TOMS vs. BOBS: How Skechers shot themselves in the foot

Image Credit: GOOD magazine

This week Skechers copied the concept behind for TOMS shoes by launching BOBS (link no longer available). Just like TOMS, when you buy a pair of BOBS, Skechers would donate another pair to a child in need. Even the shoes were the same. And their name had a similar short, familiar feel. In doing so they set themselves up for online ridicule, but also drew a powerful distinction between those that do good because of the meaning behind it and those that do it simply for marketing purposes.

Obviously the concept of giving a pair of shoes away has proven effective marketing for TOMS shoes and its founder, Blake Mycoskie. But what drove TOM”s success is not the “how” – the giving away of shoes – but the “why” behind it. As the company website explains, the TOMS concept emerged after a powerful and authentic experience – Mycoskie’s travels in Argentina during which he saw and met countless barefoot children. That powerful direct experience inspired a desire to do good. So Blake and his team took a financial risk by betting their business and philanthropic success on an untested and generous buisness model.

Skechers approach appears to be far more cynical. There is no problem with Skechers or any company copying the TOMS concept. In fact, Blake Mycoskie has stated that he hoped others would copy his business model. But by mirroring the TOM’s concept so blatantly, Skechers not only showed a lack of creativity and originality, but they left themselves wide open to accusations of disingenuous social concern.

This is a great example of where where so many brands go wrong. Consumers do not respond to the “how” of what you do but the “why”. That’s because the “why” is emotional and something they can connect to. The “How” is simply the expression of that emotion.

Skechers would have done far better to copy TOMS in a different way. They should have sat down and thought through what they stand for and then acted on that with equal generosity. Then would consumers have a way to connect with the brands that warranted admiration.

As it stands, consumers can do little but shake their heads at such transparent and self-serving motives. That’s why their campaigns set off such an online fire storm within 24 hours. At least Skechers had the good sense to take down their BOBS promotion as soon as the issue erupted.

The integration of profit and purpose is a tricky business for true motivations are easily obscured. But one thing is sure. Consumers know authenticity when they see it and can smell cynicism a mile away. The only way for a brand to protect itself is to start from a place of authenticity. That way the extraordinary connectivity and reach of social media can work for a brand and not against it.

Do you agree that BOBS was a disingenuous marketing campaign? Or do you think the TOMS concept is fair game?