Q: I've been seeing more and more contests linked to soft drinks, cereals and other grocery items. Why do the manufacturers feel the need to compete in this way?

A: Companies need to grab and keep consumers' attention _ and contests or special promotions help them do just that.

There are ``value-added'' offers aimed at regular customers. The customer buys a product and gets the added bonus of winning a prize or receiving a gift.

``It's just a random chance to have their day brightened,'' says Mark Owens, a board member of the Promotion Marketing Association, a nonprofit consumer trade group based in New York.

Value-added offers may also provide rebates, coupons for future purchases or offers for premium items that can be purchased at a reduced price or may be given away.

Of course, not all shoppers are loyal to one particular brand. But if there is a contest with the chance of winning a hefty prize, like an all-expense paid trip to an amusement park, the shopper may be swayed to make a purchase.

There are ``skill contests,'' a type of promotion that gives customers an opportunity to win a prize through competition involving the exercise of skill in answering a question or solving a puzzle.

There are also games of chance that permit consumers to participate in a contest even without having to make a purchase.

Studies show consumers think more highly of companies that put money into contests.

Of course, the ``odds of winning has to be reasonable enough that there's an excitement and a buzz generated,'' says Owens.

Stores also like promotions because they create attractive displays that can generate more sales.