TOMS Shoes: Marketing Success Story AND Social Benefit

5 Apr

Today, according to TOMS SHOES, is ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES day. I love the idea. I am barefoot today. But more interesting to the business world, and especially those trying to understand how social media marketing can work for them, and how to market a concept or idea over a product, TOMS SHOES is a fascinating case study. TOMS is a for-profit company with a social cause. TOMS has a model of buy one, give one. For every pair of shoes bought, TOMS donates a pair to someone in the developing world who has no shoes. The company was founded in 2006, and has taken off. SO much so that TOMS has the marketing power to put together a day where more than one million people will go all day without shoes on. They have done a lot of things right, including creating a beautiful YOU TUBE video explaining the ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES concept. The founder of TOMS explains in a USA TODAY article why he decided to found a for-profit company instead of a charitable organization:

“When I first decided that I wanted to do something about this problem, I had a few options. I could have written a check to a charity or foundation for a one-time donation. But it didn’t feel right. By being a for-profit, we’re more sustainable,” he explains.

In the world of entrepreneurship, I admire and respect Blake Mycoskie. He has started a company doing something that he loves, is passionate about, and can also do some social good. He has been super smart about how to get the message out about what and how he is doing what he does, and has turned his shoes into a social status symbol. Many people recognize the shoe, and know that you paid more in order to donate a pair of shoes to someone in need.  He feels like not only is he donating shoes to a good cause, but he is also helping people talk about the need for shoes in developing countries. But at the end of the day, remember that TOMS is a for-profit company.  Which is why I think he has done a brilliant job of marketing his shoes and his cause. His company has been successful. He has been successful. And at the same time he gets to feel good about what he does, and consumers who buy his products feel good about buying them.

It’s interesting though, that people feel the need to point out, that if TOMS really wanted to put a dent into helping developing countries take care of their people, the TOMS model is not as efficient. Sally Nelson wrote an article titled “TOMS? No thanks” that explains you  would be better off donating directly to a cause, rather than buying shoes through TOMS. She is definitely right. But does that make TOMS a bad company? Or misleading? Sure, if he donated 50% of the revenue he received from his shoes directly to an organization that built wells, or feeds children, or helps bring vaccines to developing nations, the results may be different. But would he have a company as successful as he has? Would he be able to champion a movement that gets over a million people to go shoeless for a day to help bring awareness to the problem (and not so coincidentally probably sells more shoes for TOMS in a day than any other day)?  Somehow I doubt it. The marketing message would be much more complicated. Complicating the message most times means it does not spread and does not get traction. At the end of the day, TOMS seems to be producing a product that people LOVE, think is comfortable and stylish, and gives them a certain social status. What would other companies do to get this sort of consumer loyalty, word of mouth, and repeat buyers? If you are curious, check out their website and the hundreds of customer reviews for the shoes.

Meanwhile, regardless of anything else, it feels good to participate in something that raises awareness for a good cause — and one that is not impossible to fix. We don’t have to find the cure for AIDS or cancer, or free the world from genocide to put shoes on every child’s feet. So, for the time being, ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES works for me! I commend TOMS shoes.


4 Responses to “TOMS Shoes: Marketing Success Story AND Social Benefit”

  1. Catherine June 29, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    “But does that make TOMS a bad company?” No absolutely not! Every little bit helps.
    I don’t think this makes TOM a bad company, clever may be.


  2. Jason Strain January 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Interesting points about TOMS “cause” stance. I agree, but feel it is getting nit picky to criticize a for-profit company for not quite doing as much as they could. Yeah, if they were a non-profit or a ministry then there would be room for criticism, but they aren’t. They are very profitable while providing shoes to the world, a good thing.

    However, doesn’t it lead you to wonder: which came first, the cause or the product? There are much more serious needs in the world i.e. starvation, water quality, birth mortality that could have inspired other products, but instead the founder chose a product that he knew would sell because of its marketability. I agree with you that I applaud him for doing a good thing and it’s great that people are passionate about the brand, but it’s also very apparent that money is the driving factor, not the cause itself.

    Some partners and I are in the works of developing a product around a cause that caught our attention: 80% of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts in one’s eyes that are curable by a 35-40$ surgery in most 3rd world companies. We are developing a brand of sunglasses/eyeglasses made out of Bamboo sold for $60 a pair and with each pair bought, we will fund the surgery to remove the cataracts and heal one’s blindness in a 3rd world country (mainly China) before it begins.

    Let me know what your thoughts are on this and what advice you would give to some young cause-minded entrepreneurs as they market what could be a very “Sight giving” product! You have great insights on cause marketing and it would be very much appreciated! The brand will be called “ifori” (Eye for eye) and will launch in the Northwest this fall.

  3. merve February 14, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Hey! I really enjoyed your post, and agree that Toms created a really good business model that is both sustainable and raises an awareness to a social problem. I think this is a good model to transform the current consumer habits, to a more conscious and socially responsible consumption habits..
    Also,I have a question. I have been looking for for-profit companies that have a similar business model and contributes to social change. I haven’t found many of them unfortunately.. It would be great if you could name a few, if you are aware of such companies..

  4. Oppo November 5, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    This seems like a very interesting idea. One should try to spend a day barefoot for change. There is so much to learn from the marketing success story described in this blog. Thank you so much for sharing.

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