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

October 20, 2010 84 Comments

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?

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

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    We First Hits the Bestseller Lists

    I wanted to thank everyone for their support in the launch of We First. We are so excited that the message is resonating and that it is contributing to the conversation that is changing the role of brands and the private sector. Here’s how We First fared on the bestseller lists:

    #4 on the New York Times Advice/How To bestseller list

    #5 on the New York Time Hardcover Business bestseller list

    #2 on the Wall Street Journal Business bestseller list

    #4 on the USA Today bestseller list
    …as well as being a #1 bestseller on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    Finally, last week, Amazon named We First as one of the Top Ten Business Books of 2011 so far.

    This would not have been possible without all your support and from everyone
    here at We First, a huge thank you.

    _We First on Non-profits:_ One of the themes that We First explores is how
    non-profits can become more effective marketers to help further the
    important work they do. Here are a few thoughts on some of the challenges
    that non-profits face.

    Understandably, social media has been hailed by many non-profits as a
    critical tool to help them fund-raise and do their valuable work more
    effectively. Success stories like fund-raising for victims of the Haiti
    earthquake and Japanese tsunami victims are proof of the ease with which
    non-profits can now make people aware of a crisis and allow them to
    contribute to the urgent needs of others. But there can also be a downside,
    one that non-profits must be aware of if they hope to leverage social media
    to their advantage.

    The ability of a non-profit to use social media to build a dialogue with its
    community forces it to define itself in ways that often weren’t necessary
    before. The fact that non-profits can now market to consumers in ways
    normally reserved for for-profit brands means that they must become more
    effective marketers. These new expectations include the following:

    _1. SELF DEFINITION:_ All non-profits do incredibly meaningful work but to
    be most effective as marketers they need to define themselves within the
    cause category that they work in. There needs to be a unique point of view
    on the cause itself so that one non-profit can distinguish itself from
    others working in the same cause category.

    _2. ENGAGEMENT:_ One of the great challenges for non-profits is the constant
    need to fund-raise. Yet with staffing and resources spread often spread so
    thin, it’s difficult to have enough employees to engage with your community
    on an real-time basis as well as do the meaningful work that’s required in
    the field. Yet this is necessary if a non-profit hopes to sustain an active
    and engaged online community.

    _3. REPOSITIONING:_ Non-profits benefit greatly from partnerships with
    for-profit companies, but for that to happen non-profits must to be able to
    make their case as to the value of the partnership to the for-profit brand.
    Too often, non-profits pitch themselves on the basis of the cause that they
    are supporting alone. But as with any pitch situation, the offering must be
    framed in terms of the needs of your potential client – in this case the
    for-profit brand.

    _4. CREATIVITY:_ Donor fatigue is an enormous challenge for non-profits at
    any time, especially after a series of natural disasters as we just saw with
    Haiti, Pakistan, and Japan. While social media gives non-profits the ability
    to engage with their community more easily, they must become more creative
    in their strategies and messaging to sustain their interest and support
    through a series of natural disasters.

    _5. TECHNOLOGY:_ It’s hard enough for a for-profit company to keep pace with
    the marketplace with all the resources that it possesses. It’s even more
    difficult for a non-profit with its limited resources. Yet the non-profit
    world must become increasingly tech-savvy so that they know how their
    donor-base is relating with each other and what tools are most appropriate
    to help them reach their goals.

    The challenges that social media presents to non-profits are as daunting as
    they are for for-profit companies. The ability to connect with people so
    easily brings with it the expectation of constant engagement and sustained
    results. As such, it’s critical for non-profits to add to their skill sets
    and become effective storytellers fascinated with emerging technologies. We
    First was written to help non-profits do this by laying out a step-by-step
    action plan for how brands use social media to build their communities,
    drive their fund-raising, and help build a better world.

    _Featured reviews of We First:_
    [2]Social Media Drives Social Change and the We First Community
    Links:
    2.

    By Melissa Rowley
    [3]Book: We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media To Build A Better
    World
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    A struggling economy, a world in crisis and new social technology has left
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    We First Hits the Bestseller Lists

    I wanted to thank everyone for their support in the launch of We First. We are so excited that the message is resonating and that it is contributing to the conversation that is changing the role of brands and the private sector. Here’s how We First fared on the bestseller lists:

    #4 on the New York Times Advice/How To bestseller list

    #5 on the New York Time Hardcover Business bestseller list

    #2 on the Wall Street Journal Business bestseller list

    #4 on the USA Today bestseller list
    …as well as being a #1 bestseller on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    Finally, last week, Amazon named We First as one of the Top Ten Business Books of 2011 so far.

    This would not have been possible without all your support and from everyone
    here at We First, a huge thank you.

    _We First on Non-profits:_ One of the themes that We First explores is how
    non-profits can become more effective marketers to help further the
    important work they do. Here are a few thoughts on some of the challenges
    that non-profits face.

    Understandably, social media has been hailed by many non-profits as a
    critical tool to help them fund-raise and do their valuable work more
    effectively. Success stories like fund-raising for victims of the Haiti
    earthquake and Japanese tsunami victims are proof of the ease with which
    non-profits can now make people aware of a crisis and allow them to
    contribute to the urgent needs of others. But there can also be a downside,
    one that non-profits must be aware of if they hope to leverage social media
    to their advantage.

