Last week, a radio station in Boston canceled its “Taylor Swift’s Biggest Fan” contest after it came out that a 39-year-old man named Charles was set to win the grand title.  The radio station issued a statement clarifying the reasoning for its decision:

“Disappointingly, we have determined that the integrity of the ‘Taylor Swift’s Biggest Fan’ contest has been compromised. In accordance with our contest rules, effective immediately, the contest has been terminated. We apologize to all of our loyal listeners who have participated.”

Was the radio station allowed to do this?  Did the Official Rules protect the contest’s sponsor from having to award the prize?  The short answer is yes, and that’s precisely why having a good set of Official Rules in place is critical before a contest launches.

In the Taylor Swift contest, for example, entrants were required to create a profile on the radio’s website and describe why they are Ms. Swift’s biggest fan.  They were then encouraged to share the page with “as many people as they can” to generate votes in order to win the title and get to meet Taylor after her show in Boston.  Charles’ contest profile read: “I’m a 39-year-old man and I love Taylor Swift so much and don’t care that both adults and children mock me for it. But I feel 22, if that helps.”

Now enter Charles’ anonymous friend who wrote an appeal on 4Chan on behalf of his “39 year old friend,” encouraging people to vote for Charles on the radio site.  The 4Chan and Reddit communities answered the anonymous friend’s call to action and their votes catapulted Charles into the #1 spot.  But days before a winner was announced, the radio station cancelled the contest.  The station said that it wasn’t because of Charles’ age, but rather because some contestants employed spam-bots to rig the results.  And sure enough, cancelling the contest under these circumstances was presciently provided for in the TS Biggest Fan Contest Rules.  They read:

The Company further reserves the right to: (i) terminate or declare any Contest null and void and rescind any prize, if in its sole judgment, the rules or the integrity of the Contest have been violated or compromised in any way, intentionally or unintentionally by any person whether or not a participant in the Contest.

The moral of this story for advertisers?  Have a good set of Official Rules in place before your promotion launches; you never know what will happen once things get going.