Ethos in TOMS Shoes
COMS 101: Public Speaking
December 13, 2013
This paper will examine the use of word of mouth ethos in the marketing success of TOMS Shoes. The demonstration of ethos through their website has an influential effect on how consumers perceive the company. By gaining credibility and trust from the target audience through their demonstration of goodwill, supporters are more likely to make the company known to others by word of mouth. This paper will concentrate on the effective use of ethos in the TOMS Shoes marketing strategy and how the spread of it’s ethos through word of mouth has largely contributed to the success of the movement.
“With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One”. If you were wearing a pair of shoes that made such a philantropic promise, wouldn’t you want to advocate for the company? TOMS, a shoe company built upon the foundation of goodwill; donating a pair of of shoes for every sale they make, has led to a major trend in the way that companies market their products. By incorporating each sale with a good deed, the company is building upon a strong foundation of trust.
Because the demonstration of ethos has proved to be extremely effective, we have seen an increase in this so called, “philantropic capitalism” in large companies such as Starbucks, Dawn, and Odwalla. For every bottle of Starbucks “Ethos” water that you purchase, the Starbucks “Ethos” Water Fund donates $.05 to supply clean water to people those in need. Customers can buy certain Dawn products with a sense of satisfaction not only because they trust the company, but also because they are supporting a cause that is donating a million dollars to wildlife rescue. For every bottle of Odwalla Mango Tango smoothie that you purchace, customers feel content knowing that $0.10 of their purchace is going towards the Haiti Hope Project. The list continues, but these are just a few examples of companies that attract customers by demonstrating goodwill and ethos.
“One for One” is the motto that TOMS functions upon. This promise alone carries a strong sense of ethos; trustwortiness in the company because it demonstrates goodwill. TOMS uses their website as a way to reach out to supporters and to appeal to
the ethos of their company through biographies, visuals, descriptions, and video evidence. The website triggers our emotional need to give back and the company demonstrates that simply buying a pair of shoes is an affortable way to satisfy that need. By first establishing their ethos, TOMS Shoes was able to create an entire company, a movement, on the basis of world of mouth from passionate customers who wanted to make the cause of this company known to the world. This is the most valuable type of advertising.
In this paper, the use of ethos to attract customers to invest in a pair of TOMS will be analyzed. We will examine how word of mouth (WOM) ethos has contributed to the success of the company. To demonstrate this, this paper will start with a description of the artifact, which in this case is the TOMS website’s use of ethos to demonstrate the company’s goodwill. Second, the paper will move on to provide a description of the unit of anylysis, which will be ethos (trustworthiness). Lastly, this paper will discuss the effectiveness of the message as a whole, interpreting the combination of the artifact with the unit of anlysis in terms of the success of the company’s message.
Description of the Artifact
The way that TOMS reaches out to their supporters is through their website, which is an excellent means of displaying information to their target audience. The website is separated by tabs to guide viewers through their mission, purpose, and items. The One for One tab is aimed towards teaching people about what the TOMS brand is all about and how they can make a difference by purchacing a pair of shoes. By exploring this portion of the website, viewers can learn about how they can become
involved with this movement, where shoes are distributed, what kind of shoes they give, and real statistics about the movement. “We’ve been given 10 million pairs of shoes to children in need”, “We have made serious investments in our giving” “We have given millions of dollars to organizations that help those in need”. (“TOMS Evolving Our Giving” 2013) These quotes from the website demonstrate the company’s goodwill and further convince the audience that purchacing a pair of TOMS shoes would be a good investment for both the person buying the shoes and the child receiving them. Statistics further enhance the credibility of the company because it allows the audience to grasp in real numbers the impact that this movement is causing on the world.
TOMS is careful in the way that they lay out the website to make it easy to follow and appealing to viewers. There are specific sections of the website for viewers to either learn more about the company or to browse TOMS products. By creating sublinks that lead a prospective customer from a tab demonstrating the goodwill of the company to a tab containing the shoe products, the website makes a distinct correlation between buying a pair of shoes and helping a child in need. They make it clear that the company is not merely a shoe company, but a movement. With visual images, biographies, and videos of the shoes being distributed to children, we can visualize the kind of impact we could make just by purchacing a pair of shoes. Each page has an area where viewers have the option of sharing the information with their friends through social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Through these outlets of social media, TOMS allows the viewers to spread the word through internet communication.
