The year was 2017. The Handmaid’s Tale was the most talked-about TV show of the year. Taylor Swift dropped “Look What You Made Me Do”, her long-awaited comeback to the infamous Kimye phone call. Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture after the award was almost mistakenly given to La La Land first. And a little-known bathing suit company called Sunny Co Clothing nearly broke the internet (and its own manufacturing capabilities) with a humble promotional campaign for a red swimsuit that went viral.
The concept was simple, and I remember it because I participated in it (I would do anything for free sh*t, then and now). Sunny Co Clothing posted a picture to their Instagram of a model wearing their red “Pamela” style one-piece. She was sitting at the edge of a pool with her feet in the water, and the picture was taken from the back. All you had to do to get a Pamela swimsuit of your own was repost the image and use a certain hashtag, and voilà: you’d get a promo code for a free suit (minus shipping).
Sunny Co Clothing, founded by two college seniors at the University of Arizona, was not prepared for just how quickly their giveaway would catch on. Medium reported in 2017 that the promotion caused the company to shoot up from 7k Instagram followers to 750k followers overnight. (Today, they have 337k followers on Instagram but are verified. Their Twitter account has been suspended.) The promotion blew up so unexpectedly that the company was forced to add a stipulation that they could cap the number of suits given away. Outlets called the effort a failed marketing stunt (depending on your definition of failure—after all, the company went from near-obscurity to write-ups in Teen Vogue and Seventeen, plus the giveaway was repeated a few times after its initial conception).
Well, on Wednesday night, I noticed the promotion was back, a revelation which unknowingly sent me on a bizarre journey chasing down an elusive promo code for a swimsuit I didn’t really want in the first place. (First, the obvious: the odds of me wearing a bathing suit anywhere other than my parents’ backyard this summer grow slimmer by the day. And, second, as said parents would love to remind me: I have plenty of bathing suits as it is.)
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I never unfollowed @sunnycoclothing on Instagram after their 2017 stunt (who ever said I couldn’t commit to things), so I noticed when their posting strategy abruptly changed from lifestyle posts of models and brand ambassadors in their swimsuits with run-of-the-mill captions about buying their product. On Wednesday night, they suddenly deleted all their posts except for a few, all of the same picture: the iconic red swimsuit pic from three years ago. They later whittled their feed down to just one post.
View this post on Instagram
EVERYONE that reposts and tags us @sunnycoclothing in the next 24 HOURS will receive a FREE Pamela Sunny Suit 👙👏🏻 Offer valid worldwide 🌎 Promo ends 5/8/[email protected] 3pm PST This promotion is sponsored by @sunnyambassadors After 24 hr. everyone who reposted and tagged us will be receiving a code and they will be able to use it on our website for the free check out 💕 *Must pay S+H* 💸
In addition to the sudden erasure of all previous posts, I also noticed a different tone in the comments: all caps, spotty grammar, lots of exclamation points. It felt reminiscent of what you’d see in the comments section of large IG accounts from bots who write things like, “are we really not gonna talk about how juicy my ass is?” rather than what you’d expect to see from a retailer or brand or other customer service-facing company.
Equally weird-feeling was the way the brand interacted with me when I commented. I tagged one of my friends in the comments of the giveaway post, and whoever was running the account then went to my page as well as my friend’s and commented personal details they’d gleaned from our bios and photos.
After asking my friend if she is Israeli, they commented back to her telling her to “be a motek” (a sweetheart in Hebrew). They gave no additional directions.
But undeterred by them going kind of IRL on me, I looked into the giveaway some more. The caption of their post said you can enter by reposting and tagging @sunnycoclothing, but according to one of the comments, entrants also needed to follow @sunnycoambassadors. According to yet another comment, you needed to comment “done” when you had completed the steps? I went onto the brand’s stories, where a message indicated one could also simply swipe up to sign up for their email list to receive the promo code.
Since I wasn’t about to f*ck up my own ~aesthetic~ (memes) by posting that red bathing suit pic on my precious feed, I signed up for the email list. Despite making sure “no one gets left behind”, as of 5pm EDT, I still had not received any email from SunnyCo Clothing, and awaited further instruction. And although someone from their team responded to my comment on their feed nearly immediately, a DM to the brand inquiring about the reasons for bringing back the giveaway, their plan for dealing with the volume of requests, and details on how to enter the giveaway went unanswered.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen anyone post that once-iconic red bathing suit pic, although some Twitter users reported seeing it making the rounds.
why tf is the stupid sunnycoclothing bathing suit fake giveaway coming back?? i thought we were smarter now people
— 💰ophasourous (@sophiecumpton) May 6, 2020
why did sunnyco clothing come back what fever dream am i living in
— stupid (@chamillay) May 6, 2020
Just when things were feeling too weird sunnycoclothing is coming back on schedule pic.twitter.com/rJkPzpwTVO
— sierra (@sierraforlove) May 7, 2020
It turned out I didn’t even need the code anyway, because at about 5:30pm EDT, Sunny Co Clothing posted a new picture to Instagram, announcing they’d “decided” that “everyone is getting a free Pamela suit today”, and giving out the promo code. How generous.
At this point, I could have given up—nay, I should have given up. But I was convinced by a colleague (read: probably told as a joke) to order one of the suits to see what would happen. And as mentioned before, I will do anything for free—or, in this case “free”—stuff. Bolstered by the idea that I would be shopping in the name of journalism, I went onto the sunnycoclothing.com at around 6pm to order my suit.
Suffice it to say, I do not have high hopes for the quality of this swimsuit, which looks, even in the brand marketing, like what was left of The Hulk’s onesie after he tore himself out of it. But still, I persisted, and ordered a size Medium, applied the promo code successfully, paid the $15.99 in shipping charges (I figured this would happen, that they would charge some astronomical shipping cost, but reasoned that a “free” $16 swimsuit was still not a bad deal in the name of journalism), and completed my order.
(For what it’s worth, if you do not use the promo code for a free swimsuit, shipping is free on orders of $25 or more—which constitutes every single item on the site minus one hat.)
At 6:30pm EDT, I received an email with the promo code for the free suit I had already ordered.
In a year characterized by a global pandemic and murder hornets, Tiger King and fall Coachella (that is probably not seeing the light of day, even in October), a swimsuit brand bringing back a somewhat spammy giveaway is far from the worst thing to happen. And honestly, it feels kind of right, like your high school ex, now divorced and balding, sliding back into your DMs to ask “how’s your quarantine going?”. It feels on-brand.
But if this quest taught me anything, it’s that lightning rarely strikes twice—and just like your crusty high school ex, some things are better left in the past.
Update: At 4:31am EDT, I heard back from Sunny Co Clothing on Instagram. A rep said they decided to re-run the campaign because “it is great for publicity” and the initial campaign “really put us on the radar”. They admitted, “The first time we were a college start up. We had 600 total orders for our company… We only had 70 ambassadors at the time of that giveaway. We ended up giving away 50,000 which was way more then [sic] what we had expected. This time we are fully prepared we know how this campaign works.” They also said “To enter the promotion all the [sic] have to do is share it on their story”.
Images: Sunny Co Clothing; Sara Levine (4); ophiecumpton, chamillay, sierraforlove / Twitter; Thought Catalog / Unsplash