Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Investigating the Roles of Gambling Interest and Impulsive Sensation Seeking on Consumer Enjoyment of Promotional Games

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Investigating the Roles of Gambling Interest and Impulsive Sensation Seeking on Consumer Enjoyment of Promotional Games

Article excerpt

Promotional games are an increasingly utilized form of sales promotion; yet, few studies exist in this area. Some research suggests that promotional game participants may be similar to gamblers in terms of lifestyles and personality traits, such as sensation seeking. The current study extends existing research on this topic, by utilizing a telephone survey of randomly selected adults from two major cities in the U.S. (N=555), to examine this notion. Results support the similarity between promotional game participants and gamblers. Respondents' race, gambling interest levels, variety of gambling activities and sensation seeking are all found to be associated with liking to participate in promotional games.

According to the 20th Annual Survey of Promotional Practices, consumer promotions accounted for around 24% of manufacturers' marketing budgets, not including the additional money allocated to advertising budgets for leveraging such promotions ("Promotion Practices Condensed", Potentials, November 1998). In recent years, one of the most popular forms of consumer promotions has been what Ward and Hill (1991) have termed promotional games, where companies use contests or sweepstakes to help them reach their marketing objectives. Promotional games are often expensive, as it has become increasingly common for marketers to offer consumers a chance to win up to a million dollars, to help draw attention to their brands (Mogelefsky, 2000). Despite the growing use of promotional games, however, they have not received much attention in the consumer behavior literature; consequently, little is known about the psychology involved (Ward & Hill). Based on existing research, the current study employs a telephone survey of randomly selected adults (N = 555) to investigate the relationship between respondents' demographics, lifestyles and personalities and reported enjoyment of participating in promotional games. More specifically, it focuses on gambling interest and related activities, as well as the trait of sensation seeking, as it has been suggested that such factors might be part of the profile of promotional game participants (Browne, Kaldenberg & Brown, 1993; Ward & Hill).


Ward and Hill (1991, p. 70) have defined promotional games as opportunities for consumers to win a prize through luck or skill. They further delineated this marketing strategy into the categories of sweepstakes (games of chance) or contests (games of skill). Companies employ promotional games to help them build brand awareness, to influence customer behavior and to obtain market research (Schmidt, 2000). According to a recent study sponsored by Incentive magazine, promotional games were one of the most popular promotion strategies with 54% of marketers surveyed (Wood, 1998). The popularity of this form of sales promotion is further evidenced by the growing sales of scratch cards for use in marketing campaigns, as these figures rose from 50,000 cards sold in 1993 to over 5 million units sold in 1999 (Schmidt).

Although promotional games are currently very popular with marketers, this is hardly a novel promotional strategy. Ewen (1972) has noted that medieval Italian shopkeepers were among the first to use lottery-type games of chance to help attract customers (in Kopp & Taylor, 1994). Moreover, Kopp and Taylor have suggested that consumer-oriented prize promotions and forms of legalized gambling (such as lotteries) have coevolved in the marketplace over the past 300 years. Given the similarities between some promotional games and certain types of gambling, in terms of structure and outcome, they often served as substitutes for one another, as legal restrictions on one or the other fluctuated over time as a function of changing social attitudes and government regulation. The evolutionary course outlined above may have helped to blur the lines between promotional games and gambling, as their regulation (and subsequent scarcity) may have actually led to both activities becoming more popular with consumers (Kopp & Taylor). Based on this notion, and research profiling promotional game participants, it may be that consumers' experiences with such promotions are comparable to those derived from gambling activities (Browne et al., 1993; Kopp & Taylor, 1994; Ward & Hill, 1991).

Current industry data suggest that gambling in the U.S. is becoming an increasingly popular activity and it appears that marketers may be trying to capitalize on public interest in such activities to help them achieve their marketing objectives (Schmidt, 2000). According to one 1999 report, gaming activities in the U.S. accounted for $54 billion in 1998 (cited in Schmidt). The public's growing interest in gambling and promotional contests or sweepstakes may also be reflected in the sizable ratings garnered by such television game shows as ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? FOX's Greed or CBS's Survivor (Mogelefsky, 2000). According to Mogelefsky, these cultural and business trends are further evidenced in recent consumer promotions involving million dollar half-time contests during major sports telecasts (e.g., NFL, NCAA or NBA), as well as several contests held by on-line companies like E*Trade, or However, despite the long history and current prevalence of this promotional practice, little empirical research exists about the consumer psychology involved in this type of marketing activity (Browne et al., 1993; Ward & Hill, 1991). Given the sizable amounts companies often invest in promotional games, it would seem prudent to develop a better understanding of consumer behavior relating to such marketing efforts, similar to the rationale for research on advertising or other promotions (Ward & Hill).


