Public Voting Contests – Worth It or Not?

If you’re active on social media, it’s likely you’re solicited by your friends to vote for them in some public voting competition or another from time to time. The winner is determined by the number of votes they receive over a period of time. The voting web site typically limits votes to one per day from a user account or IP address that gives the contestants incentive to remind their social circle to vote daily.

It’s repetitive and annoying for both the participants and their social circles. The prize should be worth it. The contestant’s motivation is clear even if a prize is not involved. They get bragging rights and the organization holding the contest gets a new audience, often at the expense of a more deserving winner.

Since getting involved in short films, I found myself looped into one. There was a competition involving the poster for our short film, Spammer. I did not enter the contest. I did submit Spammer to a film festival and it was nominated by the festival judges. Voting had already started by the time I found out.

Our poster was neck and neck with another. The competition was a poorly lit photo of a nearly naked woman coming out of a shower. That’s it. A professional graphic artist designed ours, it features more elements and custom art and, even objectively, it’s superior. Yet, this other poster was ahead, because boobs.

In this case, I did contact people involved in Spammer to drum up votes. This was a slap in the face. There was no prize at stake, just the popular vote. I was fundamentally offended – not at boobs in the poster, but at the boobs voting for this schlock poster over something artistically superior. I gave in to righteous indignation. There was no prize, but my pride. I couldn’t stomach the thought of an inferior poster winning even though there was no tangible incentive.

We did win after soliciting our social media circles to click the right likes. Had I not known about it, the inferior entry would have won and I wouldn’t have annoyed my friends.

Spammer was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award last year for best short film. It showed someone thought well enough of the film to enter it.  I knew we wouldn’t win when I saw the other nominees had a larger social media following and did not push people to vote for it. Aside from bragging rights, there is a trophy featuring the bust of the eponymous actor. This time around, I was just happy to get nominated. 

The M is for Masticate video in the ABCs of Death 2 was open to public submissions and public voting. It’s an anthology film in where people die based on the 26 letters of the alphabet (A is for Amateur, B is for Badger, etc). The winner, as it turns out, is cinematic and well done. I’m sure that helped them win, but their popularity and social media following was a factor. It gives the distributors a built-in audience.

Their motivation for holding the contest is clear. The winner gets even more publicity and another line item to put on their resume. The participant’s motivation is clear. And somewhere in the middle, artistic integrity is rightfully called into question.

Is the winner really the best or are they just the ones with the largest following? Based on this contest, it’s both. The top three might belong in the top three in an objective closed judging competition, but the winner is the one with the best voting campaign.

In smaller competitions, like the poster contest, fewer people are aware of the contest and the outcome is swayed by the participants’ success in rallying their following to vote. The contestant with the largest fan base prevails irrespective of merit.

Widely publicized competitions with unbiased voters are more likely to arrive at a worthy winner, like the Doritos Superbowl commercial contest, but are still not in the clear. Populist voting leads to populist choices. So, that leads us to closed judging (e.g. the Academy Awards) which is also subject to bias. Outside of a math test, there’s no objective right answer, just matters of degree.

A recent dispute between a couple of friends centered around an online voting competition. Names are changed. Laura asked her friends to vote for her in competition open to public vote. Kate responded that she would vote for whom she felt was the best contestant and that might not be Laura. Laura’s coming from a point of view of integrity, while Laura is trying to rally her friends’ support. 

The prize is not an empty one. It’s $20,000 and a pictorial feature in a magazine (not a skin mag – get your minds out of the gutter). Kate thought the prize was only bragging rights and said she’d vote for who she felt is most deserving. Meanwhile Laura’s competitors are doing exactly the same thing and rallying their social circle for votes. Who’s right?

Regardless of whether I agree with the process or not, I can see the justification. If there were no audience, there would be no sales. No sales and there would be no funds to make the film, event, art, etc.

While I haven’t entered any of my own work into a public voting contest, I wouldn’t rule it out. Inherently, I don’t like them; however, it depends on what’s at stake. If I’m going to the trouble of prodding my friend to vote for something and annoy the hell out of them, I’m going to make sure it’s worth it. For example, if one of my films is in competition for a spot on Project Greenlight (fantasy scenario), you bet I’d be drumming up the votes. If it’s just bragging rights, I’ll pass.

Leave a Comment