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TOMS Shoes Generation Y Strategy:

            one day without shoes at usc by wm. marc salsberryGeneration Y wants it all: to shop, socialize, and save the world all at the same time. TOMS Shoes, the popular shoe company that donates a pair of shoes to needy children for every pair purchased, is showcasing just how much brand enthusiasm young consumers will show for a company with a similar worldview. A standing army of social media activists and over 1200 TOMS university clubs use their online and person networks to broadcast their love of TOMS Shoes. Below are the three pillars of their strategy: charity, participation, and individuality.


            Generation Y is a socially conscious bunch: volunteerism went up 25% from 2002 to 2005 and feelings of civic responsibility is the highest in 25 years. Socially conscious brands have seen a steady growth over the last decade, as Generation Y graduates from allowance to income. Up until now, consumers’ interaction with corporate charity was a utilitarian calculation. For instance, I can buy a climate change-inducing cheeseburger knowing that a small slice of the profit will go to some needy charity. The nonprofit sector and corporate philanthropy departments are traditionally separated from the profit side of business.  "It used to be that it was very mutually exclusive between going into the peace corpse or going into corporate America," says TOMS founder and CEO, Blake Mycowski. "But, with TOMS, I feel like we’ve combined the two."

Blake is not alone: a growing chunk of the economy is responding to increasing demands to integrate charity into product lines. "With cause-integration, positive social change is tied to the profit motive.  When 90% of people when given a choice between two otherwise similar brands will choose the one that supports a cause, we have the leverage we need to change the fundamental nature of capitalism," said Ryan Scott, CEO of Causecast, a leading cause-integrated marketing firm.

In addition to Third World shoe drops, TOMS shoes are made from hemp and recycled bottle parts, mandate fair wages and sound labor conditions from oversees manufactures, and even have a line of vegan-friendly shoes.


            TOMS, like many modern businesses, has a solid social media following: 488,000 twitter follower, 280,000 Facebook fan page, and gobs of user-generated content smattered throughout YouTube.  However, University of California, Irvine Professor of Political Science Russell Dalton observes that, unlike previous generations, this new one insists on hands-on involvement. Instead of just voting, they prefer to organize a rally. Instead of military service, they’d rather join an association.  So, in addition to 24/7 online social media interaction, TOMS’ fans get to participate in an annual One Day Without Shoes movement. An estimated 250 thousand people went food-commando last April 8 to understand the plight of shoe-less children, joining with countless high-profile celebrities such as teen heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers.

I spoke with students at the University of Southern California, one of 1600 events worldwide, as they paraded their TOMS pride for all their eager-spending peers to see.  "I really like toms shoes and the message that they stand for," says Freshman Katrina Olson.


            Billions of dollars are spent every year by young consumers wishing to broadcast their uniqueness. Mobile ringtones, a product described by one industry expert as "a digital t-shirt," was a 900 million dollar industry in 2006.  Since the raise of social media, companies from Chili’s restaurants to Palm have leveraged user-generated content to show case their customer’s unique contributions.

            Over 1200 universities have campus clubs dedicated to TOMS shoes. In comparison, how many students spend their free time fawning over brands such as Coca-cola or the Gap? Campus club members come armed with paint brushes and stencils to craft their own individuality on the canvas of a plain white shoe. "The more you do to it, the less you can wear with it," I overheard one girl advise another, who was carefully considering which colors paint her shoe. Over gossip of boys and midterms, I witnessed co-eds wrangle in spectators and friends to join them for TOMS popular "Style your Sole" campus club activity.

"I love shoes... they make something creative out of it: its something cute you can wear, its something you can buy and show and explain to people what TOMS is about," says USC student, Melody Akin, a TOMS campus club coordinator.


The younger generation is equal parts expression, consumer, and world changer. Has that recipe influenced how your brew products?