Although promotional contests and sweepstakes are popular marketing tools, only a handful of studies have been conducted on this subject over the past 15 years. For example, Narayana and Raju (1985) examined survey data from a national panel study of adults (N = 3468), finding that males and females differed in terms of their preferences for sweepstakes and gifts. More males preferred the former and a greater number of females preferred the latter. They also found that sweepstakes tended to appeal more to respondents in urban areas, who enjoyed higher occupational status. They concluded by calling for future research that would examine also the influence of lifestyles and psychological characteristics such as risk-taking.

Ward, Hill and Gardner (1988) employed an experimental design (N = 51) to examine subjects' responses to promotional game participation, focusing on the effects of winning or losing. Among their key findings, winning had a significantly positive influence on mood and subsequent attitudes towards the brand being promoted. In addition, winners reported significantly more favorable attitudes towards the promotional game than did losers, hence their behavioral intentions to participate in future sweepstakes were significantly greater as well. The authors posited that demographics and personality traits might also affect consumer preferences for such games, and issued a call for future research in that direction.

Ward and Hill (1991) offered a conceptual model of factors influencing participation in promotional games. Consistent with existing research in this area, antecedent variables in their model included consumer demographics, such as gender and income, in addition to their experiences with gambling or other games and their personality characteristics. They noted that personality research in this area of sales promotion was virtually non-existent at the time of their writing and they argued for its importance, as an understanding of individual differences could help marketers to better target such promotions.

Browne et al. (1993) employed a statewide phone survey of Oregon residents, examining demographic and lifestyle influences (i.e., gambling behaviors) on promotional game participation. Their demographic findings indicated that adult participants in promotional contests were better educated and tended to hold professional or managerial positions. In addition, they were more likely to be younger and to have children. Moreover, playing the lottery and racetrack betting were both found to be significant predictors of participation in sweepstakes and contests. Based on their results, the authors contended that promotional-- game participants bear a psychographic resemblance to gamblers and proposed that future studies should examine the experience-seeking tendencies of such consumers.


Wakefield and Barnes (1996) noted that few studies have provided empirical insight into the consumer psychology related to promotion-proneness in an affective/experiential context (cf. Wakefield & Barnes; Ward et al., 1988). Consumer behavior associated with the intangible experiential and/or emotional elements of certain marketing phenomena, like playing games, sports or other leisure activities, has come to be known as hedonic consumption (Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982). Browne et al., (1993) argued that, since by their very nature promotional games require "play" and involve subsequent emotional outcomes such as enjoyment or disappointment, they can be seen as a form of hedonic consumption. According to Holbrook and Hirschman, one approach to understanding individual differences as they relate to the experiential nature of certain consumer behaviors is personality constructs such as sensation seeking (Zuckerman, 1994).

As previously noted, a number of researchers have called for personality research on promotional-game participants (Browne et al., 1993; Narayana & Raju, 1985; Ward & Hill, 1991; Ward et al., 1988). It has been posited - but never empirically tested - that promotional-game participants are risk takers (Narayana & Raju, 1985) and/or sensation seekers (Browne et al., 1993). The personality trait of sensation-seeking has been defined as the seeking of varied, novel, complex and intense sensations and experiences, andlor the willingness to take physical, social, legal and financial risks for the sake of such experience (Zuckerman, 1994, p. 27). This construct is grounded in the notion that humans have optimum stimulation levels (OSL) and they seek stimuli to help maintain such levels of arousal (Steenkamp & Baumgartner, 1992; Raju, 1980; Zuckerman, 1988). The sensation-seeking paradigm offers face validity in the study of experiential phenomena, like promotional games, as it has been used to investigate gambling and other relevant consumer behavior (Breen & Zuckerman, 1999; McDaniel & Zuckerman, (in press); Wolfgang, 1988; Zuckerman, 1994). Moreover, the aforementioned personality trait offers promise as a segmentation tool for such promotions as it has been found to be an effective targeting variable in social marketing campaigns (Palmgreen, Lorch, Donohew, Harrington, Dsilva, & Helm 1995).


Based on the existing research in this area, the following hypotheses were formulated:

H1: Enjoyment of participating in promotional games is associated with respondents' gender, race, age, education level, household income and marital/family status, after accounting for the combined influence of their gambling interest levels, variety of gambling activities over the past year and sensation seeking (p < .05).

