What Brands Can Learn From This Botched Swimsuit Giveaway

Experts from Huge and Ketchum weigh in on Sunny Co's fiasco.

The brand's screw-up quickly went viral. Instagram: @sunnycoclothing

If you’re going to run a social media giveaway for your company, don’t do what Sunny Co did.

The apparel company launched an Instagram contest sponsored by the Twazer app promising to give away a red Pamela swimsuit, which normally costs $64.99, for just the price of shipping and handling to each person who reposted a photo of a model wearing the swimsuit and tagged the company. 

Twenty hours later, due to the “viral volume of participants”—as in many more thousands of people trying to get in on the deal than expected—Sunny Co updated the conditions of the deal to include the caveat that the company “[reserved] the right to cap the promotion if they deem necessary.”

(UPDATE: By the morning of Friday, May 5, it appeared the brand had deleted its Instagram account.)

As BuzzFeed News reported, when participants subsequently tried to claim their Pamela suits, many were charged full price. When BuzzFeed reached out to the women, they told the publication that they had contacted Sunny Co but had yet to receive a reply. One source said she did receive a reply from Twazer, which explained that Sunny Co had been swamped with so many requests that it would take time to get back to her but assured her “everything will be sorted out.”

Unsurprisingly, social-media backlash has been swift and harsh for Sunny Co.

“It’s clear that Sunny Co either didn’t think through the details of the giveaway or received poor counsel on how to set it up,” Huge managing director of PR Jason Schlossberg told Adweek.

Despite the negative reaction, Schlossberg said he thought the situation was “certainly recoverable” for the fledgling company.

“Let’s be honest, this was a brand that most people had not heard of before this debacle and now we’re talking about them,” he said. “The founders claim to be college students, so hopefully they’ve learned that there is a big difference between writing on your website that you ‘want to be a company that listens to every single customer’s wants and needs’ and actually being a company that listens to every single customer’s wants and needs.”

It was clearly a mistake on the part of Sunny Co not to set a cap on the giveaway from the start rather than expressly saying that “EVERYONE” who participated would get a free swimsuit.

Ketchum senior vice president and creative director Jim Lin said that placing a limit on the giveaway would not have compromised the company’s objectives of “generating brand awareness and creating excitement among consumers in the hope to win by sharing the content.”

“A brand can create the excitement without breaking the bank with a ‘first 500 shares get a free something,'” Lin said. “This doesn’t limit the number of shares, because the average person wouldn’t know or care to check where the tally was at. It’s easier to just share, hope and walk away, which is basically what the internet is all about.”

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.