TOMS vs. BOBS: How Skechers Shot Themselves in the Foot

SkechersThis 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 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?

[Image Credit: GOOD magazine]

Reprinted from SimonMainwaring.com

Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at SimonMainwaring.com or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.

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172 Comments

  • Margaret

    It is my understanding that TOMS are made in the USA, in California. The retail is not $140, most of the ones I buy are below $60.  

  • JCSanDiego

    all is fair game, I could care less who is copying who, if Skechers is doing it to profit, uh, I would like to think that Tom's is also profiting from this, you it's articles like these that are the reason why we as Americans are so materialistic, instead of focusing on the real point behind the campaign, we start to criticize the materialistic part of it, so now whenever someone reads an article like this they feel like they need to fork over 40-50 bucks just for the sake of not being "ridiculed" for wearing "Bobs" instead of "Toms"...this just disgusts me...If there is one thing I always teach my nephews and nieces is to not judge people for what they wear or how they look...I love this country, but it disgusts me how materialistic it has become...

  • hurbledurble

    Oh give me a break.  Toms makes their overpriced, crappy shoes in 3rd world countries... and a bunch of idiots were suckered into paying too much for low-quality shoes so the factory workers children could get a pair.

  • Funkylisa123

    I agree, Toms are expensive for what they are. I just hope that they arn't made by young children, working all hours in sweat shops. I have got a pair and ive got for the comfort factor. I am now looking at buying a pair of Bobs as I saw a woman in a pair of silver glitter ones and they looked gorgeous, cheaper price too!

  • Jerro95

    I would prefer Tom's for the originality and creativity. But it's good how these two companies are donating a pair to children in need.

  • Dawn

    Do I think they were copying? Yes. Do I care? No. Kids get shoes either way, so no matter how disingenuous the company is, the good they are doing is the same. 

  • Eric Ward

    To Dawn...  I think most agree that however kids, without the resources to protect their feet while traversing miles for food, water or school, can get a pair of shoes is a good thing generally speaking if it comes from true altruism...

    As a separate issue though, you should care that there is a culture of copying others ingenuity (in other words 'stealing') for the sake of profit and/or promotional advantage at the expense of the idea's originator.  Who compensates those who create if others are allowed to just 'take' from that creative resource without compensation... that is a broader issue.  Did Skechers approach Mr. Mycoski to collaborate and tap into the growing organization/network of distribution he built?  NO.  Skechers saw the promotional benefits in their goodwill by putting their name on the project... That is,..ultimately 'taking' with benefit(promotion) to the giver, not 'giving' without any expectations of benefit in return(true altruism).

  • Susan Jeffries

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.    I have a pair of Bob's shoes I bought long before I knew anything about the company's philanthropy; I bought them because they are comfortable, just my style, the right color and the right price.  And I was thrilled to find that a shoeless child would receive a free pair of shoes because I bought mine.  Do I find it objectionable that another company copied the idea?  No - every company should be doing something similar.  Copying someone else's idea just proves what a successful idea it is.

  • Eric Ward

    Ms, Jeffries...

    The line, 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...' is the trite cliché trotted out by those justifying the usurping of someone else's original idea because they either lack an ethic preventing taking an idea without consideration and renumeration to the originator; looking to take the short-cut path following someone else's success... 

    Skechers could have collaborated with TOM'S to augment the momentum Mr. Mycoski had built with his business model's good will and efforts.  Instead, Skechers cannibalized the social marketing technique as just another entry point into the shoe market without a real genuine effort to effect change for children...a PR stunt... all to avoid acknowledging and allowing TOM'S to further build their business network and model...

    If we go on your premise of 'imitation', we would not know of the Thomas Edisons or Henry Fords and have benefitted from their visions because they wouldn't have been able to have the chance at building up their businesses based upon 'their' ideas (i.e.: inventions).

    Otherwise, what's the point in having copyrights and patents?  Something that is an inherent part of our U.S. Constitution because the founding fathers understood how fundamental it was to protect intellectual property and allow the creator of that property time to build their enterprise...  

  • X-ray_dren2005

    Eric,
    "True altruism?" Like charging $50 for a pair of shoes that cost maybe $5-$10 to make...sure, no benefit there...

  • Ariette Hung

    "design copy" or not, I've had Toms and I have just gotten a pair of Bobs and I can say that Bobs are way more comfortable. If you have feet problems like flat feet, Bobs have better arch support and made with more durable material. They're also more affordable and long lasting. 

    Take your pick in which you'd like to buy, but I go for comfort instead of 'cute'.

  • CheckYourFacts

    Everyone one copies everyone if you look at it. TOMS design of the shoe is not an original, if you do your research. Just like Sketcher, TOMS has copy the design from other low level companies so why point the finger at what Sketcher did is so bad? They are doing a good thing to help the needy so that is a thumbs up!

  • Tigresshasklaus

    So, let me get this straight: because people reduced this to a schoolyard case of Sketchers being "copycats", it's seen as "good sense" that they cancelled the campaign?
    Talk about people not getting the point! Who gives a flying rat's hiney that they copied the model of Toms??? Was the point getting shoes to the less fortunate or being unique (just like everyone else) while you did it?
    All ideas come from somewhere; let's do TRY to grow up!

  • Joyeliya

    The second that people start worrying about "Who's copying who" or whether they're "Original or not", those people have already forgotten the purpose of the shoes in the first place. So what, if a big corporation is a copy cat? At least they're helping people in the process. Anyone that cares who created the shoes first, cares more about the trend than the charity... ridiculous.

  • Eric

    Can't say I agree. Skechers has been copy-catting the best for years. There isn't a popular kids shoe out there this company hasn't copied. So why act surprised now? At least they are doing "good" w/ this idea. They have surpassed the 4M mark for donated shoes, 4-times TOMS in much less time. What's wrong w/ that? If kids w/o shoes are getting new shoes on their feet, who are we to mock the company that is providing them. I'd love to see NIKE, Reebok, and the other biggies rip-off TOMS. Maybe more kids would have shoes on their feet.