TOMS Turns 5…A Social Entrepreneurs Viral Success

May 5th 2006, American traveller and entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie launches TOMS shoes (an acronym for Shoes for Tomorrow).

The story of TOMS began after Blake competed on the second season of The Amazing Race. He visited Argentina through the race and liking the country returned on vacation. During the trip Blake witnessed children living in extreme poverty, with no shoes to protect their feet.  This gave the young entrepreneur an idea…months later on a trip back to Argentina he develops a shoe company producing shoes inspired by the local Argentinean alpargataFor every pair sold, a new pair would be donated to a child in need of shoes. TOMS philosophy, giving One for One.

It didn’t take long for this Social Entrepreneur to cement his cause, the same year Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff and 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by TOMS customers.

5 years on it’s TOMS Shoes birthday, and the company has given over one million pairs of new shoes to children in need through Giving Partners around the world. Philanthropy is at the heart of the business and what drives it.  What inspired me to write about TOMS is the method used to spread TOMS message, allowing this ethical business to grow and continue their aim of helping the less fortunate. I first learnt about TOMS from a short documentary  explaining its history, (video to the right, produced by Australian Kate Hicky) viewed on an Australian Qantas flight over Easter.

The organisations innovative integration of online campaigns works hard at influencing the brand message, encouraging word of mouth (WOM) virally through online video, social media, well-designed campaign websites, news and blogs.  Online videos are heavily utilised to encourage the social mission, there are 174 short videos associated with and/or produced by TOMS on their YouTube channel. Sparxoo digital marketing website reviewed TOMS videos; “Sometimes, video can make things complicated. TOMS, on the other hand, is not complicated. It’s simple, understandable and approachable. The video has two goals:  1) to explain TOMS social mission (one-for-one) and how they create impact (prevent foot disease) and 2) to encourage you to get involved”.

The founder enhances the viral message cleverly through co-branding with companies such as Element Skateboards and Ralph Lauren Polo, the co-branders also making use of the one for one model.  TOMS regularly enlists the help of celebrities to endorse TOMS through press ads, interviews and again online video clips. Musicians show support providing soundtracks on videos and online endorsement.  The success of TOMS has been huge in the US, his model winning praise among politicians (Bill Clinton), businesses (AT&T), advertisers (BBDO Worldwide) and digital influencers (Digg’s founder, Kevin Rose even designed a ‘Digg shoe’).


Youth are a driving force in spreading TOMS brand message. TOMS movement began by young people, features Campus Clubs and Internships to get youth involved at a grass roots level. TOMS supporters stay connected with the active TOMS Community on Facebook and Twitter. Yet another good use of low-cost viral marketing is via the movement campaign website. The site encourages people to get involved through a number of sharing initiatives; You can share TOMS story through social media, screen a TOMS documentary to organised groups, creatively host a style your sole party and upload personal images wearing TOMS shoes, proudly showing your visible support.


  • twitters no. 1 topic
  • googles #4 most pop searched term
  • over 1000 events held in 25 countries
  • 1400 companies participate
  • 500 schools participate

Enthusiastic college students were responsible for getting the first One Day Without Shoes off the ground in 2008. Now an annual event that has spread globally, the day helps raise awareness about TOMS cause through action, asking people to go without shoes for a day.

Australian awareness of TOMS and the recent One Day Without Shoes event was surprisingly minimal. Whilst events were set up in some states the largest event organised by youth at the University of QLD only enlisted 163 followers. My hometown of Melbourne registered zero. The difficulty in gaining support globally could be due to the philanthropic TOMS message coming from a business model, rather than an NGO. Blake explains in his documentary, “In a sense by creating a one for one model with TOMS we have created our never going away benefactor”.  TOMS has its critics, and no doubt must answer questions on a for-profit BOGO model versus a not-for-profit philanthropic model, particularly regarding criticism that giving out products for free from developing nations can have a negative effect on local business. TOMS released its first giving report in 2010, providing answers for inquirers (and cynics).  To increase support TOMS could continue to focus on virally promoting their global campaign through online video, but with an increase in documentation for criticsvisually adding more facts from the giving report to gain awareness and support.

Blake Mycoskie has a new global vision on the horizon, an idea spoken of in March at the SXSW conference through a speech on the power of giving.  On the 7th June 2011 TOMS will launch their surprise one for one model, ‘poking the box’ at a new sustainable movement.

Anyone else have a passion for Social Entrepreneurship?    Please feel free to COMMENT.



Blake Mycoskies Blog,

Daily Trends, 6th April 2011, ‘How Toms Shoes Uses Video:In the News’,, viewed 3rd May 2011

Kelsy Timmerman – Made in America, “The problem with TOMS shoes and it’s critics”,, viewed 3rd May 2011

Kabissa – Space for Changing in Africa, “Why BOGO doesn’t have to be a no no”,’t-have-be-no-no-0, viewed 3rd May 2011

One Day Without Shoes,

POPSUGAR Australia, 8th April 2010, ‘Celebs Get Behind Toms Shoes’ One Day Without Shoes’, , viewed 3rd May 2011

School For Social Entrepreneurs,

SPARXOO, 11th December 2009, ‘Brand-Advertising-Review-Toms-Shoes’,

SXSW Festival, “Blake Mycoskie: Creating Happiness, One Small Gesture at a Time”,

TOMS Website,

TOMS Blog,

TOMS Facebook,

TOMS MySpace

TOMS Twitter,

TOMS YouTube,


One Comment on “TOMS Turns 5…A Social Entrepreneurs Viral Success”

  1. d8blog says:

    Anyone else have a passion for Social Entrepreneurship? Please feel free to COMMENT.

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