Earlier this month, Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line, Draper James, announced a special offer for teachers — just a little something to show the country’s 3 million-plus educators how much their extra efforts during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders were appreciated.
“We want to say thank you,” an April 2 Instagram post from Draper James read. “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.”
Just one problem: According to the New York Times, the brand only had 250 dresses to give. And while the announcement did mention an application, and winners; while it did include an “offer valid while supplies last” line, many teachers who sent in their details simply thought they’d receive a gift, as advertised. But with fashion brands around the world donating millions to the coronavirus fight, and with Witherspoon being a celebrity, the promotion got a lot of media attention. The Times reports that the application page “crashed almost immediately,” and by the time it closed, had logged almost a million entries.
The label — which employs fewer than 30 people — reportedly scrambled to clarify to applicants that Draper James was merely raffling off apparel to a limited number of teachers. “We felt like we moved too quickly and didn’t anticipate the volume of the response,” Marissa Cooley, the senior vice-president for brand marketing and creative at Draper James, told the Times. “We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single digit thousands.”
According to the Times, Draper James emailed applicants last weekend to let them know it was making an unspecified donation to help educators support their remote classrooms, and that the company was “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.”
But the backlash was nonetheless swift. Online, educators said they’d been asked to provide photos of their school IDs and personal information including email addresses, only to be rewarded with discount codes. As one Twitter user pointed out, Draper James dresses fell outside her budget even at 20 to 30 percent off. Another accused the brand of “preying on educators to build [its] email list by misleading us with [a] gimmick.”
The snafu also left some teachers upset with Witherspoon, whose reputed net worth lives somewhere in the $240 million neighborhood and who, per the Times, “loved” the original giveaway idea. “She always seemed like such a down-to-earth celebrity,” Laura Deckman, a Rochester, New York, public school teacher, told the paper. “She has a really strong brand that is about being a mom and regular person.” But the subsequent confusion, Deckman added, felt “like a marketing 101 fail. … The intentions were good, but the execution was terrible.”