Last week in mall:

Daughter: “every time you buy a pair of shoes from TOMS another pair is donated to children across the globe that can’t afford shoes”

Me: “True. And yet, still pretty pricey!”

Daughter: “Can I have 2 pairs? I really want to give”

Me: “ummmm….sure?”

TOMS Shoes was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, an entrepreneur from Arlington, Texas.  Inspired by a trip to Argentina (where Blake was competing on 2nd season of The Amazing Race with his sister), Blake returned a few years later to do some volunteering and was moved at the sight of so many shoeless children running around the streets just outside of Buenos Aires.

According to Wikipedia:

“Mycoskie had learned that the lack of shoes was a problem that had a serious impact upon these youth, threatening the ability of the children to go to school, prevent infection, and so forth.[10]

A new model of corporate social responsibility, aptly named “Cause Marketing” was born. And from that, TOMS “One for One” campaign, whereby for every pair of shoes sold, Toms would donate a pair to a child in need of a pair of shoes, came to be.

What is Cause Marketing?

Cause Marketing refers to a type of marketing that involves the cooperative efforts of a “for profit” business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.

The term is sometimes used to refer to any type of marketing effort for social and/or charitable causes, including in-house marketing efforts by non-profit organizations.

Cause Marketing differs from corporate giving (philanthropy), because the latter generally involves a specific donation that is tax deductible. Cause Marketing, on the other hand, is a marketing relationship that’s not necessarily based on a donation. For example, TOMS Shoes is a for-profit organization that holds a separate 501(c)(3) named Friends of TOMS.

Since its inception, a number of companies have popped up, presumably inspired by Toms, with their own brand of “One For One”.  Toms has gone on to expand into the eyeglass world as well, with the same message. I saw a display with my own eyes, no pun intended- a few weeks ago in a tourist shop, when thinking of writing this article. I had no idea they were into glasses.

Trust me, TOMS understands that being an advocate for children, as well as being able to defend that advocacy with ease, will alleviate the price barrier and sell more shoes. And yet, still, is it a bad thing?

Their marketing strategy has been a 3-pronged approach:

  • Social media
  • As of only 1 year ago, in Nov. 2013 their first paid media campaign marketing campaign- and even that was a non-traditional furay to encourage folks to purchas holiday gift purchases from a marketplace of like-minded socially conscious companies who, like Tom’s, had a bigger picture in mind
  • Events such as the ones listed here

• GET IT DONE: At these events, TOMS invites artists to come and paint a pair of their shoes, creating a one-of-a-kind, wearable work of art that can be auctioned off. The proceeds are then donated to likeminded charities.

• STYLE YOUR SOLE PARTY: These parties encourage people to come together and paint their own TOMS shoes at baby showers, youth groups meetings, and sorority events… another great way for TOMS to raise awareness and to sell in bulk.

• ONE DAY WITHOUT SHOES: Participants go without shoes for a day in order to raise awareness for all of the children that must go without shoes… 2 years ago, there were 1,600 of these events in over 25 countries — with over a quarter of a million participants choosing to go barefoot!

The company has made major headlines, not all positive (keep reading)

  • In February 2010, FastCompany named TOMS #6 on their list of Top Ten Most Innovative Retail Companies
  • At the 2011 South by Southwest conference, Blake gave the keynote address

The sales and distribution speak for themselves:

  • 2006 – TOMS sold 10,000 pairs for these ‘plain’ shoes in a short 8-month span
  • 2007 – Sales skyrocketed to 50,000 pairs
  • 2009 – Sales jumped again to 140,000 pairs
  • 2010 – As of January 2010, over 400,000 pairs of shoes have been distributed worldwide.
  • This spring, Toms gave away its 10 millionth pair of shoes

Toms has taken some heat over the last few years for its’ “shallow” and “self serving” attempts at making a difference. Here’s what I say to that: It is so easy to be an armchair critic; much harder and impactful to actually do something. Could Mycoskie take it to the next level and use Toms to impact real socio-economic change? Sure, and I’ve read recently that he is in fact building factories in the countries that he is serving with shoes right now. But to say that his ‘buy one give one’ model, or the companies One Day Without Shoes event is without value is akin to saying that Doctors Without Borders, or the International Red Cross is a failure because they are not changing the health system or infrastructures of third world countries. Just my humble opinion.

Come on. As a mother of 2 girls, what they have learned about giving from philanthropic companies like this has been priceless. To give without expecting? To become aware of the millions of kids who walk around without shoes and contract deadly diseases? To put their money where their mouth is? We are raising socially conscious kids with real values because of companies like TOMS and people like Mykoskie. AND it’s great marketing. That’s right, I said it.


What are your thoughts on this “one for One” model? Is it self serving, designed to make us privileged Westerners feel good about ourselves and thus buy more?










Sign up today for free SEO updates hot off the presses

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This