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Image / Editorial

How Reese Witherspoon’s Covid Instagram giveaway went wrong

by Jennifer McShane
16th Jul 2020

With celebrities having millions of followers each on social media, it stands to reason that they will partner and collaborate with brands – as well as pushing their own to give back when they can. But what happens when the fine print gets misread? Well, it’s a PR disaster, as Reese Witherspoon came to find out

In April, Witherspoon announced she wanted to give something back.

Her clothing line, Draper James, announced a special offer for teachers — to show 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.”


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The problem was in the finer details: According to reports, the brand only had 250 dresses to give. And while the announcement did mention an application and winners, including an “offer valid while supplies last” line, many teachers who sent in their details simply thought they’d receive a gift, as advertised. And when they didn’t, a lawsuit came about.

It gets more complicated because naturally, Witherspoon’s promotion gained a great deal of traction. So much so, that a million teachers applied to receive a dress.

The lawsuit

A lawsuit followed, where, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the complaint alleges Witherspoon and Draper James breached contract and violated California’s consumer law through misstatements and omissions. The suit also says those teachers applying for dresses were effectively tricked into providing sensitive and personal information, including employment identities.

The label were quick to try to clarify Draper James was merely raffling off apparel to a limited number of teachers after the site crashed due to demand. “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.”

The teachers maintain that anyone reading the Instagram post was not made aware it was a lottery, and that while the post did mention “while supplies last,” there was no specific limitation on quantity stated. Witherspoon is apparently faulted for the lack of disclosure, according to those suing. The teachers also say it’s highly unlikely that national shows like The Today Show and Good Morning America would have covered Witherspoon’s gesture if everyone had known that the nation’s educators were being offered something so little in the form of 250 dresses (said to have cost Draper over $12,000).

The response

Meanwhile, Witherspoon lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss.

“No reasonable respondent would share Plaintiffs’ belief that a boutique clothing line would be awarding a limitless supply of free dresses,” the motion reads. “And the words ‘apply,’ ‘winners,’ and the phrase ‘offer valid while supplies last’ made clear that entrants had an opportunity to receive a free dress — an opportunity that they received.”

All this drama over a free dress? This is what it is to be a celebrity in 2020.

Main photograph via Twitter

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