    The ability of a non-profit to use social media to build a dialogue with its
    community forces it to define itself in ways that often weren’t necessary
    before. The fact that non-profits can now market to consumers in ways
    normally reserved for for-profit brands means that they must become more
    effective marketers. These new expectations include the following:

    _1. SELF DEFINITION:_ All non-profits do incredibly meaningful work but to
    be most effective as marketers they need to define themselves within the
    cause category that they work in. There needs to be a unique point of view
    on the cause itself so that one non-profit can distinguish itself from
    others working in the same cause category.

    _2. ENGAGEMENT:_ One of the great challenges for non-profits is the constant
    need to fund-raise. Yet with staffing and resources spread often spread so
    thin, it’s difficult to have enough employees to engage with your community
    on an real-time basis as well as do the meaningful work that’s required in
    the field. Yet this is necessary if a non-profit hopes to sustain an active
    and engaged online community.

    _3. REPOSITIONING:_ Non-profits benefit greatly from partnerships with
    for-profit companies, but for that to happen non-profits must to be able to
    make their case as to the value of the partnership to the for-profit brand.
    Too often, non-profits pitch themselves on the basis of the cause that they
    are supporting alone. But as with any pitch situation, the offering must be
    framed in terms of the needs of your potential client – in this case the
    for-profit brand.

    _4. CREATIVITY:_ Donor fatigue is an enormous challenge for non-profits at
    any time, especially after a series of natural disasters as we just saw with
    Haiti, Pakistan, and Japan. While social media gives non-profits the ability
    to engage with their community more easily, they must become more creative
    in their strategies and messaging to sustain their interest and support
    through a series of natural disasters.

    _5. TECHNOLOGY:_ It’s hard enough for a for-profit company to keep pace with
    the marketplace with all the resources that it possesses. It’s even more
    difficult for a non-profit with its limited resources. Yet the non-profit
    world must become increasingly tech-savvy so that they know how their
    donor-base is relating with each other and what tools are most appropriate
    to help them reach their goals.

    The challenges that social media presents to non-profits are as daunting as
    they are for for-profit companies. The ability to connect with people so
    easily brings with it the expectation of constant engagement and sustained
    results. As such, it’s critical for non-profits to add to their skill sets
    and become effective storytellers fascinated with emerging technologies. We
    First was written to help non-profits do this by laying out a step-by-step
    action plan for how brands use social media to build their communities,
    drive their fund-raising, and help build a better world.

    _Featured reviews of We First:_
    [2]Social Media Drives Social Change and the We First Community
    Links:
    2.

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    [3]Book: We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media To Build A Better
    World
    Links:
    3. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-230-11026-7?utm_source=We+First+Newsletter&utm_campaign=dda31996e4-We_First_Newsletter_August_15_20117_15_2011&utm_medium=email

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    A struggling economy, a world in crisis and new social technology has left
    brands scrambling for profits and consumers desperate for change. What if we
    could achieve both? What if brands and consumers could partner using social
    media to build communities, profits and a better world? That’s the promise
    of a We First world.
    [6]Twitter4 [7]facebook [8]Linked in [9]YOU TUBE
    Simon Mainwaring is an author, blogger, speaker and founder and CEO of We
    First, a social branding consultancy. A former Nike creative at Wieden &
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    he is a member of the GMI Digital Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the
    Center for Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, AdAge’s Power150 and is
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  • Ilovellm

    I bet the pro for sketchers are employees for their organization.  Kudos. Toms are better. 

  • http://twitter.com/rimamir rima reda

    hi simon,

    did you know? bobs are back: http://www.skechers.com/women/brands/bobs

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Wow. I did not know that. Thanks, Rima. Simon

  • Karenlynnbobo

    Great to know this. Bob’s hurt my wide foot. I think I will buy some Tom’s and try them

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks for the feedback. simon

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

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  • Estella107

    BOBS are back! Lame!

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Yes, I saw that. I hope they are trying to contribute with integrity. Simon

  • SERRA PINKHAM

    No offense but if your TOMS only lasted you that long, you probably didn’t take care of them that well.

  • SERRA PINKHAM

    It’s not TOMS fault, its your feets fault.

  • SERRA PINKHAM

    I absolutely love TOMS! I was about to buy BOBS because they were cheaper,butthereviews weren’t as good. I also heard that TOMS were wider, which is true, and that is more comfortable for my feet. I also didn’t like the fact that BOBS basically copied the whole idea, even the donating shoes concept. For the people who said their TOMS feel apart: you didn’t take care of them. I have had my Classic Black (canvas) TOMS for 2-3 months and they are still in great condition. I went shopping with my friends today and I bought a pair of silver glitter TOMS! My friends have had theirs for a while and love them! And for the people who say TOMS start to stink: you either have smelly feet or dont wear socks with them. I wear these “special” socks that are the shape of TOMS so you can’t see them if I’m wearing them. If they stink, use baking soda or air freshener to stop the stink. Washing them may be a “pain” to some people, but its not that bad. TEAM TOMS!