Description of the Unit of Analysis
Companies rely heavily on the use of rhetoric to persuade an audience to purchace their product. According to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, rhetoric is “an ability, in each particular case to see the avialble means of persuasion” and contains three artisitc proofs; ethos, pathos, and logos. TOMS is so successful because of their use of rhetoric to persuade the audience to invest in their company. Frisco reported that the ethos is the most potent becasuse without first establishing trust, the audience will not believe anything that you have to say. In this paper, although we will touch on the topic of pathos, the central unit of analysis will be ethos and how TOMS credibility is spread through word of mouth.
Ethos is the name used by Aristotle to refer to credibility. (The Art of Public Speaking 353) The two factors of credibility include competence, how the audience perceives the speaker’s intelligence, expertise, and knowledge on the subject, and character, how an audience perceives the speaker’s sincerity, trustworthiness and concern for the well being of the audience. (353) If an audience favorably views a speaker’s competence and character, they are more likely to accept what the speaker has to say. (353)
The three parts of ethos consist of sagacity, goodwill, and virtue. In this paper, we will discuss how goodwill contributes to the ethos of the company. According to Aristotle, the establishment of goodwill is an important factor for preparing the audience to receive a message because it directs their emotions (pathos) to the right frame of mind.(On Rhetoric 17) Ethos and pathos work alongside each other to persuade the audience
to believe the message. The use of pathos to trigger an emotional response in the audience “enables him (the speaker) to color his speech with his own character in a desirable way, and to give the color he desires to the persons and their acts that are dealt with in his speech” (The Rhetoric of Aristotle 131). This quote demonstrates how a speaker can use emotion to heighten the intensity and enhance the belivability and character of a message. (The Art of Public Speaking 370)
Although pathos is an important advertising technique to put the audience in the right frame of mind to receive a message, ethos is what ultimately causes the audience to trust the message. Because TOMS does not believe in established advertising techniques such as television commercials, magazines, billboards, etc, their main way of making their company known is through word of mouth marketing from people who make the company known either through speaking or through social media. This type of marketing where the sender is independent from the company “is therefore perceived to be more reliable, credible, and trustworthy by consumers compared to firm-initiated communications” (Brown, Broderick, Lee 4) In the analysis, we will examine how this type of ethos is highly persuasive in convincing people to buy a pair of TOMS Shoes.
The use of ethos to persuade customers to buy a certain product is one of the most important strategies in marketing. The success of the company, TOMS Shoes is largely attibuted to their souce of ethos, which is spread through word of mouth (WOM).
This type of ethos is highly persuasive to customers because it carries a sense of trustwortieness from a reputable source. (Brown, Broderick, Lee 4)
According to Aristotle, first establisihing a sense of goodwill is an important factor in establishing ethos. TOMS is a company that is based on anti-establishment beliefs, meaning they do not advertise on television, internet pop ups, or magazines. Instead, the way they make known who they are is solely through word of mouth and social media- connections from people to people. According to the article, “Word of mouth: understanding and managing referral marketing” by Frances A. Buttle, word of mouth has a more emphatic influcence on the purchacing decision than other sources of influence because personal souces are viewed as more trustworthy. The concept of word of mouth is especially effective with an apparel company because customers can easily see the shoe worn on other people and if they are interested in knowing more about it, they can ask and learn from others.
TOMS offers an interesting demonstration of how ethos works when attached to a good cause. The shoe itself is not particularly elaborate in it’s appearence, nor is it made of the most durable, high quality materials. If fact, the idea of the simple canvas shoe oringinated from an Argentinian farmer’s shoe, or epadrille, made of a cotton or canvas fabric upper and a flexible rope or rubber sole. However, for many customers it may not be the physical product that appeals to them at first, but rather, the cause that they will become a part of by purchacing a pair of TOMS shoes. The goodwill that this act of kindess brings to the company carries a heavy weight, and makes the shoes all the more appealing to a customer. The action of simply buying a pair of shoes is so
powerful because it allows the consumer to be a part of the movement that directly helps millions of children throughout the world. By merely purchacing the shoe, it serves as a “small commitment to manipulate a person’s self-image and can be used to turn citizens into ‘public servants,’ prospcts into ‘customers,’ and prisoners into ‘collaborators’”.(Cialdini 66) The meaning of wearing the shoe itself changes the way a person perceives their own self image as well as how they perceive others. Wearing this pair of shoes becomes a visible sign, a symbol, of one’s goodwill. It shows that they are part of a movenment.
