Q&A   //   May 23, 2024

Why Toms’ marketing is experimenting with podcasts & live events

Shoe brand Toms is switching up its marketing strategy even as it cuts back on creative costs.

Historically, most of the company’s advertising focused on paid social media or digital ads. But since changing its philanthropy model in the last five years, Toms has started testing out other marketing channels to re-introduce itself to audiences, Amy Smith, Toms’ chief brand officer, told Modern Retail.

Since 2006, Toms followed a buy-one-give-one policy, but it switched this in 2019. At the time of this decision, the company struggled with mounting debt. It also changed its marketing strategy in 2021 to try and target new shoppers. Now, Toms told Modern Retail that its growth playbook remains focused on conversion and widening its marketing scope.

Today, that means advertising on podcasts, via streaming and at live events like Justin Timberlake concerts. Toms is trying all three methods in conjunction with its new spring campaign. The campaign features six influencers, all of whom are connected to the mental health space in some way. All of Toms’ new initiatives fit into this approach as well; at the Timberlake concerts, for instance, Toms is running ads that guide the audience on deep breathing and meditation.

Smith spoke to Modern Retail about how Toms has changed its approach to marketing at a time in which many brands struggle with rising customer acquisition costs. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you decide where to funnel your marketing dollars for this recent campaign?
Marketing budgets are tight as ever. We really spent some time thinking about, “Where are the most impactful places we can spend our dollars? Where do we want to test and learn a little bit? And where do we want to try something new?”

One of the things that we’re thinking about is more full-funnel marketing. It’s very easy to spend all your money converting and using all your dollars on paid social, up-close photos of the [Toms] shoe, telling shoppers to buy. We certainly do spend a portion of our dollars there. But without spending in the upper and mid-funnel in a meaningful way, you’re sort of shrinking your funnel all the way around versus opening it up to put more traffic into it.

We know that the consumer takes some time [to purchase]. The industry standard is seven views [of a brand message] before they’re actually in that zone. Those are massive dollars you have to spend to get to that place. So we spent a lot of 2023 testing and learning, working with influencers, trying out some different things on TikTok… with things as simple as Spark Ads.

We also have worked really hard to decrease our costs on the creative side so we can redirect more of those dollars to amplification and to media purchasing. If we can still create a beautiful campaign, but spend fewer dollars on it, we can redirect some of those dollars to upper and mid-funnel.

What about podcast advertising is attractive to Toms?
I was skeptical [about podcast ads] to be totally honest, because I was like, “We’re gonna talk about beautiful shoes, and you can’t see them.” But we did it and it has been incredible.

With things like podcasts and streaming, you can attach a pixel [to track conversion] and then be able to see if you are driving traffic. How are people engaging with it? Are they listening to the full ad on the podcast? We’re only [four] weeks in, but we have doubled our return on ad spend based on the investment that we’ve made in podcasts. So, it’s been a huge surprise to us, really exciting, and something we’ll be thinking about doing more of.

How did you decide which podcasts to advertise on?
We’ve been working to make sure we fully understand our target consumer… Our research has shown us that she’s 25 to 45 [years old]. She cares what she looks like when she walks out the door. And she shops her values… We took that consumer data, shared it with media partners and they were able to help us sync up with the podcasts that this consumer listens to most… Some include “On Purpose with Jay Shetty,” “The Happiness Lab with Laurie Santos,” “Pod Meets World,” “Stuff You Should Know” and “The Bobby Bones Show.” We’re looking to hit each consumer a minimum of four times to balance frequency.

What interests you about advertising via streaming video?
We did very straight upper-funnel brand advertising on some streaming services like Amazon, YouTube TV, Hulu, Disney+ and more. And we did that because the technology’s there to track is it working, is it not working, what sorts of results are we seeing, can we shift anything? All of that moves so quickly that you can make changes in real-time.

We’ve seen some really positive results. In the first couple of weeks, we had over 3,000 visitors to the [Toms] site… It wasn’t our goal to increase sales, but through the podcasts and streaming, we are seeing increased sales. So we are seeing conversion on top of more visits to the site.

How are you using live events to raise awareness of the Toms brand?
We’re partnering with an agency that runs ad placements at national concerts, so we are partnering with the Justin Timberlake concert [that starts this summer]. Between the opening act and him going on stage, we’ll run a 60-second spot in 70 shows and 53 cities.

We’ll help people take a few breaths, and then remind them about [our tagline] “Wear Good” and about Toms. We’re really excited about that, and we’re going to see how it goes. It’s a different way of approaching marketing, a different way of reminding people about Toms and a different way of being a bit disruptive to an experience and a little unexpected.