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    TOMS are fantastic no doubt. And socks are always a good idea with shoes, for sure! Thanks Serra.

  • Karisreagan33

    Personally I think itis great that bobs wants to help out but I think that at least they should have come up with their own design and name! Toms is a great organization and the guy who started it, started it for good and a personal experiance he had! Therefore bobs copied the style, the name, and everything! And that shows a major lack of creativity! But I will not bash bobs! Because they’re helping out children in need! I just think the idea of toms came from the heart and the bobs people just thought it was a good marketing idea! In my opinion I don’t think people should be getting mad at toms for being more expensive because the reason they are more expensive is because they actually spend money on good materials that will last! And the more money they spend on the shoe makes the shoe worth more! Therefore it’s that price! And I also think bobs making it where they donate 2 shoes is great but I also think they are trying to make people buy bobs and not toms! Personally I would buy toms, they may be more expensive, but the idea came from the heart! And I believe bobs are also great! Just won’t last as long and you should really just buy whichever ones you want!(:

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, Karis, and I hear you. Any sort of support is valuable and I just hope Bobs giving was heartfelt and not a mere marketing strategy because that has a huge impact on the actually relief they provide on the ground to the people they support. But as you say, the more the merrier is great when we are helping others. Simon

  • Nomad

    Not sure what frustrates me more, Sketchers still not being forth right with their supplier lists or now ripping off Toms.  To make matters worse, they say they are joining companies like Toms.  So that means the slaves making your shoes get to get a pair back. This is disgusting and I refuse to buy anything with the Sketchers logo on it.  

    Is there any truth to Sketchers having bought out part or all of Toms to do as they above post states?  If this is the case I will champion my cause to include Toms.  

    Keep speaking out and fighting till all people are free! 

  • Nomad

    thus why the business plan and model isn’t working and they are having to sell out to sketchers a bit. This is makes me very disappointed.  Great you want to give shoes, away.  Than stroke some checks and give shoes away.  Why does it have to be kung fu shoes?  Give shoes away!  Its kind of that simple!    

  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks. I don’t think Sketchers owns any part of TOMS though they are making similar offers now. Let’s hope they are doing it with integrity. Thanks Bill.

  • acb151

    I agree with sds- they are cheap shoes. My daughter loves to wear Toms but she wears out the bottoms and blows through the toes in a couple of months. I hate to buy them but I try to think of it as a donation when I do.

  • Rachael

    That’s a lie sketchers is a really retarded buisness they make freakin shoes for a 4 year old and TOMS are a lot better quality than BOBS shetchers should stick with there light up shoes for toddlers instead of trying to compete with TOMS. PS that’s a complete lie TOMS are much much nicer

  • greenzombies

    In my opinion i think they are just exactly the same. I mean i don’t understand why people would get so mad at what sketchers did when they are actually helping people. Sure the design may be very similar (exactly the same), but all in all they are just shoes and i don’t think BOBS should be so put down.

  • AdExc

    It’s funny, so many people disapprove of marketing these ‘Bobs’ but how many chat sites, blogs and comments have been dedicated to telling the online world that Bobs exist, whether it’s good or bad? Yet again you’ve fallen into the newest marketing scheme by companies. People get paid to talk about products like you all are doing right now. Advertisers LOVE your ignorance of the industry. Congrats. Good or bad, the shoe is selling like fire because of you.

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks and I do hear you. I’ve spend t20 years working in ad agencies in Australia, London and the US. To some extent bad news is good because it raises awareness which can drive sales. That said, they are appealing to an audience based on the good they do and this audience is very strict about authenticity. They will get some sales but not loyal brand evangelists. I believe its a short term tactic that won’t benefit them over the long term..

  • christy heavrin

    I have a pair of Bob’s and love them! They are very comfortable and have lasted almost a year and are still holding up very well. I haven’t tried Toms but why should I? I really don’t care about what is happening behind the scenes with products. They are just shoes to me.

  • Nichole Gabriel

    Agreed!!! Very cheap! I was surprised and disappointed! For those of higher socio-economic status may not wear them out! But if you wear them as your primary shoes every day, they last no time at all, and everyone I see has a hole in the big toe..

  • Mike

    Both companies are making millions of dollars with a $5.00 shoe. Attaching emotion to a product doesn’t make Toms shoes a sait. It’s a for profit business like anyone else. That said, I have a pair that only lasted a few months…so an alternative would be the cheaper Bobs. It’s one thing if Toms were $20 p…but $45-50? They are making a killing but using ‘poor kids’ as a scapegoat.

  • Kendra

    Spread the word to end the word..Please be careful of your use of the word ‘retarded’

    http://www.r-word.org

  • Glamorgirl

    Bobs are amazing I’ve had some for a while my family has bobs too we’ve had them for a while no blisters or pain they are comfortable and you can get these special socks to wear with them they’re good shoes

  • kab

    Not only did scechers rip toms off…but the research i did on bobs says that scecher is giving away a used pair of shoes to kids not a new pair

  • barbra

    toms are way better than bobs. bobs are the ghetto version of toms

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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