Lessons Learned From The Red Swimsuit Social Media Influencer “Giveaway”

Sunny Co Clothing Red Swimsuit Giveaway
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What Marketers Can Learn From Mistakes Made In Sunny Co.’s Red Swimsuit “Giveaway”

On Thursday, May 4, Sunny Co. Clothing posted a photo on its Instagram account promoting a giveaway for its red one-piece “Pamela” swimsuit. The rules were simple: Every Instagrammer who reposted the photo from Sunny Co.’s Instagram account and tagged the brand would receive a code through Twazer (a third-party app) to use on the Sunny Co. site that would cover the cost of the suit, leaving participants to pay only shipping & handling. Instagrammers had 24 hours to post their photos, but what happened next was entirely unexpected.

Thousands posted and Instagram feeds were taken over by the photo, which spread so quickly that it gave rise to memes poking fun at the thousands of reposts. On the surface, it may have seemed like a shocking success, but it was a success for which Sunny Co. was woefully unprepared.

What Sunny Co. Clothing Failed To Address With Its Red Swimsuit Giveaway

Sunny Co. was overrun with thousands of orders more than it could possibly fill and was forced to implement a cap late in the game, but the damage was already done. Some customers were charged full price ($64.99) for the item instead of just shipping and handling ($12.98) or were denied the product entirely, despite following the original rules. Even those customers who were successful will have to wait weeks for their swimsuits.

sunny co red swim suit instagram viral giveaway

Naturally, Sunny Co. found itself bombarded with messages (“over 50,000 inquiries” in just two days) from dissatisfied customers, and it’s had trouble keeping up. On its website, Sunny Co. states that those who were charged full price for the suit by mistake will receive a full refund (but not the suit) and that those who successfully ordered the Pamela suit with the code will receive their suits in 3-6 weeks.

As a new company, this is probably not the way that Sunny Co. wanted people to start talking about its products. It learned the hard way that giveaways with influencers aren’t as simple as posting a photo with a few instructions. Giveaways require clear guidelines, clear goals, and, perhaps most importantly, in this case, limitations. Here’s what we can learn from Sunny Co.’s giveaway.

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Set Clear Goals & Limits When It Comes To Social Media Giveaways

Sunny Co. underestimated how popular the giveaway would be and how many people would be willing to repost the image in order to get a free swimsuit. It shouldn’t have, though. In running a repost campaign with user participation, it was clearly looking to maximize reach and exposure. The intention was for a large number of people to see the content. So why was it so ill-prepared for the exposure it got?

Sunny Co.’s primarily miscalculation was failing to account for the viral potential. By offering something that people wanted (a free $65 swimsuit) with relatively little in the way of effort on their part (a repost and tag), Sunny Co. guaranteed the campaign would grow quickly. Again, this would’ve been a huge success, had the company not failed to implement a limit on the number of suits that would be given away.

Sunny Co. should’ve thought carefully about how many swimsuits it was willing or able to give away, then limited the giveaway. Had it done so, it would’ve saved itself from public embarrassment and from having to rectify a messy situation, which is going to cost time and money. Sunny Co. did eventually create a second post detailing the rules, which included a provision on capping. More on that in the next section.

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Determine, Know, & Clarify All Rules In Advance Of The Influencer Giveaway

Giveaway rules and guidelines don’t have to be complicated, but they do have to be clear, and they should be communicated up front. There are also legal guidelines that brands must abide by when crafting giveaways and social media contests. They vary by state and contest type, but it’s important to know the rules and to clearly post the rules of a giveaway or contest from the beginning.

Sunny Co.’s original post included guidelines, but they were broad and unspecific, which contributed to the problem. The original post read, “EVERYONE that reposts and tags us in this picture within the next 24 HOURS will receive a FREE Pamela Sunny Suit. Offer only valid in [United States]. Promo ends 5/3/17 @ 3 pm MST *Must pay shipping+handling.”

sunny co instagram viral caption giveaway

It wasn’t hard to get people on board. The offer of a free swimsuit in exchange for relatively little effort had people reposting enthusiastically. But there was no communication about limiting or capping the giveaway in the original post. In fact, it wasn’t until 20 hours later that Sunny Co. posted official rules, part of which read, “Due to the viral volume of participants, we reserve the right to cap the promotion if deemed necessary.”

The promo rules also include necessary information, like a limit of one suit per participant, estimated shipping times, and the fact that there would be no exchanges or returns accepted for the promo. All of its rules were understandable, but they were posted way too late in the game. In failing to post the rules up front, Sunny Co. caused confusion around the guidelines and made itself look bad in walking back its original promise.

It’s important for brands to be clear about rules and guidelines from the start and to clearly communicate those guidelines. Sunny Co.’s giveaway was derided as a “scam” because it changed the rules in the middle of the campaign. It could’ve avoided the PR and logistical headache by simply developing and posting clear rules in the original post.

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Be Prepared To Meet Demand & Expectations Of A Successful Social Media Giveaway With Instagrammers

The other major failing of the giveaway was that Sunny Co. didn’t have the infrastructure or product to fulfill its promise. Though Sunny Co. likely didn’t imagine that its campaign would be quite so successful and that so many people would order the swimsuit, its failure to develop a concrete plan for delivery meant that it had to go back on its word, which dealt a major blow to its reputation.

Sunny Co. should’ve recognized much sooner that the campaign was growing beyond what it could accommodate. Twenty hours in was awfully late to enact a countermeasure. Beyond failing to communicate rules and to cap its giveaway at a reasonable number to ensure that it didn’t over-promise, Sunny Co. failed to keep open the lines of communication between itself and customers.

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The company should’ve known that its ability to accommodate a large number of requests was limited. A giveaway that’s designed to maximize exposure and reach is no place for modesty. When it came to resources that could be exhausted or strained, Sunny Co. should’ve assumed that it the campaign would be large so that it could be prepared.

Ultimately, Sunny Co.’s effort had the potential to be wildly successful, but poor planning, the lack of clear goals and limits, and the failure to clearly communicate the rules at the outset undermined that success. Now faced with fixing a major misstep, Sunny Co. learned the hard way that giveaways aren’t always simple and that they require work and foresight. But with these simple tips, brands and marketers can avoid making the same mistakes.

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