Incentives - good practices

The following brief note deals with some points which need to be taken into account in order to conform with ESOMAR Code and Guidelines or with generally-accepted ‘good practice’ regarding incentives. This note first gives the best practices when giving incentives to all participants, and later gives some specific guidance when the incentive is sweepstake or lottery.

1. In certain countries there are regulations which may govern the use of incentives. It is important to check whether specific national legislation or professional association rules apply in the country in which research is to be carried out. The relevant national research association will normally be able to advise on this. Wherever incentives are to be offered they should be kept within the limits, which are customary for the particular form of research in the country. In some cases (e.g. research among professional people) there will sometimes be accepted ‘fee levels’ set by the relevant professional body or research association.

2. It is essential not to combine market research and non-research activities in the same project (see the ESOMAR Guideline on “Distinguishing market research from other data collection activities”) The use of client-supplied incentives and/or offers of discounts, whereby participants would be required to spend money in order to benefit from the incentive (for example price discounts on goods and services that would require participants to pay the balance in order to gain any benefit) are prohibited for online research projects as such activity falls within the scope of direct marketing (as the client supplied incentive and discounts are deemed to be a form of client promotion).

3. Incentives need not be in the form of cash. Other forms of gift may be equally appropriate and in some cases more ‘socially acceptable’. Information such as feedback of some of the research findings (within the limits of confidentiality requirements) may be welcomed in certain forms of business-to-business research or research among professional people, for example. Another commonly-used form of incentive is the offer to make a donation to a charity (probably chosen by the respondent from a list of possible charities given to them) for successful completion of the interview.

4. Care needs to be given to ensuring that the offer of an incentive does not in any way bias the responses given by the respondent (for example, in offering a product or service of some kind), since in most cases the offer will be made at initial contact or early in the interview unless it is intended purely as an ‘after-the-event’ public relations reward for having participated in the project.

5. Any offer of an incentive must not in any way be misleading, for example about its nature/size/value/time of presentation. The offer must not be made in a way which puts undue pressure on the respondent to cooperate in the study or suggests that such co-operation is anything but voluntary at all stages of the project. Any promises made to the respondent in connection with the offer of the incentive must be fully honoured (if necessary including an arrangement for exchanging the incentive if this proves defective in some way). It is normally inappropriate to require the respondent to have to make additional efforts in order to secure the incentive (e.g. by having to apply specially to some office etc), unless for example this is necessary to arrange for its delivery.

6. When an incentive is to be offered in connection with research among children, if this is to be given to the child it should be one, which is acceptable to the parent or guardian of the child and must be safe to use/consume. (In this connection please refer to the ESOMAR “Guideline on Interviewing Children and Young People”).

7. In the case of B2B research among businesses, governmental bodies it is essential not to contravene any rules which such bodies may have about the acceptance of gifts by individual members of their staff. Contravening any such rules can lead at best to embarrassment, at worst to disciplinary action or accusations of industrial espionage or ‘bribery’.

8. The data collected in order to administer incentives must not be used for any other purpose, e.g. database building. The research must not pass identifiable participant details, collected as part of the incentive process, to clients (including internal clients if conducted within a client-side research department) and/or any other third party without the express permission of participants.

Sweepstakes and free prize draws (also called lotteries)

Sweepstakes and free prize draws are an especially popular form of incentive in online research. When using them, researchers must be aware of the applicable local laws and rules, which vary between countries, and the significant risks of using this approach without the necessary detailed knowledge. Researchers must always check national association guidelines before undertaking an exercise of this kind. Furthermore, the following best practices should be followed:

1. Participants must not be required to do anything other than agree to participate in online research projects to be eligible for entry to a free prize draw or sweepstake. This includes not having to provide responses to research questions, complete surveys, etc. which may be part of a research project, especially where a disproportionate amount of data is supplied by the individual, as this may be considered as a participant “transferring money’s worth”. In such cases it would be viewed in the same way as a requirement to pay to participate and would become a paid lottery subject to statutory controls.

2. Some form of skill may be required for entry to free prize draws/sweepstakes in order for them to be classified as such e.g. asking a question which requires some knowledge, albeit relatively easy (e.g. Who is President of the US?), before entry is accepted.

3. Failure to complete research activities or projects does not disqualify participants from entering a free prize draw or sweepstake.

4. Researchers must not withhold free prize draw/sweepstake prizes unless participants have clearly not met criteria set out in the rules underpinning a free prize draw/sweepstake, e.g. rules restricting family members of staff responsible for a free prize draw or sweepstake participating in a draw. They must ensure that all relevant information regarding free prize draws/sweepstakes is clearly communicated to participants at the time consent is asked. All rules must be clear and unambiguous so that they are easily understood by participants and not misleading. This includes the chances of winning, the value of prizes offered, and so forth.