The social media plays a large role in establishing and spreading the company’s goodwill and friendship. The company’s website is a prime example of displaying the company’s mission to those who are interested in learning more. Written, visual, and spoken rhetoric appears throughout the website to reinforce the importance and significance of this cause. Under the “One for One” tab, viewers can explore the story behind Blake Mycoskie’s One for One initiative, through which the movement provided over 10 million shoes to children in need. (“Blake Mycoski’s Bio,” 2013) His biography further proves the ethos of the company by featuring his life’s experiences, achievements, and awards which are supported with visual images of Mycoskie in these actions. We learn how the humble beginnings of the company began while vacationing in Argentina in 2006, he witnessed many children who grew up without shoes. “His solution to the problem was simple, yet revolutionary: to create a for-profit business that was sustainable and not reliant on donations. Blake’s vision soon turned into the simple business that provided the powerful foundation for TOMS.”
(“TOMS Blake Mycoski’s Bio” 2013) Automatically, we can tell that this company has one of the most important values of ethos; it is akin to friendship.
The successful effect of goodwill in the TOMS marketing campaign is due largely because of pathos. Although this artistic proof is not the focus on my paper, it is still an important part of how TOMS portrays their sense of ethos in the company. According to Aristotle, “As for goodwill and a friendly disposition, these must be discussed under the head of the emotions.” (The Rhetoric of Aristotle 92) Pathos, according to Aristotle, are “the emotions and feelings that so change people as to affect their judgements” (Aristotle). Frisco reports that pathos is audience centered, in that it “places the audience in the appropriate frame of mind to receive the speaker’s message.” (Frisco) This specific section of the website is geared towards appealing to our emotions, giving us the feeling of wanting to give back, to help, to make a difference.
Videos and photos prove to us that the One for One movement is legitmiate. Real life profiles of children and their stories allow the company’s message to come to life. We learn about Yaiza, a seven year old girl who lives in a small cement home with her four sisters and mother in El Salvador. She got her first pair of TOMS through Giving Partner AmeriCares and its Family Clinic, and after receiving them she said that she was eager to return to playing with her friends and continuing her work at school. (“TOMS Stories” 2013) Joey, an eleven year old boy from one of the most impoverished counties America, dreams of being a professional basketball player. After receiving a pair of TOMS through his school’s Healthy Choices program he say he is
excited to hit the courts and practice his game. (“TOMS U.S. Giving” 2013) “Your TOMS purchace does so much more than just give a new pair of shoes to a child somewhere around the world. It also gives them the power to stay healthy, active and dream big.” (“TOMS U.S. Giving” 2013) This direct quote from the TOMS website demonstrates the credibility of this cause. The use of images depicting shoeless children playing soccer, shoeless school children on their way to school, happy children who are then given a new pair of TOMS shoes tells a story and depicts the movement that triggers an emotional response in us. We as citizens of a first world country, feel as if it is our duty to contribute to the well being of a chlild in need. Potential customers are now in the right frame of mind to want to be a part of this movement by investing in something as simple as a pair of shoes.
