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The shoe empire TOMS launched a social media campaign,  encouraging people to post a photo of their bare feet on Instagram and use the hashtag #WithoutShoes. In an attempt to generate awareness and give back to society TOMS donated a new pair of their shoes to a child in need for each individual photo posted on Instagram using the hashtag. This idea not only sparked awareness about children’s health and education issues but further increased awareness and created mass attention for the brand.

The campaign ran from May 5th to 21st in 2015. With over 296,243 photos posted and shared online globally in more than 33 different countries. By incorporating Instagram and inviting anyone to participate TOMS successfully globalised their campaign and created a new buzz that everyone was talking about.

My question is whether this campaign was a genuine act of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or is it really cause related marketing to increase buzz and good publicity for the brand? It goes without saying that the problems in these underdeveloped countries run much deeper than providing children with shoes. What TOMS is trying to portray is that they as a brand are helping others in need however if you dissect what is actually happening, yes they are helping a child for a year until they grow out of the shoes but wouldn’t it be much more beneficial to that community if TOMS had donated money elsewhere, such as in their education or health systems? In my opinion there are better ways in which TOMS could have actually impacted a child’s life. In running these campaigns they have made their brand relevant again, enhanced their online sentiment and increased traffic on their social media platforms.

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In addition to this particular campaign TOMS also have a one for one movement in which they promise that for every pair of TOMS shoes bought, another will be given to a child in need. TOMS retail at roughly $60 which equates to €54, if they give one pair away does that mean that each pair is €27? So are TOMS using any of their own profits to give back to these communities at all or is it literally a way for them to overcharge and create a positive brand image?

Personally from my research I suspect that this campaign was more cause-related marketing than CSR as TOMS also benefited from the mass publicity. Despite my pessimistic opinion, TOMS are formulating awareness and bringing societies attention to poverty. Even if someone puts on their TOMS every morning and visualises an underprivileged child wearing theirs, at least that’s a stepping stone. Although I think there are more prominent routes they could have taken, I do admire what they as a brand have achieved.

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