectors’ items.

Sweepstakes in the Digital Age

Before the age of the Internet, entering a sweepstakes was a fairly time-consuming process. You had to fill out entry forms, read the official rules, fill out an address by hand, pay for postage, and send in the mail. With the rise of the Internet, you can fill out a simple form and hit “submit.”  You can enter multiple times without having to pay for postage, like our $1,000.oo Sweepstakes or our iPad 3 Giveaway. Finding new sweepstakes is now as easy as performing a simple Google search. Sweepstakes enthusiasts even create databases of current sweepstakes to help entrants find new contests.  There are even Facebook and Twitter contests, like the one right here at RewardIt.

Whatever the future holds for Sweepstakes, we know they are here to stay and will only get cooler and bigger.

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