And the winner is cute

Sunday, 10 February 2013 - 10:30am IST Updated: Saturday, 9 February 2013 - 10:21pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

They’re smart, adorable and rarely resist being photographed. Proud parents and doting relatives post photos of babies and toddlers in their cutest avatars on social networks all the time. So is it surprising that online baby photo contests are all the rage now?

For most social media enthusiasts, Qatar-based Ada Blessing is someone to gaze upon with admiration. Last month, Ada got 691 ‘likes’ for a photograph on Facebook in which she sported a no-make up face, dressed in nothing but her cheeky grin and a Santa outfit. More than 200 ‘likes’ came in less than two hours. For a while, a collage of Blessing’s Santa pictures appeared as the cover picture on her mother Sharon’s Facebook profile. After all, seven-month-old Ada had clinched an award with her photo: that of “Most Voted” baby in a baby photo contest.

Click to Win
Baby photo contests, most often organised by parenting websites, are popular abroad but a fairly recent phenomenon in the Indian webspace and parents have warmed to the idea quickly. The Delhi-based parenting website Babynology has reported roughly 13 lakh views per month ever since they launched their monthly baby photo contest in 2008. The Ahmedabad-based website Parenting Nation claims to receive almost 200 entries every week for their weekly photo contest. India Parenting reports 500 entries for each of their weekly contests, even though they upload only 48 entries to the site in a week. “The remaining entries alone, which are kept on standby, last for almost two to three months,” said Franklin Manickam from India Parenting.  

Once parents upload a picture of their baby on the contest website, they try to gather as many votes as possible through social networking websites. Sharon, for instance, spent half an hour every day (coinciding with Ada’s nap time) asking her friends on Facebook to vote for her baby. Noida-based parent Prasoon Varshney, whose nearly 2-year-old baby daughter Agrima won a baby contest last year, went a step ahead. Varshney and his wife called up all their friends and relatives. “We even called up my sister’s friends and asked them to vote for her,” said Varshney. “We had to work hard for the 2,200 votes she finally won.”

Behind the scenes
From the organisers’ point of view, baby photo contests look deceptively easy. A network is organised comprising teams of people whose only responsibility is to deftly handle the deluge of replies once the contest is declared open. “There is a team of four to five people to screen uploaded pictures, email parents and help them with their queries,” said Vish Patel, CEO, Parenting Nation. At  Babynology, said marketing manager Virendra Kumar, out of the website’s 11 employees approximately eight work on the contest, which includes filtering data and monitoring spam.

Transparency is of utmost importance to these websites. Parenting Nation, for instance, decided to do away with a panel of judges for the contest as they wanted to “avoid human intervention”. “The baby with the maximum likes on Facebook will be the winner. So there is clarity,” said Patel. “We buy something online for the winner and courier it to the parents. We ask them to take a picture of the baby along with the prize and send it back to us. The baby’s certificate is delivered only after we get the picture,” explained Patel, adding that this is to highlight the authenticity of the contest to sceptical parents. The team at Babynology tracks down fake profiles while at India Parenting, parents found manipulating the voting system are disqualified. “We have a method to stop them,” said Manickam, cryptically.

Creating a fake profile is just one of the less chirpy sides of the world of baby photo contests. For instance, Sharon had to fight for Ada’s rights even after being pronounced the winner. “Two days after Ada was declared the winner, another girl’s picture was put up as the winner,” exclaimed Sharon. “I called the contest organisers and threatened to write about them in the journal that I work for, even though I don’t work for a journal.” From the organisers’ perspective, the parents can often be a handful. Parenting Nation’s Patel said that parents tend to nitpick.

“One parent even said that he will take us to court and accused us of holding a fake contest. How can you when this is a free contest?” asked an incredulous Patel. “Because of parents’ complaints, we even stuck to choosing a gender neutral educational gift for all winners.” Prathaban SR, founder of the Coimbatore-based KidandParent and CEO of a private company, isn’t particularly enamoured by Indian parents either. He had to discontinue the popular photo contest due to the sheer number of fake registrations. “The contest was supposed to be something fun, but parents got overly competitive. They created different IDs and kept voting for their own baby.”

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