I just saw a TV commercial for “BOBS Shoes” by Skechers that made me physically angry…angry as a cause marketer, angry as a “creative-type” and angry as a consumer. I’m not a fan of being angry…so I’ve donned my virtual “anti-copy-cats” trucker hat in attempt to lighten up a little.
Why so angry? In my opinion, authenticity, creativity and innovation are key components to a great cause marketing program (and, dare I say it—also to a great life). I’m angry that Skechers’ –such a powerful brand- chose to do an inauthentic, copy-cat campaign of TOMS shoe program. Skechers could have looked for an innovative way to partner directly with TOMS for a common cause, or even to define its own unique program-with-a-twist “inspired” by TOMS. Instead, Skechers’ program lacks the very authenticity and genuine commitment to the cause that drives the continued success of TOMS. I call this type of hollow cause marketing program “superficial cause marketing.” I don’t like it. It undermines consumer trust and trust in well-executed cause marketing/social good programs.
I know there could possibly be two camps on this issue.Yes, one could make a case for “the more the merrier” when it comes to mimicking a successful effort to benefit a cause. But, from my perspective, this execution doesn’t fall into that category because it seems so heavily market-share and profit driven and too light on the true commitment to a cause. Feel free to chime in if you think I’m totally off base here.
You be the judge:
TOMS was launched in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie after he discovered a desperate need for shoes for children living in Argentina. Based on a personal commitment and desire to help, Blake developed a business strategy called One For One designed to enable long-term donations of shoes (and other items and services) to help people in need. In my opinion, he is the real deal. Check out these videos that give you a clear sense of the brand promise and motivation:
Interview Video – A History – TOMS
TOMS video – Giving new shoes to children in need
TOMS video – One Day Without Shoes
Blake Mycoskie’s best selling book: Start Something That Matters
In 2009, Sketchers launched a line of shoes that looks uncannily similar to TOMS (see pictures below) and –get this– they even had the nerve to name them “BOBS Shoes.“ [I know!] Skechers offers the same buy one/donate one concept too. They don’t, however, bother to go into detail about who the beneficiaries are or any limitations on the program (a cause marketing faux pas).
Here’s a brief excerpt from the BOBS commercial I saw that inspired me to write this post. The voiceover states: “Skechers is proud to join companies like TOMS to help every child step into a better future.”
Here’s a look at each brand’s website, for easy comparison. Here is Skechers’ site:
Now here’s the original: TOMS
I’m sorry, but I think Skechers’ claim of being “proud to join companies like TOMS” needs some shoe deodorizer. Last time I checked, “joining” a movement would not be defined as launching a competing copy-cat product line (at a lower price point) and a copy-cat marketing campaign in the name of supporting the same general cause. In fact, to me, that actually seems more like the definition of “undermining” a movement than “joining” one. Tisk, tisk Skechers. This campaign is not in the spirit of what TOMS folks mean when they encourage people to find ways to give. Granted, results might have been different if this wasn’t a shoe-line—and, specifically, an intentionally similar shoe line. Or, had Skechers gone with a truly collaborative approach – working hand-in-hand with TOMS, the brand benefits and cause benefits could have been amazing. I would have much preferred to have written a blog post about that! Maybe next time.
Basically, Skechers just really missed the point here. The Skechers execution feels like a shady sales promotion/strategy and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. TOMS efforts are authentic and feels like something I want to support and evangelize—including buying TOMS products. Skechers, I’m just not buyin’ what you’re sellin’ —on a number of levels!
Note to Self: Don’t be like this guy->
On a personal note, as a “creative-type” myself, I am utterly disappointed at Skechers’ decision to forego innovation and creativity, opting to blatantly copy. This could have been seen as an opportunity to create something amazing in collaboration with or in contrast to TOMS. Where is the vision? [Full Disclosure: I may be a tad bit biased here, as my Mom is a talented, authentic artist, so I get my appreciation for true creativity honestly—and possibly even via my DNA! Shameless plug: www.RockyRiedel.com!]
Perhaps most importantly, as a Sketchers customer (I’ve purchased 3 pairs of Sketchers light-up sneakers for my toddler in the past year), I feel like Skechers is insulting my intelligence with a blatant attempt to dupe me into thinking I would be supporting the real TOMS program by participating in Sketchers’ vaguely explained copy-cat campaign connecting itself to TOMS. Yuck. Makes me sick. Now, if I can just break my Mommy-addiction to those adorable light-up shoes!
While I’ve focused on Skechers today, it obviously isn’t the only brand testing the copy-cat method in the cause marketing arena. For example, fellow cause marketer, Paul Jones also sees problems with Dannon’s choice to mimic Yoplait’s famously successful Save Lids to Save Lives program with it’s own Cups of Hope program, saying:
“It seems like a defensive measure on Dannon’s part. In one fell swoop, Dannon made Yoplait’s cause marketing effort slightly generic. Of course, that’s a two-edged sword because it made Dannon’s yogurt cause marketing slightly generic, too… I think the cause marketing world would be richer if Dannon had chosen to be inspired by Yoplait’s label campaign, rather than to try and copy and paste it.”
In his post, Paul also explains why he thinks General Mills got it right in how it “borrowed heavily” from competitor Campbell’s program. Check it out.
In closing, I’ll say this. I’m all for “being inspired” by others, “standing on the shoulders of giants” and even “imitation is the purest form of flattery,” but, when it comes to cause marketing/social good, I caution you to apply this advice with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of common sense – then run it through your authenticity-meter at least three times before going to market. That is, unless you LIKE angry customers and competitor evangelists.