Crocs: The Reign of The Uncool.

“You love us or hate us – and that’s OK because that means you’re paying attention to us,” – Michelle Poole, president of Crocs.

The Case

Founded in 2002 and initially developed as a boating shoe, Crocs were later on adopted by nursing staff due to their comfort and medical benefits. As a consequence, the reunion between crocs and fashion was initially highly unlikely. However, since 2017 collaborations between the Colorado brand and fashion labels gained momentum – bringing the “unaesthetic” shoe into the fashion sphere, and consequently, opened a new window of opportunity to broader crocs’ customers segment.

The Challenge

Croc’s challenge is related to the type of consumer product. Considered as a convenience item, the long-lasting properties, and profession-based perception of the product (crocs were associated with people who work in fields where they have to stand long hours), made Crocs a one-time purchase and more of a “shopping product” (a product consumers purchase and consume on a less frequent schedule compared to convenience products)1

Therefore, the brand needed to change consumers’ perception to increase the number of purchases per consumer but also to generalize its consumption to other customer segments (non-profession related, younger demographics). In other words: making crocs a fashion item not only sought out for its comfort and durability but for its “it” factor.

The Action

Since 2017, Crocs took part in noticeable collaborations with fashion labels (Christopher Kane, Balenciaga), streetwear brands (Alife, PLEASURES, Chinatown Market), but also creative collaborations (eg. KFC2) and celebrity endorsements with popular music artists (Post Malone 3, Bad Bunny 4, Justin Bieber 5) and contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami.6

“Collaborations are important to our brand, but to work, they have to be meaningful, [… ] Our clog serves as a blank canvas that can fuel the latest trends or conversations. This is why we think we’re becoming more relevant in the streetwear space.”7 – Michelle Poole, president of Crocs.

Through limited-edition merchandise, Crocs achieved a rapid shift in perception for consumers. More than a convenience product, the high-value collaborations brought Crocs recognition thanks to innovative designs and purposeful associations with brands and personalities that embody the “come as you are” attitude that Crocs aims to sell.8

Why it works

Crocs understood that in order to diversify its consumer base, the brand needed to capitalize on its initial differentiation aspect: its particular design. Thanks to its unaesthetic design, Crocs could paradoxically join the popular fashion trend that promotes “the uncool” as popularized by the satirical artistic direction embodied by Vetements9 who ironically collaborated with DHL in 2018.10

For the last 5 years, the fashion industry cultivates the image of the “uncool”, the “unbothered” or “too cool for school” mixing multiple layers of cultural appropriations (high/low, subcultures) – which goes in the opposite direction of the traditional image of fashion. The same applies to social trends (body positivity, social inclusion, etc.) and pop culture trends (in 2020, the Kardashian show gets canceled while Paris Hilton launches a personal “reality-based” documentary), which reflects a need for more “realness” coming from audiences and customers.

Crocs understood how to capitalize on the “unpopular” by understanding the notions behind it: rarity, uniqueness, and rebellion. The perfect embodiment of 2020 (and probably 2021). The brand also embodies a sense of being “controversial”, but in a positive way as people love to hate the brand for its “ugliness”.11, 12 The perfect positioning for a brand that also targets younger generations. 

Still, Crocs didn’t forget their initial customer base and launched in 2020 a targeted program “A Free Pair for Healthcare” by donating free pairs of Crocs to doctors, nurses, and other medical employees.13 As Ms. Poole states Crocs are clogs that “serve as a blank canvas that can fuel the latest trends or conversations”14 setting up the brand in a fairly competitive position as it can easily adapt to fluctuating consumer trends.