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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187 Comments

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    This is hardly charity, it is high pressure sales! The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…this is free sales pressure, it pushes people to make a buying decision un truthfully...

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    They don't hand out Skechers shoes; they suggest that this is the case but in fact they give out black plastic garden shoes.

  • I just saw these at dsw today! At first glance, I said to myself....,oh brother!..then I see "memory foam" mentioned. I tried it on and WOW, they were comfy! They were 49.95 but i had $20 coupon. I was never a fan of toms cuz I felt they were over priced. But the Bob's really are nice and well made.

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    This is hardly charity, it is high pressure sales! The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…this is free sales pressure, it pushes people to make a buying decision un truthfully...

  • 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.

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    This is hardly charity, it is high pressure sales! The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…this is free sales pressure, it pushes people to make a buying decision un truthfully...

  • 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!

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    This is hardly charity, it is high pressure sales! The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…this is free sales pressure, it pushes people to make a buying decision un truthfully...

  • 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.

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    "A" pair? The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…

  • 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. 

  • jeannine.desroches@gmail.com

    The shoes they hand out are Black plastic gardening shoes…not sure how they can even pretend they are handing out decent shoes…this is free sales pressure, it pushes people to make a buying decision un truthfully...

  • 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.