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Restructure This Cause Marketing Sweepstakes to Get to Something Better

Henkel, the large German consumer products and adhesives company has come in for some criticism in these pages for stingy cause marketing payouts and even bad copyediting. I’ve got more criticism this time out, only of the constructive variety.

Through the end of September 2011 Henkel is running a contest to find the best ideas to improve school fitness in America and get a shot at three $10,000 prizes awarded to one elementary, one middle, and one high school.

Here’s how it works: Enter your school at Henkelhelps.com. Then work your social network to get the most votes from the public. The cause is called Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The mission of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is to “Help cultivate a healthier generation of children today so that we will have a healthier America tomorrow.” The Alliance keeps a database of fitness approaches on its website.

Large cash prizes have an interesting and successful history of inspiring needed innovation. For instance, in the 1700s the British Admiralty held a £20,000 contest (equivalent to about £2.87 million today) for a device or approach that would help ships at sea determine longitude. The contest produced the marine chronometer invented by self-educated clockmaker John Harrison.

More recently, in 2004 Burt Rutan won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first private manned suborbital flight. Google’s version of the X Prize offers $20 million to the first team to land a rover on the moon before Dec. 31, 2015.

Henkel’s onto something with this contest, but they’ve structured it wrong. Right now Henkel Helps is just another popularity contest of the type more grandly done by American Express Member’s Project and Pepsi Refresh.

Instead, Henkel needs to take a page from the X Prize and set up some kind of criteria to find approaches that actually result in more healthy school kids. The X Prize has super specific outcomes before the prize can be awarded. Henkel would have to do the same. The prizes would need to be larger than $10,000 and have a division for non-school entities as well.

This wouldn’t be easy to put together. The human element guarantees that. But the challenge of the epidemic of childhood obesity requires something more innovative… and proven… than another social media-powered sweepstakes.

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