Can AT&T Count Its TOMS Shoes Commercial as CSR?

AT&T’s commercial featuring TOMS Shoes was so publicly enjoyed that AT&T introduced a 60-second version of its 30-second spot. The commercial profiles TOMS Shoes–a for-profit company that donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased–and founder Blake Mycoskie who uses his AT&T Blackberry to conduct business from around the world (More bars in more places).

This was a genius branding move for AT&T, which garnered attention and customer goodwill simply by making a commercial about a do-gooding business. I’d even wager that AT&T acquired new customers by painting an aspirational picture of AT&T users as entrepreneurial and altruistic. For no more than the cost of a commercial, AT&T netted public acclaim, engaged customers and forked a bite of the corporate social responsibility-flavored pie.

So is this good or bad? Did AT&T pull off a cause marketing coup by setting a precedent for companies to claim credit for social or environmental stewardship without lightening their pockets or putting nail to hammer? Or did AT&T provide an indirect route to shoeing more children by introducing TOMS Shoes to a national, prime time audience?

From a business perspective, the impact is exceedinly positive for both AT&T, TOMS Shoes and TOMS’ beneficiaries, which is a key criterion on which cause marketing is judged. Could AT&T have done more? Always. Did the company put together a commercial that was handily self-serving. Yes, which is a principle role of business. I argue that in addition to profit, another role of business is social impact. To gauge just what impact the commercial had, I contacted TOMS.  Mycoskie shared that since the initial airing of the spot, TOMS has seen more awareness of its buy-one-give-one business model from an “incredibly diverse and extensive group of people.” There’s been increased consumer demand for the shoes which has encouraged stores “across the country to carry a larger variety of TOMS, helping to solidify TOMS ability to give 300,000 pairs of new shoes to children in need around the world.”

What’s not measured in the number of shoes bought (and therefore donated) since the commercial’s launch is the ripple effect of more companies adopting a buy-one-give-one model and an increased awareness among consumers that they can make a social impact by virtue of their product choices. Since its launch in 2006, TOMS Shoes has inspired other social enterprising businesses like LJ Urban, WeDrink Water Bottles and SunNight Solar. Buy-one-give-one is an appealing model to consumers and is gaining traction as a viable business model.

I did a quick Twitter search to glean real time reaction to the commercial. Overwhelmingly, the tweets were positive. I’ve included some below. What’s your take on AT&T’s commercial profiling of Blake Mycoskie and his One for One shoe business?

July 13-19 tweets

  • TOMS are awesome. They come with AT&T service.
  • If I were an impoverished youth, I’d prefer a shoe with support rather than those cheaply constructed trend-driven toms, at&t endorsed or not.
  • I like AT&T more and more every time I see their #TOMS commercial with @BlakeMycoskie.
  • TOMS at&t commercial! Ha. My first time ever seeing it. I want new toms =[
  • i just saw a toms slash at&t commerical made me think of you @xxxx// thanks! I own a billion pairs.

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  1. Jen July 20, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    It’s great and a step in the right direction for AT&T to chose TOMS to profile but in the end, it’s really all about AT&T. Possibly, maybe, hopefully TOMS gained exposure/sales in new markets but really its AT&T blaring their horn saying – look at us and the great forward thinking companies that use our service. Would AT&T been there 3+ years ago when TOMS was launching, probably not. Only now when there is so much noise about cause marketing, green, etc, etc have they jumped into the game. Would it be more impactful if AT&T also gave $ or paid a placement fee to TOMS or a straight out $ donation for shoes. YES!

  2. admin July 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm #


    thanks for your comment. I agree with your point that AT&T would have been less eager to spotlight TOMS Shoes 3 years ago. I internally argued your point about a donation to children in need of shoes instead of budgeting for the commercial. Here’s what I think. AT&T would have made a commercial regardless to profile their services. Better they pick a socially oriented company and innovative business model to profile than a brewing company, for example. I wish it were easier to track the ‘ripple effect’ of this. Maybe I’m over optimistic that more businesses, seeing TOMS as mainstream, will adopt similar business models. I appreciate your comment.

  3. Michelle August 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    It’s hard to say for sure what exactly caused the recent increase in sales for TOMS Shoes. It could have been the teaming up with big name companies, Ralph Lauren and Element, The aftermath of their nationwide Vagabond Tour, or the AT&T commercial. TOMS has been doing a lot of new stuff that has marketed to many consumers.
    All I know for sure is that after the commercial aired, the online store was sold out of many styles and sizes. I assumed it was the effect of the commercial.

  4. Stewart April 9, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    I agree that their commercial strategy of “Buy-one-get-one model” can really increase their sales. It can really attract the customer to buy their products particularly customers who are not brand-minded. Commonly, they care more for the money they spend.

  5. Olivia Khalili April 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    Thanks Stewart. It will be interesting to see if the attractiveness of the model will decrease as consumers get used to it and more companies take it on.