Friday, July 29, 2011

Skechers Bobs Shoes - Bad Karma, Good Business?

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, TOMS shoes are ubiquitous--a favorite with hippies and hipsters alike. I probably see upwards of half-a-dozen pairs a day, strolling the City or the streets of Oakland. That's the marketing genius of TOMS: they are instantly recognizable, and owning a pair not only helps a child in need, it identifies you as a member of the do-gooder club to everyone around you. TOMS market themselves. I recall seeing a few TV ad spots for them at the beginning of their rise to popularity, but I haven't run across one in years.

So imagine my surprise, when late last night I turn on the television to a commercial for Kmart, full of TOMS-clad feet frolicking through nature. TOMS? At Kmart? For the most part, I've only ever seen them sold at locally-owned shoe stores... the only chain-store exception that I know of being Nordstrom. Same classic design, same one-for-one donation pitch, but something wasn't right. It took my somewhat sleepy brain until the end of the ad to figure out that I was not looking at TOMS at all, but a knock-off by Skechers called, of all things, Bobs Shoes. Somehow, I missed the righteous indignation that flared up on the internet last fall when these puppies were introduced, but even if I'd been in the loop, this ad still would have surprised me, considering that I haven't seen a single pair of Bobs on the street, and there hasn't been much (if any) buzz about them since the initial outcry.

It's pretty incredible, really. Compare TOMS shoes (pictured top) with Bobs (pictured right). There's no question that Skechers is ripping off the design, stitch for stitch. The wrap of the fabric, the tag placement, they even mimic the TOMS flag logo on the heel! The prices of TOMS vs Bobs are comparable as well, so there doesn't seem to be much to be gained, other than negative press.

Still, this model has been working for Skechers for quite some time. The company has a reputation for copycatting successful shoes (and being sued for it, as in the case of Crocs vs Skechers and, more recently, Asics). The only conclusion I can draw is that the costs associated with developing original concepts and forging new marketing territory are higher than the cost of the occasional lawsuit settlement. It's bad karma, but apparently it's good business.

What's especially sad about this particular venture is that while Bobs' non-profit partner (Soles4Souls) is a worthy one, this clear plagiarism by Skechers designers reflects badly on them as well.

Skechers, you're sketchy. My vote (and my money) go to TOMS.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Blogging Dead?

Let's first state the obvious: this blog has been dead for quite some time. (If, indeed, it was ever alive. Does the life of a blog begin with conception, or...? But I digress.) It was in contemplating the revival of this particular venture that I started to think more carefully about the history--and future--of blogging.

It struck me recently that the life path of the blog has echoed the development of my own generation in many ways. When I was 11, I registered my first email address... back in the day, when everyone used AOL. These were the days of chatrooms: relatively anonymous conversations with strangers--impermanent, impersonal. Updates about our own lives were shared privately via email, with specific individuals. By the time I was in middle school, IMing was a popular after-school activity. Basically, IMing replaced email for the instant-gratification-obsessed, short-attention-span-possessing crowd (that is, teenagers).

It wasn't until I reached high school that blogging made its way into my life. Keeping a diary has long been a favorite pastime of adolescents, especially girls, and keeping a weblog was simply the newest incarnation, utilizing technology more appropriate to my generation than the good ol' pen and paper. Almost all of my friends had accounts at LiveJournal, and unless you diligently kept up with their various blogs, you were so painfully out of the loop, you wouldn't be able to follow half the conversations that took place in person.

This couldn't last forever, of course. Just as the social circle seems like the most important thing in the world when you're 16, and gossip becomes less interesting the older and busier you are, blogging as we knew it fell by the wayside. Of course, there are always a few people you went to high school with who still really care how much Mr. Valedictorian makes a year or whether Ms. Social Butterfly is still ridiculously good looking. Similarly, there will always be people who like to read and write journal-type blogs. But increasingly, purely personal content fails to grab or sustain the average net surfer's attention. Instead, people now mobilize around common interests. The most popular blogs are topic-centered: food blogs, craft blogs, political blogs, sports blogs, time-wasting blogs. (Yes, I would say that time-wasting counts as an interest, especially amongst people born after 1980.)

Currently, then, the blogging platform is being used most successfully as a vehicle for content that does not necessarily match the original purpose. Blogs may not be dead, simply "all growed up." But I would argue that the platform itself isn't long for this world, either. No longer do we need chronological posting, for example. For most user-generated content, the date is not as important as the subject matter itself. Hence the success of websites like our own HubPages, where pieces of content (which we call "Hubs") are organized in a category tree, as well as available on each author's personal page.

While we still see the occasional confused newbs signing up and attempting to write about their in-laws' visit or what they need to get at the grocery store, I predict that these folks will become fewer and fewer over the next few years. Sites that organize around shared interests--like HubPages in the internet publishing sphere and Google+ as a social network--will enjoy the most vibrant communities. And as for blogging? Well, it ain't what it used to be. But that may be a good thing.