TOMS Rip-off Reveals “Social Responsibility” Dark Side

October 20, 2010

There’s a new pair of socially responsible shoes in town. Every time you buy a pair of these shoes with a one syllable name, a pair is donated to a child in an impoverished part of the world. The canvas slip-style shoes come in a variety of colors and patterns. Of course, I’m talking about BOBS.

Sound familiar? Obviously BOBS, produced by the exceptionally creative people at Skechers, is a blatant rip-off of the wildly successful TOMS shoes and their “One for One” business model. When TOMS was introduced to the world, the shoes and their noble business proposition helped usher in a new business model, one that married good deeds with good business sense. What BOBS threatens to usher in is a business era where corporations promote a desire to help others while, in reality, hoping to exploit people’s better natures in order to make a profit.

But is Skechers the only company that has ever added a good cause to their product for less-than-philanthropic reasons? It would be naïve to think that over the last few years multiple companies suddenly decided to become more socially responsible of their own accord. They were simply responding to a market of consumers who wanted a charitable cause with their purchase. The “invisible hand” of the free market was pushing companies toward doing some good while keeping their stockholders happy.

Was it pure altruism that prompted Pepsi to forgo advertising in the Super Bowl this year and invest that money in charitable causes throughout the country instead? Unlikely. The $20 million social media campaign garnered more votes than the last presidential election, according to That’s pretty good PR considering that money would have otherwise gone toward advertising. In this case, Pepsi gains a reputation as a “do-gooder” while helping millions across the country do charitable work that might not otherwise be possible. Everybody wins. The wonderful thing about this new compassionate side of capitalism is both producer and consumer get what they want in addition to doing some good along the way.

Also encouraging about the free market as a force for good is the fact that the same free market principle which perhaps spurred Skechers to produce the ridiculous BOBS may also have contributed to its demise. As of Oct. 15 BOBS were no longer to be found on Skechers’ website. Perhaps after an understandable backlash from the blogosphere and twitterverse, the marketing gurus at Skechers removed BOBS from their line of shoes altogether. Maybe they needed time to rename the shoes something catchier, like TODS or JONS.

It appears as though the creative people at Skechers thought they knew what their consumers wanted, a socially responsible product, however blatantly ripped-off from the successful TOMS. What BOBS lacks, however, is something that all the angry bloggers and loyal fans of TOMS apparently want with their socially responsible products – authenticity.

Is Blake Mycoskie enjoying financial success after he introduced the world to TOMS? Yes. Have the folks who came up with Pepsi’s Refresh Project likely earned themselves a rather handsome bonus? Sure. We realize this (or should). We also realize that at some level, these companies have a genuine desire to do good in the world, and that’s what makes their products so appealing. When corporate social responsibility is done correctly, doing good and making a profit don’t have to be mutually exclusive. When done poorly, well, ask the marketing genius behind BOBS, and the answer probably won’t be pretty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: