Although its business was built on a foundation of social responsibility, Toms had never before taken a political stance on one of the country’s most hotly debated subjects: gun control.
But when the Thousand Oaks, Calif., shooting on Nov. 7 left a dozen people dead a short distance from his home and the brand’s corporate headquarters, founder Blake Mycoskie knew he had to take action.
He drafted an email to Toms’ board of directors and CEO Jim Alling, adding a new cause to the company’s famous one-for-one giving model.
Then he launched a campaign that urged Americans to send postcards to their local congressional representatives, demanding that they look into universal background checks — an issue supported by 90 percent of citizens.
He also made known the footwear maker’s plans to invest $5 million into organizations across the country that are working to reduce gun violence. It would be the single largest corporate donation toward gun control in U.S. history. (More than 300 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. this year alone, according to nonprofit group Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings nationwide.)
“We are not just taking a stand to end gun violence together; we are announcing an evolution to our giving model with a new platform for social change,” Mycoskie previously told FN in an exclusive interview. “This move will allow us to continue to give shoes to children around the world, but also to make significant contributions to local organizations working to solve some of the biggest issues of our time.”
Now, with more than 600,000 postcards sent, Toms is not only seeing a spike in web traffic, he is also welcoming new audiences — A-listers included — into its community.
“Love this,” actor Mark Ruffalo wrote in a tweet, while fellow star Bryan Cranston posted, “When is enough really enough? Are we just all talk, or do we mean it? It’s time to plant our flag — right now — against this insanity and say NO MORE. We can #EndGunViolenceTogether.” (The hashtag is being used as part of the brand’s social media campaign.)
According to Beth Goldstein, accessories and footwear analyst at The NPD Group, it’s likely that Toms’ efforts “will have a positive effect on sales, at least in the short term.”
For instance, Patagonia — which, like Toms, is also known for its advocacy — battled on behalf of two national monuments that President Donald Trump decided to drastically reduce in size. “[Their] business remains strong,” Goldstein noted of the outdoor retailer.
And although Nike’s support of controversial ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initially prompted a flurry of backlash, the sportswear giant reported double-digit profit growth in the first quarter and saw investor sentiment rise to an all-time high after the ad campaign’s unveiling.
Whether Toms’ pledge will prove lucrative in the long run remains to be seen.
“I think that other companies will need to start thinking about what causes they can support, whether it is this issue or others,” Goldstein said. “The consumer base is getting younger, and [young consumers] will demand that their brands use their reach to affect change. Many are doing this already — it’s just a matter of taking stronger positions and engaging consumers in the efforts.”
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