Calling Sesame Street. Please bring out the Count and have him give a couple of lessons to the people at Armstrong Garden Centers. Their recent Facebook contest for a $500 rose garden asked for 150-word essays. The two top essays writers can't count and can't use the tools in the word processing programs. Their original essays were over the limit but Armstrong Garden Centers, whose headquarters is based in Glendora--just a short 20-minute drive east on the 210 from Pasadena--doesn't expect gardeners to be able to count to 150.
Let's make it easy. To get 150, you have to count to 50 three times. In your adult life, you'll have many opportunities to pay for something that comes in that $50 range. It shouldn't be difficult. I'd understand if the essays in question were one or two words over.
The winner's essay had 193 words. The winning writer, Sandi Norton, not only couldn't count, she also couldn't read the rules because her rule-breaking didn't stop there. The rules, which were quickly removed when I initially complained, also told participants they couldn't vote for themselves. Sandi Norton voted for herself, making it easier for her to notify people via the medium of the contest: Facebook. That was an unfair advantage that other contestants had to work around. Norton also had a friend who voted for her twice. That was also a violation of the rules. The only rule she didn't violate was she isn't, to my knowledge, related to an Armstrong Garden Center employee.
The recently widowed Sandi Norton violated three rules. Despite being notified of this, Armstrong Garden Centers wants to reward her. She is still the winner. You wonder why reading comprehension skills are low in the United States? Expectations are low, that's why. Armstrong Garden Center's response doesn't even address Norton's other violations of the stated rules.
According to my anonymous source, the person in second place, Leni Boe, who declined to protest overtly despite covertly encouraging my source, submitted an essay that was also over the word limit: 165 words. Instead of being eliminated, she was given a chance to submit a second essay. I can't confirm, because Armstrong Garden Center took down the rules, but I'm pretty sure you could only submit one essay. Interference by the organizers is generally frowned upon and, let's be real, this isn't the second grade in elementary school. Boe an adult who should be able to follow the rules and count.
Armstrong Garden Center was aware that Norton have violated rules as early as Friday (email sent at 7:37 p.m. and by a posted message on FB at 7:57 p.m.). After receiving no response, I posted two articles on Saturday (one on Examiner.com and the other with screenshots on my blog) and informed Armstrong Garden Center. At 6:30 a.m. on Monday, 18 February 2013, I sent an email to Armstrong Garden again asking for an official response.
At 11:52 a.m. on 18 February 2013, Armstrong Garden Center posted this on Facebook:
We want to once again thank all of you who entered and participated in our Love Stories contest. Unfortunately it slipped by us that our winning entry had more than more than 150 words and we want to apologize sincerely for our mistake. We are thrilled to share that we are awarding an additional winning Rose Garden Kit to Leni Boe! Congratulations Leni!! Thank you for your beautiful entry and thank you to all of you that voted for Leni's story!
Norton violated three rules and Armstrong Garden Center only addresses one--the easiest one to figure out. Do you think for one minute that without my weekend campaign Armstrong Garden Center would have made this official move?
At 12:36 p.m. on 18 February 2013, I received this email:
Thank you for your concern and for reaching out to us. We very much appreciate your feedback. It slipped by us that the winning entry had more than 150 words - it was our mistake and we are sincerely sorry for the upset that this mistake has caused. We were also thrilled to award Leni Boe the rose garden kit and she is excited as well.
Our intention is for our contests to be fun and fair for everyone. We will use this as an opportunity to improve. We love our customers and love the opportunity that facebook affords us to interact with you!
Thank you again for your time.
Although I finished third, I was the only one of the three top contestants who followed all of the rules and if not for me, Leni Boe wouldn't have received anything. Now she will also receive a $500 rose garden--a rose garden that again according to my anonymous source, she doesn't even want (because Boe writes, she already has 30 roses and intends to sell the roses for charity).
Counting is easy. It is really the bare minimum one expects. But when a contest rewards someone who breaks not one, but three rules, it makes you wonder if the rules apply to all people and what was the point of making the rules at all. Why isn't there an expectation that the contestants can count to 150? Is it because most of the contestants are women? Is it because as a widow, Norton can't be expected to count or read any of the rules (beyond when to turn in the essay)? Aren't both of those assumptions insulting to women in this day and age?
