In 2017, University of Arizona students Alan Alchalel and Brady Silverwood devised a strategy to promote their swimsuit line, Sunny Co Clothing.
They promised everyone who reposted the image above a “free” swimsuit — just pay $12 shipping (retail value $64.99). Offer ends in 24 hours.
Overnight, their Instagram following jumped from 7,000 to 784,000. More than 346,000 people took up their offer, forcing them to cap the promotion at 50,000 units.
Let’s do the math: 50,000 units x $12 = $600,000.
No, that’s not a typo.The campaign grossed over $600,000 in 24 hours.
It was so unexpectedly popular they had to issue almost $73,000 in refunds because they couldn’t meet demand.
This spawned a slew of articles calling the campaign a failure. One writer even thought that it belonged in the same category as the infamous Fyre Festival.
But if these publications had just paused to think, they might’ve realized they were missing the big picture.
Inventory issues aside, the real story was that two college students generated more revenue in one day than many businesses do in a year. And they did it with effectively $0 in ad spend.
Truth is, there’s a lot to learn from their campaign, so let’s mine some nuggets of wisdom.
In this article, I’m going to break down key lessons you can apply to your own marketing strategies. Then, I’ll provide a template you can use to recreate their success.
Nothing Sunny Co did was revolutionary — it was simply well executed. And if you follow the principles they used, you too can become an overnight sensation.
First, let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
Unless you manufacture your own goods, the only way you can promise a swimsuit for $12 is by buying in bulk to keep costs low.
In light of this, it’s likely Sunny Co sourced their product from an overseas supplier.
I did a quick search on Alibaba and found a similar swimsuit that costs $6.10/unit (when ordering over 100).
Let’s assume they were able to negotiate down to $3/unit, given they ordered 50,000 pieces.
In 2017, you could ship a seven-ounce package across the U.S. for about $3 via USPS First Class.
Factor in $0.50 for packaging/branding and $0.70 for payment processing fees and that brings total costs to $7.20.
Estimated profit = $12 – $7.20 = $4.80/unit.
We know they ended up issuing roughly $73,000 in refunds. But assuming they could tell the future and adequately planned their supply chain, they would’ve raked in over $240,000 in profit in 24 hours.
Three key factors:
Want to command attention?
Offer something for free.
Caveat: as we saw above, Sunny Co used the word “free” fairly liberally. In any other context, $12 shipping for a single swimsuit is outrageous.
Nevertheless, it’s likely many customers realized this and still wanted in, especially when compared alongside a $64.99 retail price.
The real takeaway here is that people love the idea of “free”, even if it’s merely framed as such.
If “free” grabs the audience’s attention, limited time offers give them no choice but to respond.
Sunny Co took advantage of this by restricting their campaign to 24 hours, which persuaded their audience to jump on board right away.
There’s nothing worse than missing out on a chance to grab something for free because you waited too long to act.
This campaign went viral for a reason.
Points 1 and 2 are critical, but they would’ve fallen flat if the Instagram image wasn’t appealing to their audience.
That wasn’t an issue for the Sunny Co team, because they chose an image that:
These elements ensured their campaign got noticed.
Here’s how you can recreate Sunny Co’s success.
Find a product you can:
To figure out the second part, first, determine your total costs.
For example, these blue light blocking glasses cost $1.80 per unit. You can ship them anywhere across the U.S. for roughly $3 via USPS First Class. That puts your total cost at $4.80.
Next, determine the maximum amount a customer would pay for shipping on the item.
If you sell the benefits properly (ie. blue light blocking glasses prevent headaches), I think you could persuade an audience to pay up to $8 for “shipping.”
That leaves you with $8-$4.80=$3.20 in profit.
This step is a must and will save you from the terror of issuing mass refunds due to quality complaints down the road.
Pay attention to the supplier’s reviews regarding fulfillment times. Make sure they can handle large order volumes in a timely manner.
As we discussed earlier, it’s important that your image doesn’t look like an ad and is relevant to your audience’s interests.
I strongly suggest including a human being in your image. After all, humans relate best to other humans.
Your campaign should look something like this:
“For the next X hours, everyone who reposts this image on Instagram and tags us in the post will get a free [product]. Must be following us to be eligible.”
Sunny Co ran their campaign for 24 hours. You can run yours for however long you want.
Just keep in mind: shorter campaigns create more urgency, which yields better results.
If you have an existing following or an active social circle you can leverage, you may be able to pull this off with $0 ad spend.
If not, DM themed accounts on Instagram and buy at least $500 worth of ads.
There are a lot of variable components here, like how good your branding is, how appealing your product is, and how attractive your images are.
So it goes without saying your results will vary.
But as Sunny Co demonstrated, knowing your audience stacks the odds in your favor. Hit on all the right points with your branding and messaging and there’s no reason you can’t experience a similar level of success.
At the end of the day, the key is understanding the power of the “free for a limited time” model.
In the brick and mortar days, companies used this method to get visitors to their store. Their goal was to get customers to also buy other items while they were there, which is how they made money.
In today’s global economy, however, it’s now possible to make money directly off the product you’re “giving away,” because many products can be sourced from overseas for pennies on the dollar.
So put on your thinking cap and get creative. The next viral money-maker is just around the corner.