Its competitors give away Caribbean cruises and new cars, so to stand out an Ottawa radio station is offering listeners a different kind of prize: a baby.
If you live in Ottawa, you've probably heard of Hot 89.9's controversial Win a Baby contest. Despite its intentionally attention-grabbing name, no, you do not win a fresh newborn if you're caller number 10. The prize instead is three sessions of fertility treatments for the couple with the most compelling story.
It's an unconventional prize, but Jeff Mauler, known on air as "Mauler," host of the station's morning show, says it speaks to Hot 89.9's target demographic of women aged 25 to 54.
"One in six couples have trouble conceiving," he explains. "A trip down to Cuba isn't going to help that situation for them."
The contest, which closes Sept. 28, has drawn more than 300 entries. It has been a marketing success for the station, too, eliciting plenty of responses by phone, e-mail and on the Hot 89.9 Facebook page.
This week, judges will choose five finalists from among the applicants, and then listeners will vote on whom they think most deserves the prize (valued at $35,000).
But along with applications, the station has been deluged with criticisms from listeners who say it's inappropriate for the station to use a baby as a commodity.
"[They say] we're putting a baby in the same category as a car or a trip," Mr. Mauler says.
Gimmicks aside, he says the contest addresses just how inaccessible treatment is for couples in Ontario, where (unlike in Quebec) the government does not cover the cost of IVF treatment.
"Yes, it'll grab people's attention, but hopefully what it would do is get people talking about fertility issues and have our government – who, by the way, are in an election [campaign] right now, as you know – bring this to the forefront," Mr. Mauler says.
Beverly Hanck, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada, agrees that the Ontario government should fund IVF, but says the contest is "kind of disgusting." Still, she says she can understand entrants' motivations.
"It certainly signifies the desperation out there to have a child and the lack of funds. People just don't have the money for these treatments."