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IN a new television commercial for Crocs footwear, an actress wearing black high heel shoes enters an apartment building and wearily climbs a flight of stairs. As she opens the door to her unit, two small red animated characters based on the Crocs original clog model, with stubby arms and legs and blinking ventilation holes representing eyes, scamper toward her like puppies.
The characters cling to her ankles and then, as she sits on the couch to read her mail, they remove her shoes, massage her feet, and then slip a new style of Crocs flats onto her feet. “Meet Croslite,” says a voiceover toward the end of the 30 second spot, by Cramer Krasselt in Chicago, “the loyal, loving, good for you technology, in every pair of Crocs.”
Croslite, the brand’s proprietary material that is soft, odor resistant and conforms to the shape of feet, is also what the new characters are called. The spot closes with the campaign’s tagline: “Feel the love.”
The new characters also are featured massaging models’ feet in print, outdoor and online ads, and on the brand’s Web site; seven inch tall three dimensional versions will soon be displayed in stores.
“First and foremost, what we want to do is establish Crocs as a brand and not that one shoe,” said Ken Chaplin, vice president for marketing at Crocs, referring to the original model. With newer loafer styles and flats, the company hopes to gain more of a year round presence.
“Spring, summer we own that,” Mr. Chaplin said. “But we also have great shoes for back to school, fall and winter. There’s a lot of opportunity to expand wearing occasions and the seasons we play in.”
Since the company was founded just eight years ago, Crocs, which is based in Niwot,
Colo., has sold more than 120 million pairs of shoes, most of them the original model, although with more than 120 styles the originals now account for just under half of the shoes sold, according to the company.
Though sold like other footwear in shoe and sporting goods stores, the brand took an outside the box approach literally: Most models hang vertically from racks, which has allowed the brand to sell in nontraditional channels as well, like kiosks in malls.
The company has not had a profitable year since 2007, when revenue totaled $847.4 million, and it posted a profit of $168.2 million. Revenue fell to $721.6 million in 2008, when it posted a $185.1 million loss, and to $645.8 million in 2009, when it posted a $42.1 million loss.
The Crocs brand spent $4.3 million on advertising in 2009, one third the $12.8 million it spent on advertising in 2008, according to Kantar Media.
As is the case with other comfortable yet odd looking shoes, like the sandals from Dr. Scholl’s and Birkenstock as well as boots by Ugg, the classic Crocs have also been widely criticized on aesthetic grounds. Detractors often describe them as clownish.
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In a 2005 campaign reminiscent of self effacing Volkswagen Beetle ads in the 1960s (one VW print ad read, “It’s ugly but it gets you there”), Crocs made light of its quirky appearance by using the tagline “Ugly can be beautiful.”
The latest ads, however, do not intend to be in on the joke about the original Crocs appearance, or to dispute it.
“This campaign doesn’t work to reverse people on the negative side because the numbers tell us we don’t need to,” said Marshall Ross, chief creative officer of Cramer Krasselt, which is undertaking its first Crocs campaign since it was named the company’s agency of record in November. “We have a lot of fans of that original clog, and if we got even a small percentage of them to add a style to their closets, that would sell a lot of shoes.”
Mr. Ross views the opposition to Crocs as inevitable.
“Every interesting idea has a polarizing effect,” he said. “Things that walk right down the middle don’t tend to get as much response.”
Stressing the shoes’ Croslite material, which also is used in the soles of the newer nonsandal styles (and for which the new mascots are named), the new campaign aims to counter that polarization by focusing on what makes the shoes comfortable rather than the original’s aesthetics.
“A lot of people who first bought into the brand didn’t know what they were buying into,” Mr. Ross said. “It was kind of a bandwagon fad,
but the real story of Crocs and why they are so comfortable never got told because it never really had to the shoe just sold and sold and sold.”