Why These Major Comfort Shoe Brands Are Casting Regular Women as Models

Comfort shoe brands are keeping it real these days. In lieu of pricey celebrities and supermodels as the faces of their marketing campaigns, some shoe companies are tapping regular women to portray their brand image.

Women from all walks of life, and in all shapes and sizes, have become real-life role models customers can identify with. An, instead of big-budget magazine and TV ads, companies are taking advantage of cost-effective social media and digital advertising to promote their message.

“We try to find real people that would wear our shoes, and think are our customers,” said Irene Chen, VP of operations for Alegria, which targets the lifestyle and duty shoe markets. “We’re not looking for unrealistic models. These are legitimate people. We’re trying to stay true to who we are.”

Alegria posts photos of customers wearing the shoes on its social media platforms and e-commerce, connecting with potential subjects through referrals. “The [suggestions] come from people who wear our shoes, love them and say, ‘By the way, did you know that my sister or cousin is a nurse and wears your shoes? I think she’d be a good fit,” said Chen.

The growing trend of transparency in advertising works especially well for more mainstream brands, explained advertising and marketing expert Don Nixon, agency principal at Creative Spot, a full-service agency in Columbus, Ohio. “A higher-end shoe line might want a higher-end talent level to showcase their product because it corresponds to their audience,” he said. “However, someone who’s marketing an everyday or utility shoe to the medical professional will want to show authenticity in who they’re trying to reach. It’s like the Rolex commercial where the watch is always on someone’s arm that’s famous. It’s the audience they’re going after versus a utility watch a [brand] wants on every person’s wrist.”

Dansko has also found a more low-key approach to connecting with its customer base. Its new “Embrace Your Journey” campaign, which launched with a video on Feb. 1 on its social media platforms and website, highlights Isabelle, a California chef who relies on the support of Dansko throughout her day as she takes care of her boys and embarks upon a catering business.

According to the company, the video amassed over 20,000 views in the first 24 hours. “We have enthuiastic fans of the brand, which inspired the concept,” said Tiss Dahan, VP of marketing. “We get [feedback] through our customer service department and on Instagram with our hashtag #justyourfavorite. People are constantly sending images of their shoes.”

“We’ve always, as a brand, had a close connection to our consumers and understand how important it is to be supported when you are on your feet all day,” Dahan continued. “We want to deepen that connection and share stories which are inspiring for us and believe will inspire others. For us, this is truly [Isabelle’s] story, not a commercial trying to sell shoes. People want authenticity today more than ever. So many [times], you pay to play. There’s nobody you can trust more than real people.”

At size-and-width company The Walking Cradle Co., regular women are also front and center in its online and print marketing initiatives, which include look books, in-store posters and handouts, in addition to brochures in shoe boxes. The concept was introduced in 2016 to promote the brand’s Sophia line of tapered-toe pumps with cushioned footbeds.

“We showed them on women who would really wear them, and not models,” said Lisa Schmitz, creative director of The Walking Cradle Co., explaining that participants were found through an open casting call. “We said, if you like our shoes and are interested in being a model, are in the St. Louis area or can make it here, we’d love to talk to you. The campaign made itself.”

Based on its success, the company followed up with another version in 2017: “Where Do You Walk in Your Walking Cradles?” According to Schmitz, “People who were not part of the shoot would send us pictures of themselves wearing their shoes, and we’d feature them on our website, blog and social media.”

Walking Cradles marketing campaign puts the focus on its wide range of customers. Courtesy of brand

Its reach was also broadened last year with a contest where customers could win a pair of shoes by posting pictures of themselves on the company’s social media platforms. “We’ve had entrants from all over the U.S. win,” said Schmitz, noting that it’s a feature that’s continuing in 2018.

Walking Cradle’s success caught the attention of retail partner Globe Shoe in Paramus, N.J., which then incorporated it into its local cable advertising initiative, a 30-second spot built around a spokeswoman referencing such brands. “We adapted their campaign since it fit with us perfectly,” said store manager Anthony Torre. “It resonated with a lot of women in the [size-and-width] category.”

Like its fellow comfort brands, Easy Spirit is readying to introduce a new, multifaceted international campaign under the “Makers of Easy” platform and companion “Move For” ad that celebrates women across a range of demographics, which will roll out Feb. 20.

“We wanted to create a bold, empowering campaign that was all about the personal motivations of real women,” said Shanya Perera, VP of marketing, advertising and PR of Easy Spirit. “We wanted to celebrate things that drive her on a daily basis, compel her to do what she does, and inspire her to keep moving through each day.”

Added Simon Graj, co-founder of Graj + Gustavsen, the agency that consulted on the Easy Spirit project, “Our hope is that women from all walks of life can see themselves, their daughters, mothers, sisters and friends in it.”

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