In this case from Ulta Beauty stores the MacGuffin is a sweepstakes for anyone who donates at least a dollar to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation at one of their stores during the month of October 2012.
In Hitchcock’s definition, a MacGuffin is a plot device that impels people to act. George Lucas said the MacGuffin in Star Wars is R2D2. In Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, the MacGuffin is the Crystal Skull. In Mission Impossible IV, it’s the Russian nuclear launch codes.
The MacGuffin in this promotion from Ulta is a chance to win one of 532 beauty bags, one per store. In order to pass muster with Federal and state regulators, there is an alternate form of entry that costs nothing.
Using a sweepstakes as a cause marketing MacGuffin can really work. I once did a paper icon campaign that had a sweepstakes component that included a chance to win a Harley Davidson motorcycle. The paper icons were priced at $1 each and came with an entry form. It was a two-stage promotion. You had to get drawn for the chance and then you had to come within 5 feet of a hole-in-one at a participating country club.
At the time, I worked for a children’s charity. We thought we needed a MacGuffin because we were all but unknown in the local market.
Believe it or not, somebody did win the Harley. We were insured, so it only cost us the price of the insurance policy. We raised a ton of money and the publicity was dynamite.
Done right, sweepstakes can be a fabulous MacGuffin.