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Reese Witherspoon’s Clothing Company Receives Backlash for Changing Rules in Teacher Appreciation Dress Giveaway for Covid-19

In 2017, California-based clothing company, Sunny Co. Clothing, posted a photo to its Instagram account displaying a model wearing Sunny Co. Clothing’s “Pamela” red, full-piece bathing suit. The caption stated that every person who reposts the image tagging Sunny Co. Clothing “will receive a FREE Pamela Sunny Suit.” Sunny Co. Clothing failed to set a maximum on the number of swimsuits available for the promotion. The post quickly went viral and Sunny Co. Clothing found itself in the undesirable position of not being able to fulfil its promotional obligations as it simply did not have enough swimsuits to meet the demand. Sunny Co. Clothing publicly learned the importance of having complete and conspicuously disclosed contest rules for social media giveaways. Reese Witherspoon’s fashion label, Draper James, is now learning the same lesson several years later.

In an attempt to express appreciation for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Draper James decided to gift teachers with a dress from its collection. On April 2, 2020, Draper James announced the promotion on its Instagram account stating, “Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you.  During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress. To apply, complete the form at the link in bio before this Sunday, April 5th, 11:59 PM ET. (Offer valid while supplies last – winners will be notified on Tuesday, April 7th.)” The promotion went viral and many teachers tried to claim their free dresses. As it turns out, Draper James had only 250 dresses available to give to teachers as part of this promotion.

Once it realized the heightened demand for the free dresses, Draper James attempted to clarify the parameters of the promotion by notifying entrants that the giveaway was a sweepstakes, not a mass giveaway, and posting the actual giveaway number twice on its Instagram Stories. However, teachers had already submitted personal information under the guise that they would be receiving a free dress, so this clarification was too late and the public relations damage was already done.

Takeaway:  Social media promotions can be a great way to market a product and gain market recognition. However, with the chance that such promotions may go viral, marketers who are considering utilizing social media for promotional activities should work with experienced legal counsel prior to launching a similar contest or giveaway to ensure compliance and to troubleshoot potential issues that may arise.

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