How to Run Giveaways Post-GDPR

Sign spelling out Giveaway
Photo credit: Don Agnello (photo reformatted)

Yes, Giveaways Are Still Possible Under GDPR

“How am I supposed to grow my email list if I can’t run giveaways or freebies anymore since GDPR?”

We’ve heard this concern from a lot of people, but it isn’t exactly true. You CAN still run giveaways to grow your email list. And we’re here to tell you how.

On 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect for companies that do business with residents of the EU. Despite May feeling like a distant memory of cool spring days before the heat waves set in, the GDPR is still a new law. And a lot of misinformation about it is floating around the internet, especially around giveaways.

An important disclaimer: This blog represents our well-researched opinion only. This means it serves informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.

What Is a Freebie Anyway?

By giveaways and freebies, we mean free resources – including white papers, webinars and e-books – or prize drawings and sweepstakes. Those items marketers pour so much time and money into as enticements for new email subscriptions.

Note, however, that freebie has the word “free” in it. And this is where the problems start. Before the days of GDPR, a well-known tactic for growing your email list was to offer something for free.

This means that marketers promoted “free” ($0) services or products, such as a white paper or sweepstakes entry. In reality, the company’s marketing team was coupling these so-called freebies with the consumer’s implicit consent to receive promotional content. This marketing practice is also called offering “gated content.”

How gated content worked before GDPR

Step 1: A potential new email subscriber sees a link to “download a white paper for free.”

Step 2: This person follows this link and encounters a form where they have to enter their email address. They do this.

Step 3: The person becomes a new email subscriber because their data is automatically entered into the company’s database. At the same time, the new email subscriber gets access to the PDF and can download and save this knowledge.

But this freebie wasn’t ever really free to begin with.

Why Do Companies Offer Freebies in the First Place?

It’s a well-worn saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

And that goes for this kind of freebie, too. The marketing team was retroactively financing their white paper by collecting future leads.

In return, the consumer received access to this white paper, which represents a valuable knowledge resource.

The advantage for consumers was they didn’t have to pay in dollars, pounds or euros, just with their data. Of course, the consumer had the opportunity to withdraw their consent to receive emails at any point.

And they fact that they could retract their consent at any time made “paying with their data” even more attractive for some consumers. After all, they got to keep the knowledge resource they’d received or their sweepstakes entry.

Meanwhile, if a consumer withdrew their consent, the company had to stop marketing to them. Email marketers knew that they had to work hard to hold the attention of these new subscribers.

GDPR Changes to Giveaways

In Article 7, paragraph 4 of the GDPR, it states that a data subject’s consent must be “freely given” and cannot be forced. Consent to receive promotional emails has to be explicit and can no longer be implied. Because if you offer a “free service or product” but insist that the user agree to receive email marketing from you, you are “forcing consent.”

After GDPR, consent to receive promotional emails has to be explicit and can no longer be implied. This is the law saying, 'There is no such thing as a free lunch, so stop calling it a free lunch.' Click To Tweet

In layman’s terms, the law is saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so stop calling it a free lunch.”

Putting together a good knowledge resource takes time and effort. And giving away a prize costs money. But don’t worry – you don’t have to start giving everything away “completely free.”

To keep growing your list with giveaways and sweepstakes in a manner that complies with GDPR, you need to use more transparent vocabulary.

Reframing the Freebie: How to Grow Your Email List with Giveaways

The switch that you need to make is to be clear that the product or service you are offering is not “free of charge.” The consumer is paying in data instead of dollars, pounds or euros. Of course, you also need to always make sure the consumer knows they have the right to revoke consent at any time.

Follow these two tips and we think you’ll be in good shape:

1) The tie-in has to be presented as an exchange.

Here are some example we think work well:

“Your email address is the admission ticket for our webinar.”
“New subscribers to my monthly email list receive my latest e-book in a welcome email.”
“Sign up for our newsletter to receive our white paper and further news from us.”

2) Watch your words.

If you are asking for data, don’t use misleading phrases like “free,” “no charge,” or “free of charge.” Remember, according to the GDPR, these items are NOT free, they cost something – data. Let your potential new leads know that.
Present your tie-ins as an exchange and don't use misleading phrases like 'free,' 'no charge' or 'free of charge.' #GDPR #GrowYourEmailList Click To Tweet

Read more about email marketing and the GDPR by downloading our GDPR white paper. The cost of the white paper is, of course, your email registration for our newsletter.

Pen next to a checkbox stating "I agree"
Transparent consent is the key to running post-GDPR giveaways.

Sweepstakes and Prizes: How to Use Contests to Grow Your List Post-GDPR

Here’s the thing: Doing any sort of tie-in to boost your email sign-ups has become more difficult since the GDPR was implemented. But it has also become more transparent. And transparency for the consumer is, ultimately, a good thing.

Think about it this way: It may boost your conversion rate. Consumers won’t feel tricked into email subscriptions they didn’t want.

In our opinion, there are two ways to run a sweepstakes.

1) Make the tie-in transparent.

Be clear that the precondition for sweepstakes entry is an email subscription.

Legally, a sweepstakes entry counts as a contract. Make the entry cost an explicit part of the contractual agreement.

