Reese Witherspoon
Draper James

Dear Ms. Witherspoon,

It’s been four months since your attempt at a kind gesture turned into a marketing blunder, and yet you still haven’t suitably acknowledged the mishap or made it up to your audience. What gives?

I’m a big fan! I adored your performance in Walk the Line and I hold you in high regard for all you’ve achieved as a Hollywood producer. I’m also sure I’m not the only marketer to admire the personal touch you’ve always attached to your Draper James brand and its content.

When you appeared on The Today Show, offering to thank America’s homebound teachers with a free Draper James dress, I was impressed with your empathetic and compassionate response to the challenges teachers are facing due to COVID-19. And your related posts on Twitter and Instagram served as a shining example of how brand leaders can lend support to customers and deepen the trust they place in our businesses.

But then I watched all that goodwill dissolve.

Teachers who had applied for the free dress complained that Draper James was spamming them with marketing messages. Some began wondering if anyone had received the dresses that were promised. Then, after applicants went back to read the fine print in your posted offer, they took to Twitter to express their anger and frustration upon discovering that Draper James only planned to give away 250 free dresses. Considering that nearly a million teachers applied, the lack of clarity in your initial outreach around the meaning of “while supplies last” was not a good look.

You’ve been accused of #COVIDwashing and luring over a million American teachers to give up their personal information without receiving any value in exchange. And your company’s tepid response of increasing the discount code amount did little to spin the situation back in your favor.

Unfortunately, the longer you stay silent about the mistakes you’ve made, the more you jeopardize the brand trust you’ve worked so hard to build. To reconcile the situation, there are three things you should do today:

  1. Apologize. Publicly, personally, and on the same channels you used to promote your initial offer – not just in an impersonal PR response to media inquiries. You made a mistake, and as the high-profile face of the Draper James brand, it’s up to you to own up to it by speaking directly to those impacted.
  2. Remove from your database all 1 million teachers you lured into filling out your giveaway form. (If you think allowing all those teachers to voluntarily opt-out after the fact is the same thing as deleting their information proactively, you’re missing the point.)
  3. Show us what you’re doing to earn back your audience’s trust and reassure them that the mistake won’t happen again.

If your grandmother and company namesake, Dorothea Draper, were still with us, I imagine she would not have approved of your silence or the way your marketing team has handled this social snafu. Maybe you should look to her memory for some guidance here?

Here’s an idea I’d like to pitch to you: If you start owning up for the “little fires” this incident has sparked, your fans (me included) will stick by you – and stick up for you – next time you need our support.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Whether you wanted it or not,
Andrew Davis
Host and author, The Loyalty Loop