Marketing genius? People go crazy for company's free $65 swimsuit Instagram offer

Because who doesn't want a free swimsuit?

If the above picture has appeared on your Instagram feed in the past 24 hours, you already know...

The image of the distinctive red swimsuit has appeared tens of thousands of times on the social media site. It's because a California-based Sunny Co Clothing is offering a free suit – worth $65 – to anyone who shares the picture and tags the company in it.

To put in context how crazy people have gone for it, the company's previous Instagram post was liked almost 2,900 times. The free offer post has been liked almost 59,000 times, and they appear to have added 130,000 Instagram followers in the past day.

If you want to take the company up on the offer, you have until 4 p.m. CST to do so.

This could well be a stroke of marketing genius provided they can actually afford the cost of giving away tens of thousands of $65 swimsuits pretty much free of charge (though people still have to pay for shipping).

GoMN has contacted Sunny Co Clothing to get an idea of how many swimsuits it'll be shipping out. In the meantime, we've crunched some of the numbers to take a (very vague) look at the cost to see whether this could be an expensive mistake, or a piece of absolute marketing genius.

The cost of the giveaway

Let's say of the 59,000 people who liked the Instagram post, about 20,000 of those posted the image themselves and use the discount code to order one of the swimsuits.

That would be around $1.3 million in lost revenue compared to if they paid the full price for the swimsuit.

But let's face it, the vast majority of people wouldn't even have heard about the swimsuit if it wasn't for the free offer. So in reality, the only amount the company loses is the amount it would have made selling that particular suit under normal trading conditions.

Now, we look from a marketing perspective. While the swimsuit retails at $65, the actual cost of the company producing it is less.

But as Slate notes, swimsuits tend to be seasonal purchases. The cost of making them is higher due to the shorter selling period, the types of materials used, and the onus placed on the quality of the fit that makes swimsuit production quite an intricate process.

Finding a consensus figure for the cost to produce higher-end swimsuits is a pretty thankless, but this answer on Quora suggests manufacturers can expect to spend $12-$20 per style.

Let's take the median of that, $16. So if Sunny Co Clothing gives away 20,000 swimsuits for that amount, it would be eating a cost of $320,000.

Compared with other marketing

Using $320,000 as the jumping off point, let's take a look at how this compares with advertising in other mediums.

The Chron reports a full-page ad in a national women's lifestyle magazine would set a company back around $250,000. If you do this in, say, Cosmopolitan this could see you marketed to its 3 million circulation, or 18 million readers online if you choose to go that route.

That said, there's no guarantee every reader will notice this and even if they do, feel compelled to find out more about the company.

Where the Instagram offer works is that it's asking readers to share the picture with their own followers, ensuring that anyone who checks their Instagram sees it.

As for TV, the cost of airing an ad will vary wildly depending on when it goes on. Adage put the average cost for 30 seconds of prime-time commercial broadcast TV at $112,000 in 2014. That's not taking into account the cost of producing and editing the ad in the first place, which can be a costly endeavor.

If you're looking at advertising on an online streaming service, probably a better way of targeting younger consumers, then an ad on Hulu would set you back about $30 for every 1,000 users who would see it (the price in 2013, according to Digiday).

Say that Instagram post was seen by 10 people for every time it was shared by an Instagram user, and let's say it was shared by the 30,000 people who commented on the post (many of them saying they'd shared it), you'd need advertising to reach 300,000 people. This would cost you $9,000 on Hulu.

If you wanted to advertise with Google Adwords, so an advertising link appeared at the top of specific search results, that would cost you in the region of $30,000, with TopDraw saying the cost per thousand people viewing an ad via Adwords is around $100.

So on the face of it this could be an expensive marketing ploy. But hey, we're talking about it and so are many thousands of others, and would that be the case if they'd just run an ad on Hulu? Doubtful.

Free stuff sells ... so to speak.

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