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Reese Witherspoon's Fashion Brand Hit With Backlash After Dress Giveaway For Teachers Goes Horribly Awry

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Reese Witherspoon's Draper James fashion brand underestimated the amount of responses they'd get when the company announced they were giving away free dresses to teachers in appreciation for their dedication during the pandemic.

The Draper James team had nothing but the best intentions, but they should have taken into account that – with over 3 million public school teachers in the U.S. – a substantial number of teachers would be saying yes to the dress.

And they only had like 250 to give away.


Whoops.

The 5-year-old company announced the giveaway on April 2 with an Instagram post, saying:

"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."

So far so good, right? Well, they probably should have made it a bit clearer that not every single teacher would receive a complimentary dress to take the edge off their pandemic woes.

I mean, they did imply that only "winners" would take home the dress and that the offer was only good "while supplies last." But maybe the limitation of their supply should have been part of the pitch.

So, how did it work?

Our beloved educators were instructed to fill out an online application form and submit photos of their school IDs and their work email addresses.

They were told winners would be announced this week. Those who did not win were offered 30% off discount codes and the opportunity to unsubscribe from the list.

The giveaway announcement blew up on social media and the Instagram post was viewed over 400,000 times after Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush featured the giveaway on The Today Show.

Natalie Ornell, a substitute middle school teacher from Boston, saw promise in the philanthropic gesture:

"In many parts of the country, a lot of teachers really don't feel appreciated, and don't get paid very well, and the idea of a free dress during a high stress time was really exciting."
"It was really like Cinderella."

But added:

"In the end, it felt like her brand profited more than the teachers."

In the end, according to the New York Times, the online application form crashed instantly.

"Just days after the original Instagram post appeared, it had been viewed more than 400,000 times."
"Teachers were emailing one another and sharing it online. By the close of the application period, Draper James had almost one million applications — which was approximately seven times the total number of dresses they had sold in 2019."

Page Six reported that the 30-person company had only planned on distributing 250 dresses.

Instagram user cathylesterwyatt commented on Draper James' feeble attempt at rewarding stay-at-home teachers and shamed the fashion brand for placing educators above nurses who are risking their lives during the crisis.

"Great for the teachers who are able to be in their homes as they continue to assist parents with educating the kids."
"Unlike us nurses who are out on the frontlines risking our lives and our families lives as we attempt to take care of others during this pandemic."
"Don't get me wrong, I always appreciate our educators but I have never understood why nurses and health care workers are looked down upon."

While rjn295 had a problem with the lack of pertinent information.

"Only 250 can win though? Not at all clear in your publicity! Why get our hopes up like this? Deceptive D"

The frustration continued on Twitter.



Draper James tried to mitigate the frock fracas by clarifying the venture was more of a raffle than a mass giveaway and updated their post with the actual giveaway number twice. But by then it was too late.

Marissa Cooley, the senior vice-president for brand marketing and creative at Draper James admitted their marketing fail.

"We felt like we moved too quickly and didn't anticipate the volume of the response."
"We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single digit thousands."

The company said over Easter weekend they would be donating an undisclosed amount to a charity that supplies teachers with educational tools for remote students and are:

"actively working on expanding our offerings, both internally and with outside retail partners who were also inspired by your stories and want to join in honoring your community, and we ask for your patience while we organize this effort."

Ultimately, the threadbare marketing plan was not a good look.