Because I wanted a rose garden, I entered this contest instead of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction Round 10. For the NPR contest, writers are expected to count up to 600 (or used their word processing tools) and the rules of the contest are clearly stated and still up on the NPR website even after the deadline.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs lists the rules for operation of contests and sweepstakes. By taking off the page that had the rules, Armstrong Garden Center violated the rules for operation of a contest (Business and Professions Code sections 17539-17539.3, 17539.35). According to the Department of Consumer Affairs "All contest and promotional puzzles and games must clearly and conspicuously disclose each of the following: All the rules, regulations, terms and conditions of the contest..." Further, by knowingly awarding the prize to someone who violated the rules, they broke their contract with all the contestants.
Other legal issues have to do with Facebook policies. Facebook actually has rules for running a contest and one of them is that you cannot use the "like" as a voting mechanism ("You must not use Facebook features or functionality, such as the Like button, as a voting mechanism for a promotion.") Time magazine has an article summing up and giving advice about FB contests. So what if my high tech friends (remember I worked at Yahoo!) who knew, either intuitively or concretely, that my request was against FB policy and didn't vote for me for that reason? I almost want to apologize for asking.
Not everyone wants to put their thoughts or opinions on record. I understand that. So does fellow contestant Boe. Boe encouraged my source to complain while she kept a happy face to the outside world, but she also promised my source that should she be given a rose garden, she'd give my source a rose. Since Boe was notified and learned of her award and posted her delight on 18 February 2013 at 12.58, she hasn't contacted my source.
Don't I deserve the rose garden because I can count to 150 and follow directions when these two ladies clearly cannot and the second lady, Boe, doesn't even have the guts to stand up for herself? At this point, Armstrong Garden is giving out $1000 in retail value and not in actual cost, but if you do the math, to award me $500 rose garden would be $1500 retail value and this is a lot less than the possible $2,500 maximum penalty they could be given for each violation of the state code for running contests. As of Tuesday morning, Armstrong Garden Center offered me a gift certificate of $100. In my response, I urged them to do the right thing.
Armstrong wants to be fair and fun, but doesn't seem to know how to run a fair contest and doesn't want anyone to see the rules to the contest any more. Why else would they suddenly take them down while the rules to their garden makeover contest still are up and available even though that contest was held last spring? It's hard to determine if any of the rules were enforced or will be enforced in the future by Armstrong Garden Center. This is actually Armstrong Garden Center's second Facebook contest but the way Armstrong Garden Centers handled this contest doesn't give me confidence in their integrity or ability to conduct a fair and honest contest.
As the dragon lady, I believe that women, including widows can count. Gardeners, including women, can count. Let's not lower our expectations. I believe that Americans who use the Internet can count or at least find a tool that can do it for them. I also believe that taking down the rules when a controversy is brewing isn't the act of an honest person or organization.
If you enter a contest be sure to get and keep a copy of the rules and if you believe the organizers aren't following their own rules, you can complain to:
Your Local District Attorney. Look in the county government pages of your phone book under the name of your county.
The Attorney General. Write a letter of complaint to the California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Public Inquiry Unit, Post Office Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550, or call 1-800-952-5225.
Federal Trade Commission
901 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, CA 94103-1798; or
Federal Trade Commission
10877 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700
Los Angeles, CA 90024;
or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
In California, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs:
(Business and Professions Code sections 17200, 17534-17536)
Any person who violates the provisions on operation of contests or sweepstakes is guilty of a misdemeanor,38 and may be prosecuted by the Attorney General or by a district attorney. These provisions also are enforceable by civil court actions which can be filed by private parties, district attorneys, city attorneys, county counsel, the Attorney General and other agencies of the State. Depending on the nature of the action, remedies may include civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation, injunction, and restitution.39 A contest or sweepstakes which violates these provisions also may be subject to an additional civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each violation as an unlawful business practice.40