H2: Enjoyment of participating in promotional games is positively associated with respondents' levels of gambling interest and variety of gambling activities over the past year, after accounting for the combined influence of their gender, race, age, education level, household income, marital/family status and sensation seeking (p < .05).

H3: Enjoyment of participating in promotional games is positively associated with respondents' sensation-seeking levels, after accounting for the combined influence of their gender, race, age, education level, household income, marital/family status, gambling interest levels and variety of gambling activities over the past year (p < .05).



Data for this study were collected as part of a larger state-funded study on the commercial viability of certain gambling activities. A stratified random sampling technique was used to generate a list of names and telephone numbers for adults 18 years of age and older. The telephone survey, conducted in the early fall of 1998, involved two of the top 25 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) in the eastern United States. Questionnaires were administered by a public opinion research facility using trained callers. Upon initial contact, respondents were informed that they were being phoned as part of a university study on sports and other leisure activities. Each call lasted approximately 15 minutes. This method resulted in an overall response rate of approximately 40%, with 555 completed calls.



In order to account for potential influences on enjoyment of promotional games, aside from lifestyles and personality, questions were posed concerning respondents' demographics (cf. Browne et al., 1993; Narayana & Raju, 1985). Age was measured via an open-ended question. All of the other demographic variables were gauged using either ordinal level (i.e., education and household income) or categorical level (gender, race and marital/family status) measures.

Gambling Interest and Behaviors As part of a series of questions on leisure behaviors, respondents were asked if they had participated in certain forms of gambling during the past year (i.e., lotteries, racetrack betting, sports betting, video poker and slot machines). The responses concerning each type of gambling were coded as 1 (for having participated) and 0 (for having not participated). These values were later added together to create a composite score, ranging from 0 to 5, indicative of the various gambling activities in which they had participated over the past 12 months. At a later point in the questionnaire respondents were queried about their level of interest in gambling, using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all interested) to 5 (extremely interested).

Sensation Seeking

The 19-item Impulsive Sensation Seeking (ImpSS) scale (Zuckerman, 1994) was employed here to investigate the hypothesized relationship between respondents' preference for participating in promotional games and the personality characteristic of sensation seeking. The ImpSS is part of the larger Zuckerman-- Kuhlman Personality Questionnaire (ZKPQ) and is composed of 8 items gauging impulsivity and 11 items measuring sensation seeking. According to Zuckerman (1994), the items from the two sub-scales are most often summed to make a composite score (ranging from 0 to 19), as the two traits share behavioral and biological correlates.

Research suggests that the ImpSS offers a reliable and valid alternative to the more commonly used 40-item Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS) form V, as the former is reported to have achieved alphas of above .80 and to correlate highly (r = .66) with the latter (Zuckerman). It also presents advantages in terms of ease of administration, as Zuckerman states that it offers fewer potential confounds than the SSS form V, as the items are not specific to potentially objectionable behaviors (e.g., drug use or sex) or culture-bound sporting activities. Given all of these advantages, the ImpSS seemed to offer a measure of sensation seeking best suited to the constraints of a telephone survey methodology (Zuckerman, personal communication 1998). Therefore, midway through the survey, respondents were read each of the 19 items and asked if each statement described them, to which they would respond with either "true" (scored 1) or "false" (scored 0).

Dependent Measures

Similarly to Browne et al. (1993), respondents' preference for promotional games was gauged based on the answer (yes/no) to the question: "Do you generally like to participate in promotional games, contests, or sweepstakes?". Due to the dichotomous nature of the dependent variable, data were analyzed using a multivariate logistic regression procedure.


The sample consisted of 55% females and 45% males. Ages ranged from 18 to 87, with a mean age of 42 years old (SD = 15.16), as shown in Table 1. The majority of respondents were Caucasian (71%), followed by African-Americans (25%) and Hispanics (1%), with 3% reporting other ethnic backgrounds. Because of the small representation of minority respondents other than African Americans, race was subsequently recoded into 3 categories prior to testing hypotheses. Respondents were classified as being "Caucasians", "African Americans" or "other ethnic minorities".

The sample was relatively well educated with 40% of respondents holding a college degree or higher and 26% having had some college education. Approximately 30% of those responding held a high school degree and 4% reported not having completed high school. There was a fairly even mix of household income levels, as 21% reported making $75,000 or more and 20% said that they made between $50,000 to $75,000. Around 29% reported being in the $30,000 to $50,000 income bracket and 26% reported making between $10,000 and $30,000. Only 5% reported making at, or below, $10,000.