Ethos is also spread through other social media websites such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. There are three key factors that influence how word of mouth in the online context influences consmer decision making and attitude formation: tie strength, homophily, and source credibility. (Brown, Broderick, and Lee 3). Tie strength represents the closeness, intimacy, support, and association between two people ranging from strong to weak. Homophily refers to the similarity of people’s characteristics such as age, gender, education, or lifestyle. Source credibility identifies expertise and bias from the source providing the information. A source should be considered more credible when it (1) possesses greater expertise and (2) is less prone to bias. (Brown, Broderick, and Lee 3) In their own YouTube channel, credibility through word of mouth social media is displayed, where the videos highlight real stories of
children receiving their shoes from the TOMS staff and volunteer members. Many of the members who distribute the shoes are young, educated, and are obviously eager to be a part of this movement. This is a prime example of homophily, because consumers can relate to the volunteers and TOMS staff members in the videos by their common interest of wanting to make a difference. Tie strength is represented in their Youtube channel by the intimacy and support between TOMS and the village children who are receiving the shoes. Due to the strong relationship between TOMS and the children, watchers feel that they too have a connection with the company just by wearing the pair of the shoes. The two groups are connected by their love for the shoe and the meaning it carries. The Youtube channel has a high sense of source credibility because after viewing the website, customers will already know the reputation that TOMS carries and the goodwill that the company is based upon.
After discussing the common interest of wanting to making a difference among consumers and the company, this leads me to my next point, the connetion with the audience. Trust, or ethos, is what causes a target audeince to believe in a company. Frisco reports in his lecture that the goodwill of ethos is “respecting, charitable, caring and warm”, all of which are elements evident in the TOMS website and in their comapny as a whole. Consumer trust is a major contributor to the success of a company. In addition, according a marketing article published by the University of Missouri, the market audience that you are trying to connect with must be targeted before you decide what message to send. In the case of TOMS shoes, it seems to be that the “target audience” is the youth. Aristotle reports that “the moral character of youth” “live for the
most part in hope; for hope is for the future”, “choose to do fine things rather than things adventageous to themselves” and “they do not judge on the basis of advantage” (On Rhetoric 150) Because of this, they succumb easily to the opportunity of doing good as an investment for the future (the youth are hopeful), and the youth tend to want to give back and do good for other people (they choose to do fine things for other people). The TOMS marketing strategy targeting the youth is extremeley effective because it combines the “moral character of the young” with their desire to make an impact in the world. In addition, the shoes are targeted to an audience that is interested in keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Through celebrity endorsements of TOMS shoes, including the Olson twins and Scarlett Johanssan, the ethos of the company is expaded as not only through goodwill, but also because these celebrities have approved the shoe as a fashion item. The website is an excellent tool in attracting young customers because it incorporates both the temptation of wanting to buy a new pair of shoes with the satisfaction in being able to give something in return.
Based on the evidence I have shared with you in this paper today, ethos is used in many marketing strategies to persuade an audience to put their money into the company. The TOMS website uses many forms of rhetoric to convince us that buying a pair of shoes would be a good investment, not only because it benefits the audience as consumers, but also by the presence of goodwill, it causes us to believe that we are contributing to a good cause. Goodwill is the basis of trust, and by proving to the
audience that we can contribute to helping millions of children, customers are sold on idea of One for One, the TOMS motto, that for every pair of shoes you buy, a pair will be donated to a child in need. This is a message that demonstrates goodwill and credibility. We know that we can trust this company.
Because of the strong sense of trust in this company, customers feel as if they are part of a movement when they purchace a pair of shoes. They feel like it is their duty to advocate for this company becuase it has become a movement through the good things that the company does for every purchace. This is where the ethos through word of mouth comes in. TOMS does not believe in commercial advertisements, but they are still known throughout the world for their philantropy because supporters of the company are spreading the news themselves- the most powerful type of advertising. By directly telling the people in their lives, either by speaking or by spreading the word through outlets of social media- these sources from everyday consumers have an immense amount of credibility because they are independent of the company; they are speaking out of their own will.
TOMS was able to achieve such a successful company by the power of people. By demonstrating goodwill and gaining trust from potential customers all over the world, consumers are moved by the fact that buying a pair of shoes can directly impact the life of another. We are convinced of the company’s ethos through it’s website, we are convinced through our peers, and again, we are convinced though ourselves that this is a good investment in our money. After purchacing a pair of TOMS Shoes, we can feel
satisfied not only because we bought a new pair of shoes, but because we have made a small purchase that can have a big impact on the world.
Author Unknown. TOMS Stories – Official TOMS Blog | TOMS.com TOMS Shoes, 2006-2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
Author Unknown. “Reaching Your Target Market.” Reaching Your Target Market. University of Missouri Extension, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.
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