ADOTAS – So Publisher’s Clearing House wants to chat at ad:tech — I’m pretty puzzled when the request comes in. When I catch up with Andrew Zucker, chief revenue officer, I’m not sure how to break the ice; I offer my condolences about the late Ed McMahon, known for his “HI-Os” and his graceful delivery of oversized checks to lucky winners.
“Yeah,” he replies, “Ed McMahon actually was the sponsor for American Family Publishers. He did great things for the sweepstakes business though.”
No problem, he says, everybody makes that mistake (the misconception is even mentioned on McMahon’s Wikipedia page,) and he also understands my confusion over what the sweepstakes company is doing in the digital age, especially as discounted magazine subscriptions aren’t the cash cow they once were.
PCH, as the company prefers to be referenced these days, is heavily involved in lead generation through online offers, but it’s found another quite successful niche: social gaming.
PCHGames — one of nine online PCH brands including PCHLotto and PCHCoupons — launched its Mom-Jongg tournament April 28, a Mother’s Day-inspired Mah-jongg competition sponsored appropriately enough by 1-800Flowers. The top 10 finishers received a bouquet of flowers worth $40 from the sponsor in addition to PCH’s cash prizes: $1,000 for the winner, $500 for second and $250 for third. I couldn’t confirm if these cash prizes were delivered via oversized check and b-list celebrity.
This comes in the wake of a ridiculously successful inaugural tournament in January. To please hungry advertisers and game players itching to determine who was number one, PCH offered an advertiser-sponsored mah-jongg tournament and witnessed 540,000 game plays in one day in addition to an explosion in new registrations: 7,000, seven times the daily average. During the week of practice rounds, the average number of registrations was double that of a typical day.
“As an acquisition vehicle, it was great because we were able to establish ourselves as a social gaming site that had something way different,” Zucker beams.
Most registrants who came specifically for the tournament returned and become more involved in the community, making for a sweet halo effect. In February 2010, the gaming site boasted 16 million game plays, 1.6 million unique visitors, 5 million visits and 28.8 million page views. Its offerings are similar to free gaming site Pogo.com — card games, arcade games, simple strategy and so on — but PCHGames differentiates itself, Zucker says, by being all about winning.
When users register, they collect tokens that have no monetary value but are good for more sweepstakes entries, or as Zucker terms it, “chances to win.” In addition, the site offers many social networking tools as members can challenge each other, compare rankings and update their statuses.
Becoming the host of social gaming tournaments is certainly an interesting step in the evolution of company. With the magazine business on the decline in the early 21st century, Zucker explains that PCH started looking at other areas of merchandise — sweepstakes was obviously it’s “thing,” it just needed a good value proposition to allure members: cookbooks, cooking utensils, Snuggies and other “As Seen on TV” goodies.
While it’s still sending out snail mailers (“This letter could change your life!”) it’s extended the sweepstakes opportunities online with its nine sites and email marketing. Users can still sign up for various contests and offers on PCH.com — even subscribe to magazines if they’re real old fashioned.