An open letter regarding 10 Magazine’s video contest

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Dear 10 Magazine:

I should start by saying you’re a great magazine. The event calendar that makes up the latter half of every month’s issue is a reminder of how many things are happening in this country. The articles are helpful, the advertisements attractive, and the monthly theme well-thought out. A sincere congratulations on your excellent product.

With that said, running contests on your website is not your forte.

Dear 10 Magazine:

I should start by saying you’re a great magazine. The event calendar that makes up the latter half of every month’s issue is a reminder of how many things are happening in this country. The articles are helpful, the advertisements attractive, and the monthly theme well-thought out. A sincere congratulations on your excellent product.

With that said, running contests on your website is not your forte.

Along with dozens of other people, I created a video for 10 Magazine’s ‘make a Korean tourism commercial‘ contest – the grand prize of which was a trip to Tokyo, Japan. My entry, which put together a couple dozen photos that emphasized the variety of things to see in Seoul, measured in at just over 30 seconds. It complied with the Terms and Conditions as they existed when the submission period ended. I recognized that the judging would be split into two parts – the first to narrow the entries to 10 finalists using readers’ votes, and the second to rank the finalists using people from the tourist industry.

That sounds nice. In theory, at least. In reality, it turned into a popularity contest – votes went to those who have more Facebook friends and more time to e-mail their buddies. The popular videos blew everything else out of the water. The top 10 videos – some more deserving than others – thus became the only ones to be considered by the professionally knowledgeable judges.

I should state that I’m not bitter or angry about not winning – there was definitely some improvement needed in my entry. If I recall correctly, the original concept of this contest was to create a tourism commercial – one that would encourage people to come to Korea and show people what it’s like:

As a foreigner in Korea have you ever found yourself criticizing Korea’s publicity efforts? Let’s face it, most of the promotional materials have been made by Koreans, and hence appeal more to Koreans. Well here’s your chance to show the world what awaits them in Korea from a foreigner’s perspective!

That can be interpreted a number of ways – and true, you didn’t want to put a limit on people’s creativity. However, the top 10 were not necessarily the commercials most likely to succeed as an actual tourism commercial. Maybe that was just my interpretation, of course, but one that seems to have been taken by quite a few other entries. The ones that didn’t take that tack? A foreign English teacher surrounded by Korean kids and quoting basic facts about the country, or a distorted-looking video with a clever rap? The former seems better-placed on a documentary channel, while I’ll be looking for the latter as a viral hit in short order.

Another issue was a sense of ambiguity regarding the rules – and the willingness to ignore them with impunity. At one point, the rules stated videos should be between 30 seconds and 2 minutes and of MPG or AVI format. No biggie. A few people reported having problems uploading a video in those formats, so you allowed another format. Again, no biggie. When a few videos rounded up to 2 minutes and a second after being uploaded on Youtube, it wasn’t a big deal. When 42 videos showed up at your doorstep, they weren’t whittled down to 20 for people to vote on – either the scenario of too many videos was never considered, or the thought of eliminating half the videos before popular consideration was distasteful.

The idea of ‘fair use’ for music was considered, then rejected. The concept of copyright is complex, so you give a clear answer – you need to make everything yourself. You made that clear in the comments section of the contest post – then changed your mind. A closer look at some of the top 10 videos indicated the use of copyrighted material – at least one featured a series of professionally-taken photos (possibly a set of postcards?), while another featured a Korean remake of Pachelbel’s Canon.

Bear in mind, none of these changes happened in the terms and conditions of the contest. You know, the place where you’d look for the terms and conditions of a contest? Say you stumble across the contest, scan through the terms / conditions / rules, but forget to look through the comments of the related posts – and get disqualified / penalized as a result of not following a rule that wasn’t in the rulebook? No mention of copyright was mentioned in the 27 paragraphs of the terms and conditions.

The same situation came up during April’s ‘who’s your favorite English blogger in Korea‘ poll. The prize there was little more than the fame of being acknowledged in a monthly publication, yet the same things happened – people complained about the rules, and the rules were changed after the contest had started. I understood the reasons – and probably would’ve done the same thing considering the circumstances. In any case, the same issue of ‘favorite‘ and ‘best‘ came up. The winner of that poll – Six in Seoul – garnered 29% of all votes, yet the writer is no longer in Korea; another top 5 finisher on the ‘favorite’ poll was erased from the poll – disqualified as if the blog had never been voted on.

Look, 10 Magazine can be Korea’s version of American Idol – you could be the “best” singer, but the “favorite” singer is the one that wins in the end. That would be fine – but let’s not get these two adjectives confused. Lee DeWyze, the ninth season American Idol winner, may have been the favorite, but people will eternally debate who the best singer was. If you’re looking to be in the center of controversy, that’s one thing; if you’re looking to promote Korean tourism, the favorite may or may not move that goal forward.

10, you’re almost certainly more interested in finding the best of something, not the favorite of something. It’s far too easy to taint the results in ways that pervert the entire point of the contest. In future contests, consider using the crowd as part of the judging process, not an entire step of the process. Maybe a percentage of the final tally – and a special prize as the ‘crowd favorite’. Finding the best of something requires those impartial, professional judges that know what the best of something really is. We then put our trust in those people actually being impartial, and not being for (or against) someone for personal reasons. Presuming these judges are recognized as professionals (and they were), the contest is better for it.

By most definitions, the contest can be considered a success – plenty of hits came your way, as did new viewers unfamiliar with the magazine. The issues mentioned are fixed easily by making a clearer, thought out structure that doesn’t need to be changed. Congratulations to the grand prize winner for a clever video that made me laugh even after multiple viewings.

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Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.




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