In terms of marital/family status, 31% were married with children at home, while 13% were single parents. Almost 28% of respondents were married or cohabiting, with no children in their homes; the same percentage of singles also reported not having children at home. Approximately 33% of those responding reported liking to participate in promotional games, with males and females reporting enjoyment of this type of activity at similar levels.


Logistic regression results appear in Table 1. The Hosmer and Lemeshow test suggests that the model achieved a good fit (X^sup 2^= 5.30, df = 8,p = .73). The additive effect of demographic, lifestyle and personality variables is significant and results in correctly classifying respondents' liking to participate in promotional games 72% of the time (-2 Log likelihood = 622.27, X^sup 2^ = 97.42, df = 23, p < .001). The first hypothesis receives limited support, as race is the only demographic variable found to significantly impact on enjoyment of promotional games (Wald = 4.79, p < .05, two-tailed). Respondents' gender, age, education level, household income and marital/family status were not significant factors (p > .05). Contrasts indicate significant differences between two of the three racial groups as the odds ratio statistic suggests that African-American respondents are 66% more likely to report enjoyment of promotional games when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. No significant effects were found between other racial groups and Caucasians. Consequently, race was a significant predictor of liking to participate in promotional games for certain minority groups in this study.


Respondents' reported mean interest in gambling was 2.11 (SD = 1.13) and they reported having engaged in an average of 1.5 (SD = 1.24) different types of gambling activities over the past year. The logistic regression results in Table 1 indicate that respondents' reported interest in gambling (Wald = 12.87, p < .001, one-tailed) and the level of variety in their gambling activity (Wald = 13.77, p <.001, one-tailed) are both significant predictors of the dependent variable. The odds ratio coefficient for the former signifies that for every one unit increase in gambling interest, the likelihood that someone would like to participate in promotional games increases 46%. Likewise, for every different form of gambling respondents had engaged in over the past year, the likelihood of their enjoying promotional games increases by 43%. These results are in line with previous research and provide strong support for H2. In sum, for the respondents in this study, liking to participate in promotional games is positively related to their lifestyle and interests, as they relate to gambling.


The impulsivity and sensation-seeking sub-scales of the ImpSS are found to be highly correlated (r = .63, p < .001, two-tailed), which supports combining them into a composite score (cf. Zuckerman, 1994). Likewise, reliability levels for the measure compare favorably with those reported in previous studies on sensation seeking (a = .82) (cf. Zuckerman, 1994). ImpSS scores range from 0 to 18, with an aggregate mean of 7.69 (SD = 4.3). The results of a t-test for independent samples further support that personality data are in line with existing research in this area (cf. Zuckerman, 1994). Male respondents' mean levels of the personality trait (mean = 8.29, SD = 4.47) are significantly greater (t = 4.55, df = 555, p < .001) than those of their female counterparts (mean = 6.90, SD = 4.13). Likewise, ImpSS is significantly correlated to respondents' interest in gambling (r = .23, p < .05, two-tailed) and the variety of their gambling activities (r = .23, p < .05, two-tailed), while being negatively related to their age (r = -.33, p < .05, two-tailed). These relationships are all consistent with the sensation-seeking literature (cf. Zuckerman, 1994).

The logistic regression results in Table 1 suggest that ImpSS is a significant predictor of liking to participate in promotional games (Wald = 5.09, p < .01, one-tailed), which provides support for H3. The odds ratio coefficient for this variable indicates that, for every one unit increase in ImpSS, the likelihood that someone would enjoy participating in promotional games increases 6%. Based on these findings, liking to participate in promotional games is significantly related to the personality trait of sensation seeking.


Findings suggest that certain ethnic groups are more likely than others to report enjoyment of promotional games. Moreover, results support the notion that consumers who participate in promotional games are similar to gamblers in terms of their psychographics and lifestyles (Browne et al., 1993; Kopp & Taylor, 1994; Schmidt, 2000). In addition, by employing the ImpSS, this is the first known work to answer the call for research on the relationship between personality and consumer interest in promotional games (Browne et al., 1993; Narayana & Raju, 1985; Ward & Hill, 1991; Ward et al., 1988). The study also contributes to the literature on experiential forms of sales promotion, as called for by Wakefield and Barnes (1996).

