Who surfs to be a millionaire?

Talk about hefty user-acquisition costs. A CBS-backed portal site called iWon.com gives away millions -- to differentiate itself.

Topics: CBS,

In an ad that aired on CBS Sunday night, right after the opening credits for “Touched by an Angel,” the network gave away $1 million to a single person. That person didn’t have the fastest fingers, ` la ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”; nor did she stab a teammate in the back in a display of Fox’s “Greed.” She didn’t even scratch off a ticket or enter a magazine sweepstakes.

Kimberly Lamagno of Running Springs, Calif., was awarded the money for simply using a month-old, CBS-backed Web portal, which is aptly named iWon.com. The 60-second spot on Sunday (part of a $40 million ad campaign) boasted that iWon.com gives you “a chance to win cash just for doing what you do anyway.” Every day, one user of the search site is randomly selected to win $10,000; every month, another user wins $1 million. And on April 15, the portal will be giving away $10 million to a single winner.

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How do you enter the sweepstakes for iWon.com’s daily, monthly, and annual drawings? You surf. And if it’s prize money you’re after, you surf the categories iWon.com encourages you to visit. Once you register, iWon.com quantifies your entire experience on the site. Virtually every link on iWon.com’s pages is preceded by a value representing the number of sweepstakes entries you’ll get for clicking it. Want to know the weather forecast? That’ll get you five entries — plus one more for clicking over to the Weather Channel’s site for the extended forecast. But wait! You’ll get seven entries for visiting the news page. The weather can wait!

Predictably, the links with the highest values include the “shopping” section and the site’s ads. After all, the giveaway money comes from advertisers and shoppers.

So can you just shop and read news endlessly to earn entries? Not exactly. After you reach the daily cap of 100 entries, the little red numbers mean nothing.

That might be the only downside to making the site entirely entry-oriented: Why stay, once you’ve maxed out on entries for that day? Of course, iWon.com is a fully functional portal site, with free e-mail, stock quotes and horoscopes, so the site is expecting that once the chance at riches lures you in, you may just stick around.

But if the site’s so great, why give away all that cash? “We think it’s a great way of differentiating ourselves,” says Jon Brod, iWon.com’s vice president of marketing. “The portal space is pretty competitive, and by offering world-class [features]” along with a giveaway, “we’ve got an incredibly compelling consumer proposition.” You’ve got to believe that newly minted millionaire Lamagno agrees.

Andy Dehnart is a writer living in Chicago.

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