Haters gonna hate: Crocs shakes off criticism and re-embraces uniqueness

SVP and CMO Terence Reilly uses the power of digital and social to lead a Crocs resurgence.

Crocs SVP and CMO Terence Reilly isn't bothered by people who mock the brand
Crocs SVP and CMO Terence Reilly isn't bothered by people who mock the brand

An image of a "Croc man wearing a pair of Croc shoes" went viral on Twitter in early July, with many referring to the character as "nightmarish" and "haunting."

The image was posted by Twitter user @fancywookiee, who pondered, "Is he made of shoe, or are his shoes made of flesh? He screams, for he does not know."

The Croc man is actually known at the company as Mr. Croslite, named after the foam resin the shoes are made out of, says Crocs SVP and CMO Terence Reilly. Instead of ignoring the negative commentary, the shoe brand might decide to have some fun with its mascot of yore.

"That character hasn’t been used by Crocs since 2010," explains Reilly. "We found one in the back of our warehouse in July. We are having fun discussions about whether we should bring this wonderful character back to life in some social media way."

This is just one example of how Crocs has no fear when it comes to haters. The Guardian recently referred to Crocs as "so uncool, they’re cool." And this article’s author is often teased by PRWeek colleagues for her own adoration of the brand. But Reilly says he loves the "polarization and tension" that exists with Crocs. 

"Some people call us ugly, but we just think we are different," he says. "Different is great, and we want to reflect that on the consumers around the world who love our brand. Celebrating differences has never been more important." If being "different" makes some people uncomfortable, Reilly is totally OK with that. "There are other great shoes out there for those people."

Since 2017, Crocs’ motto has been Come as You Are, celebrating the uniqueness of individuals and inspiring people to be comfortable in their own shoes.

"That is our brand message and the core values at the heart of our company," explains Reilly. 

He adds Crocs are the "perfect form of self-expression," from the myriad of colors they come in to the various charms, or Jibbitz, people can decorate them with.

Reilly, who has been at the company since 2013, says when he first joined Crocs, TV and print was a big part of its marketing strategy. Now, the shoe brand, which has been working with FleishmanHillard for the past six years, almost exclusively uses digital and social.

"That has been the major driver that has fueled the resurgence of the brand," he says. 

Comeback Crocs

In 2017, Crocs was the 30th most popular footwear brand among average-income female teens, according to Piper Jaffray’s spring survey. In 2018, the brand was ranked 12th and this year it is the 13th most popular. 

Consumers just have a "different view" of Crocs now, notes Reilly. That started a couple of years ago when the company re-embraced its classic Crocs shoe.

"I could show the silhouette of the classic Croc and it has the same awareness as the Coca-Cola bottle or the Volkswagen Beetle or Apple’s apple logo," he says. "For years, we had gone away from that. We were making different sorts of shoes." 

Crocs has two names for its biggest consumers: The "Feel Goods" and "Explorers." Feel Goods are defined as the female head of household. 

"Our Come as You Are campaign and our celebrities we use allow the Feel Goods to see Crocs in a new light," says Reilly. "Our Explorer consumer is likely her younger sister or her daughter, that 17-to-25-year-old female who has been reacting to our social media in big ways and loves the various collaborations we have launched." 

Reilly’s main focus is on the brand’s loyalists who have dubbed themselves "Croc Nation."

"We have done a great job of unlocking our loyalists over the past few years," he says. "They have always been there and through digital and social we have given them reason and permission to engage and they have in a really big way." 

Crocs has over 565,000 Instagram followers, which Reilly says has been up significantly year over year. 

"We engage with Gen Z consumers through that channel and Twitter," he explains. "We are active on social, responding and listening to our fans right away. We also insert ourselves into pop culture moments."

In May, the company created adult size Lightning McQueen Crocs, previously only available in kid sizes, after fan Collin Bonner started a petition on Change.org that collected more than 33,000 signatures. 

"We made the shoe in adult sizes and surprised [Bonner] with the first pair," says Reilly. "There was a call to make more. They sold out." 

Crocs has averaged one shoe design sellout per month since last June in relation to various collaborations, Reilly explains. 

Collaborate and listen

Last June, singer Post Malone organically tweeted, "You can tell a lot about a man by the Jibbitz on his Crocs."

That was hard to ignore. "We reacted and collaborated with him shortly after," Reilly says. "We dropped our first Post Malone collaboration in November." 

Crocs doesn’t just approach celebrities about collaborating, it also reaches out to other brands, such as Vera Bradley, Chinatown Market, Alife and Barneys New York. Reilly explains that Crocs seeks out brands that have a "very loyal" following.

"You can see how varied it is and how democratic we really are," says Reilly. "We really can tell a lot of stories that bring more people into the brand this way."

A brand collaboration might come out of the viral TikTok Shaving Cream Challenge from earlier this year, which involves filling a Crocs shoe with shaving cream and jamming your foot in. For now, the brand is just letting Croc Nation run with it.

"If we over-corporate that message, it tends to lose its energy," he says. "But it got a lot of people talking about Crocs in a new way. We might have a collaboration happening because of it, because some other brands inserted themselves into the challenge."

Later this year, Crocs is hijacking National Croc Day, meant to honor the reptile. It falls on October 23, coincidentally within what Crocs has dubbed "Croctober." Last year, a special Croc Day shoe the brand created sold out within two hours. So this year, Crocs is collaborating with "someone special" and making five-times the amount of new limited edition shoes. 

Reilly’s next focus is moving the Crocs into the sandal space. 

"Want people to know we have one of the most comfortable sandals in the world," he says.

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