Along these lines, in Germany, the Bavarian supervisory authorities came to this legal decision:

In the case of offers of “free” services, users are “paying” through consenting that their data be used for advertising purposes (e.g., they receive a free e-mail account as compensation for consenting to receive a newsletter). In cases such as these, the preconditions for this contractual agreement must be clearly presented to the user upon completion of this contract. [If this is done,] then it will no longer be necessary to gain consent. 
This is our translation. Read the original German ruling on our German blog.

2) Uncouple the sweepstakes from the data.

A lot of marketers aren’t going to like this option, but hear us out.

Let contestants take part in the sweepstakes without having to consent to receive your emails.

Create an optional opt-in for your newsletter that appears once they’ve entered their data for the prize draw.

Is there an advantage to doing things this way? After all, you’re running the sweepstakes to generate more leads. And, yes, you will generate fewer leads if you make the opt-in optional. However, you will probably generate higher-quality leads.

What’s more, if this is the first time that people are coming into contact with you, you’ll have the “halo effect” of making a good impression.

You are actually giving something away for free. At your company, there truly is a free lunch.

You’re taking the old marketing adage to heart that “You’ve got to give something to get something.” This will make a good first impression on potential customers, whether they subscribe for your newsletter or not.

To run a sweepstakes post-GDPR, make the tie-in contractually transparent or uncouple the sweepstakes from the data. #GDPR #EmailListGrowth Click To Tweet

Why Did the GDPR Make It Harder to Do Tie-ins, Giveaways and Freebies?

In the past, a lot of companies misused “freebies,” contests, tie-ins and, above all, the data they received through these.

Maybe you’ve had the experience yourself of signing up to receive something you thought was free and then receiving unexpected promotional email. It’s not fun, right?

The GDPR addresses the clear lack of transparency around consent to receive promotional emails. This lack of clarity led to a lot of frustrated consumers.

So, now, thanks to the GDPR, there’s transparency for consumers residing in the European Union. Consumers will, in theory, always know what they are consenting to. And if they are paying with data, then a service or product cannot be called “free.”

Even though it’s more work for marketers, in the end, we’ll be more upfront about our plans for using private data. Which will, in turn, lead to happier consumers.

Strike the words 'freebie' and 'free' from how you present your email marketing giveaways. Click To Tweet

In sum: Strike the words “freebie” and “free” from how you present your email marketing giveaways. Be very clear about what you are offering “in exchange for” a newsletter subscription. Your subscribers will be happier when they know exactly what they are getting themselves into.

It will cost you one email address to get everything an email marketer needs to know about GDPR in one place. You can stop subscribing to our newsletter at any time.

Exchange your email address for our GDPR white paper.

About the Author

Mara Taylor
Online Marketing Manager at Newsletter2Go

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  1. Nacho -

    Hi there Maya!
    First of all thank you so much for the post, it was really clear and help me with a few questions regarding newsletters and the new GDPR.

    On the other hand, I have a question I don’t seem to be able to find an answer for. Do we as marketers who want to avoid GDPR problems, have to have separate opt-ins for the newsletter service and the “special offers” service. I mean do we need different confirmation if we want to send news regarding news or new products or services, and special offers and transactional emails?

    Not sure if I made myself clear, but I hope you can help me with this 😉
    Thank you so much in advance,
    All the best

    1. Mara Taylor -

      Hi there Nacho,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad this post was helpful. Transparency is key with the GDPR. So you want people to know what promotional emails they are opting in to.

      First of all, let me address transactional emails because they are slightly different. If you have a strictly transactional email – e.g., a purchase confirmation email, an order tracking email, an invoice attachment – then you don’t need an opt-in to send it. But then you have to make absolutely sure your transactional email is *really* not promotional. You can include your logo and legally you have to include your address and an unsubscribe option. But don’t include links to other offers, discounts, or anything else that could be construed as promoting your other services and products. Even social media icons should be avoided when creating transactional emails. If you keep it transactional, then you don’t need an opt-in. We always recommend keeping transactional emails in a separate contact list. And if you’re sending a lot, it might make sense to even use a separate IP address for transactional emails.

      Now that we’ve got the transactional emails out of the way, let’s look at the rest of your question. It sounds like you’re asking about whether you need two separate opt-ins if you want to subscribe someone to two separate newsletters: one that covers news about products or services and one that covers special offers. You have two options here if you want to subscribe someone to several different newsletters.

      Option 1: You have 1 opt-in where tell them exactly what kinds of emails they’ll be receiving from you. “We’ll send you weekly newsletters with news on all our latest developments, products and service. We’ll also send you occasional special offers and information about upcoming promotions.” Then you let them decide whether or not they want to opt in to all the emails you’re offering them.

      Option 2: You have 1 opt-in with 2 checkboxes. You’re still telling them exactly what they’ll be receiving from you, but you’re letting them decide if they want both. To do this, you’ll need sign-up form that is connected to two contact lists. Next to each checkbox you describe the contents of that newsletter.

      Option 2 will definitely get you better retention rates. It’s been proven that the more control you give your recipients over what kinds of emails they’re receiving from you, the more likely they are to stick with you and stay away from the unsubscribe button.

      I hope that all helps!

      Our GDPR white paper should help you out if you have further questions. (But, yes, we ask for your email address in order to access it. 😉

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