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Social Marketing: TOMS Shoes

Pair of grey Toms canvas shoes
Credit: theartofpics /

Ten years ago, the first batch of 250 pairs of TOMS shoes were manufactured – together with the promise to donate a pair of shoes for every pair of TOMS sold. Their mission: “One for one”. Since then, according to their website, the company has given away 60 million pairs of shoes, expanded globally and has branched out into selling bags, sunglasses, socks and even coffee. We track TOMS’ success story…

In 2006, Californian shoe brand TOMS (created from “Tomorrow”), managed to credibly combine a for profit enterprise with a social mission. So credible, the company is one of the contemporary beacons of “social entrepreneurship”.

Making what matters: The product as solution to a (social) problem

In the consumer’s mind, shoes have become a disposable product – replaceable, cheap and often manufactured under questionable conditions. TOMS’ company mission “One for one” adds something special to their simple linen shoe, traditionally worn in Argentinia: their buyers help fund a social cause. Buying shoes and doing good? A concept which proved popular, especially with young and socially conscious buyers.

Strong personality: Company story as hero’s narrative

According to the company’s website, TOMS’ founder, Blake Mycoskie, got his idea while travelling through Argentina, where he noticed how many children had to live life without shoes. A sympathetic story of social responsibility, which the equally sympathetic and photogenic Mycoskie kept telling during keynote speeches and his book “Making something that matters”. This brought more media attention to the brand and its constantly growing crowd of loyal fans: the so-called TOMS tribe.

Community-Building: Growing together

Embracing their young and heavily networked followers, TOMS’ marketing efforts strongly concentrate on social network channels such as Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. During annual initiatives such as “A Day Without Shoes”, fans take selfies of their bare feet and add the #WithoutShoes hashtag, which shared TOMS’ message 3.5 million times in one day in 2016.

Social responsibility as a win-win

The success of the original TOMS shoes led to global expansion through partnerships with shoe shops and ecommerce platforms. TOMS branched out to sell backpacks, sunglasses and even coffee. The company supports more social causes, according to the products sold: clean drinking water (coffee), eye surgery for the poor (glasses), anti bullying initiatives at schools (backpacks).

In 2014, Blake Muscoskie sold 50% of his company to the alternative investment company Bain Capital and stepped down as CEO. The “One for one” mission which fuelled the company’s successful growth, lives on today.


Picture of Peter Ramsenthaler

Peter Ramsenthaler

When working for a global brand back in the 90s, Peter realized that spreadsheet overload and inefficient processes were holding back the marketing team. That’s when he decided to build a martech platform that gives businesses back control and allows marketers to bring great ideas to life.