Understanding the relationship between personality profiles and enjoyment of promotional games could help marketers in developing contests, sweepstakes and the advertising to leverage them, as gambling and ImpSS data from randomly selected adults from two major DMAs suggest that promotional-games participants tend to enjoy varied and novel experiences. Moreover, there are also implications for using personality traits to segment and target consumers for promotional games, since sensation seeking has been shown to offer a potentially effective way to reach target markets (cf. Palmgreen et al., 1995). It may be that certain personality types gravitate to games of chance while others are drawn to games of skill (Ward & Hill, 1991). Therefore, the use of personality traits might also benefit future studies, similar to that by Narayana and Raju (1985), by investigating whether consumers' preferences for promotions involving gifts, contests or sweepstakes are related to sensation seeking or other traits, such as need for cognition.

Results suggest that the only demographic variable to have a significant effect on reported enjoyment of promotional games was race, as minority respondents (i.e., African Americans) were significantly more likely to report enjoying them than were Caucasians. These results are not consistent with other research on promotional games. One possible explanation for the difference in findings is that both Narayana and Raju (1985) and Browne et al. (1993) involved sample sizes of over 3,000, compared to the sample of 555 used here. Thus, the increased power could account for their finding significant effects for gender, education, age and marital/family status. Moreover, neither of the studies mentioned above included both lifestyle and personality variables, which may also account for the difference in results. Therefore, the influence of the demographic variables noted above should receive further attention in future studies, to help elucidate their effects in this context. Moreover, future research should concentrate on the policy-related implications of promotional games and targeting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or minorities.

The results in Table 1 support the notion that consumers' enjoyment of participating in promotional games is related to their lifestyle and personality, especially their need for varied, novel or stimulating experiences (cf. Browne et al., 1993; Ward & Hill, 1991). The number of different gambling activities they report having engaged in over the past year and their sensation-seeking scores are both significantly related to their liking to play promotional games. However, it is unclear whether their tendency to seek variety in gaming activities extends to other forms of consumer behavior (or if this was more indicative of overall interest in gambling). It does seem more plausible that the sensation-- seeking results are suggestive of a need for varied and novel stimulation in this context, as opposed to risky behavior (as suggested by Narayana & Raju, 1985), since playing promotional games does not involve the same financial risks as gambling - although this issue needs to be revisited in future research before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

In terms of sensation-seeking research, ImpSS findings are consistent with existing studies on this personality trait (cf. Breen & Zuckerman, 1999; Wolfgang, 1988; Zuckerman, 1994). Results show that the 19-item scale is related to behaviors such as gambling or playing promotional games, as well as being correlated with a variety of demographic measures, which is similar to studies involving the 40-item SSS form V (Zuckerman, 1994). Likewise, the effect sizes for ImpSS are similar to those between other measures of OSL and gambling activity reported by Steenkamp and Baumgartner (1992, p. 445). Consequently, given the reliability and validity it demonstrated here, the ImpSS inventory might provide consumer behavior researchers with a more parsimonious measure of the sensation-seeking trait, for studies investigating the influence of individual differences.

In terms of the study's limitations, all of the measures are subject to the limitations of relying on self-report data. Moreover, certain factors (i.e., respondents' interest in gambling) were gauged using a single-item indicator, which is less reliable than using multiple measures. Nevertheless, the validity of the gambling interest measure is supported, by a moderate positive correlation (r = .55, p < .05, two-tailed) between the gambling interest variable and the variety of gambling activities that respondents said that they had been involved in over the past year. Finally, the research did not involve a national sample, which limits the generalizability of its findings.

According to current industry trends, the use of promotional games continues to grow (Mogelefsky, 2000; Schmidt, 2000; Wood, 1998). Add to that the escalating value of the prizes involved and the lack of existing research and it becomes evident that a better grasp of consumer behavior in this area is needed (Browne et al., 1993; Mogelefsky, 2000; Ward & Hill, 1991). Based on the results of the current investigation, the study of lifestyles and personality traits such as sensation seeking may offer a great deal of promise in understanding this type of marketing phenomenon. Understanding this area of consumer psychology could aid marketers in the design and targeting of promotional games (Ward & Hill, 1991).




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[Author Affiliation]


University of Maryland, USA

[Author Affiliation]

Stephen R. McDaniel, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland, USA.

[Author Affiliation]

This research was part of a larger study funded by the Maryland State Legislature, and was the subject of a paper presented to the Association for Consumer Research 2000 Conference which was held in Salt Lake City.

Appreciation is due to reviewers including Dr. Susan Moore, Professor of Psychology, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, Dr. Lawrence Chalip, School of Marketing and Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia and Professor Marvin Zuckerman, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA.

Please address correspondence and reprint requests to Stephen R. McDaniel, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, Maryland, USA. Phone: 301-405-2499, Fax: 301-405-5578; Email:

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