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Contests are a fun, and inexpensive way to build buzz for your business.  Everyone loves to win great prizes, especially prizes that they wouldn’t normally give themselves, or are worth a lot of money.  The media loves contests too, and if you do it right, your company can garner thousands of dollars in free advertising just by running a contest!

The keys to running a successful contest are to make it easy for people to enter, make it newsworthy, have valuable prizes, (you can enlist other business owners to go in with you), spread the word, and make it fun!  And don’t forget to check the laws in your state before running a contest.

Here are 27 contests that will build buzz for your business, and help you get noticed by the media and new customers alike!

1.         Ugliest Contest.  This is one of my favorites and can be successful for a variety of businesses:    Have contestants submit photos or videos of their ugliest “blank” to win your service.    For example, Therma Tru Doors is sponsoring a “World’s Ugliest Door” Contest.  Please don’t use anything like “The Ugliest Mother” contest; it probably won’t go over very well.

2.         Ugliest House or Room:  HomeVestors put on the “World’s Ugliest House Contest.” This contest would be great for a House Painter, Home Organizer, Interior Designer, Architect, Remodeling Company, Home Stager, and Home Furnishings Store etc.  Have people submit photos to your website with the reasons why they think they should win a room makeover.  Make it more fun by allowing the public to vote too!

3.         Ugliest Web Page or Logo: Have contestants submit their link to your website, and invite the public to vote on it.  The winning entry gets a complete Business Makeover!  Utah’s LogoWorks did this and gained tons of media exposure!

4.         Ugliest Business Card or Stationary, Same as above, can be successful for a Printing Company, Marketing Consultant or Graphic Designer.

5.         Celebrate Special People Contest: Nominate your special or deserving person to win a prize that they would enjoy.   See below for some ideas.

6.         Mother’s Day: Enter a deserving mother or grandmother to win the prize of her dreams.  The possibilities are endless: Makeover, vacation, family photo shoot, gift baskets, jewelry, home makeover, Queen for a Day, etc.

7.         Father’s Day Contest. What father wouldn’t want to win “Father of the Year?” along with an awesome cache of prizes?

8.         Man or Woman of the Year. You will see this award sponsored by a Chamber of Commerce, but who says you can’t run your own?  You get to name the criteria for winning.

9.         Service Person of the Year: Nominate a service person for special recognition.  This would be an awesome way to recognize our brothers and sisters in the armed forces, or who are serving in the Middle East.

10.       Doctor, Dentist, and Lawyer, of the Year: If your target market is Dentists, for example, have a contest for dentists to win Dentist of the Year.  They can nominate themselves, or be nominated.  Make it a big deal and hold a ceremony announcing the winner and inviting all of their friends, family and peers.

11.        Win a “Free” Giveaway: Everyone loves to get free stuff, so why not sponsor a contest so they can.  This is one you see all the time…  For example, the NBC show “Heroes” is sponsoring a NBC Heroes’ Nissan Mobile Device Giveaway Sweepstakes for a chance to win a car valued at over $16,000!

12. Win Free Flowers for a Year, or Free House Cleaning, Free Groceries, Free Oil Changes, Free Home Repairs, Free Photos, Free Manicures, Free Oil Changes, Free Lunches, etc.

13.       Win a “Scholarship.” Dr. Larrabee, of Advanced Orthodontics in Mesa, Arizona, sponsored a contest for local junior high students to win a scholarship for free braces.  The students had to be nominated by a teacher or a counselor and had to have economic need.  The contest not only generated the doctor free publicity, but enormous good will in the community, which turned into many new patients!

14.       Special Holiday Contest: Contests for special or unusual holidays are a popular way to get noticed.  For example, May 6th is National Grump Out Day. Have a No grump zone, hold a laughing contest, have people submit their funniest or most embarrassing moment.  For a list of unusual holidays, check out:  Brownie Locks.Com,

15.       Special Week Contest. The first week in May is “Be Kind to Animals” week, sponsored by the American Humane Society.  Have contestants send photos of their favorite pet, sponsor a pet fashion show, or the most unusual pet contest.

16.       Special Month Contest:  May is National Barbecue Month, National Motorcycle Safety Month, National Smile Month, National Older American’s Month, and it goes on and on and on.  Since most people love to eat, you could sponsor a barbecue cooking contest, or have people nominate their favorite barbecue restaurant.  For National Smile Month, you could sponsor a best smile or worst smile contest (if you’re a dentist) or have a smile- a-thon contest.  Now that sounds like fun!

17. Patriotic Contest: Have contestants write a patriotic essay, or submit a patriotic photo, or nominate a patriotic person.  This could be run in conjunction with a patriotic holiday such as Memorial Day or 4th of July.

18.       “Best of” Contest: Newspapers have been doing this for years for the simple fact, it works!  Why do they do it?  Because some of the “winners” buy advertising with them!  This type of contest works great if you own a publication, or are an advertising or marketing company, but just about any company can do it.

19. “Win Your Dream” Contest. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is sponsoring a “Win Your Dream Home.” Contest. Your contest doesn’t have to be so elaborate.  Maybe it’s a “Win Your Dream Night on the Town,” instead.

20.      Naming Contests: One of my clients is launching a new product, but he’s having a hard time thinking of a name so we’re inviting the public to name it.  The winner gets free product!

21.       World Record Setting Contests: In honor of launching a new flavor in 2004, Snapple Beverages hosted a “World’s Largest Watermelon Contest.”

22.       Food Eating Contests: I’m not a big fan of making a pig out of myself, but food eating contests are fun.   From hotdogs to pizza, to jello, etc.  You can have a lot of fun with this one!  Did you know that Nathans Famous Hot Dogs has been running their world famous contest for over 93 years?

23.       Mud Mania Contest: Scottsdale, AZ, has been the host of the mud mania contest every year since 1976.  The original event a promotion by a cleaning company to feature their cleaning product!

24.       Cooking Contest: This could be run in conjunction with a special month such as “National Hotdog Month, or to specifically feature your brand or product such as the Pillsbury Bakeoff which has been a successful event for Pillsbury brand for over 40 years!

25.       The “Oldest” Contest:  This could become nostalgic.  Host a contest for the “Oldest” pair of jeans, tie, suit, outfit, etc…

26.       The “Worst” Contest: How about a contest featuring “My Worst Hairstyle.”  Have contestants submit photos for a chance to win a spa weekend, makeover, or you name it.

27.       “Hit Television Show Contest: Functional Fitness, a fitness training studio, in Gilbert, Arizona, launched a “Biggest Loser” contest piggybacking on the popular TV Show “The Biggest Loser.”  Pay attention to what’s popular and have a contest about it.  Some shows that come to my mind right now are:  “What Not to Wear, and “Celebrity Apprentice.”

As you can see, as far as contests go, the possibilities are endless; you are only limited by your imagination.  So now it’s your turn!  What other kind of contest would build buzz for your business?