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How Unclear Giveaway Marketing Can Muddy a Brand’s Reputation

During a time of financial uncertainty and fear for public health, many companies are stepping up to donate time and funds to industries and workers who are on the font-lines. But as clothing brand Draper James recently discovered, good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes.

Draper James, which was founded by actress Reese Witherspoon, announced an offer to teachers on April 2, 2020, to show their support for the professionals who continue to work hard to educate children and teens while the country is under quarantine. The company posted the following message to its Instagram account: “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.” Teachers were instructed to apply for the giveaway by a form, were given a deadline, and told when “winners” would be notified. The form noted that the giveaway was only valid “while supplies last.”

By some measures, the promotion was a huge success: the offer went viral and pretty soon Draper James had nearly one million applications. The only problem? The company had only 250 dresses to give away. Teachers who didn’t win one of the 250 dresses were offered a 30 percent discount, and the opportunity to unsubscribe from Draper James’ mailing list.

The backlash was swift, with  teachers and their advocates criticizing the brand for using the giveaway as a “marketing ploy” to get teachers’ personal information to send them promotional material, and headlines in major publications calling the giveaway “disastrous” and “messy.”

While sweepstakes and giveaways are a favorite marketing tool for many brands, this story is an important reminder that even well-intentioned promotions can damage a brand’s reputation and goodwill if not carefully designed. Brands can mitigate the risk by drafting written rules or terms for the promotion that clearly define eligibility, the method of entry, any other limitations, and address potential liability and conflict resolution. Marketing materials, including social media posts, should also be carefully vetted to ensure they are consistent with the rules or terms and include any necessary disclosures. 


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