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Crocs revival afoot? Experts say it’s a stretch

Crocs has high hopes for a comeback. Three inches high, in fact. The company's new "Feel the love" ad campaign pushes more than 20 new styles with clog-like mascots named "Croslite."
Summett Kumar, a Crocs ambassador, works at Crocs store inside the Beverly Center shopping mall in Los Angeles.Damian Dovarganes / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Crocs has high hopes for a comeback. Three inches high, in fact.

A new line of strappy red high heels, casual leather loafers and peep-toe sling backs is part of an ambitious bid for a company that grew quickly but tripped when the fad for its quirky clogs faded and knockoffs stole sales.

Love them or hate them — and chances are it's one or the other — Crocs wants people to think past that ugly-but-comfortable clog with the goofy holes and think more of, well, regular shoes.

The company's new "Feel the love" advertising campaign pushes more than 20 new styles with clog-like mascots named "Croslite" to play up the shoes' comfort. Crocs' first national TV campaign features the new mascots helping people and their aching feet.

They're named for the technology and material that Crocs says make its shoes comfortable. The rubbery material conforms to feet, carries no odor because it is anti-microbial and absorbs impact. No matter the new style, the technology is there, Crocs says.

The company won't say what it's spending but says it is a significant chunk of its marketing budget.

"They got famous for a cheeky, quirky look. We want to make sure the next wave of growth is on the authentic truth of the brand," said Marshall Ross, chief creative officer of Cramer-Krasselt, the ad agency behind the campaign. "That's how a fad brand can become an enduring, growing brand for the ages, versus a brand for the moment."

Crocs, which have sold more than 120 million pairs since their 2002 introduction, are certainly polarizing. Anti-Crocs blogs and Facebook groups abound. One group, which has an unprintable word in the title, has nearly 1.5 million members. The official Crocs fan page has well under 100,000.

Crocs isn't fazed by the camps of "haters" versus "Crocophiles," Ross said. The idea behind Crocs isn't the shoe, he said. "It's what it feels like. We can deliver that feeling in all kinds of shoes."

But there are risks in straying too far from what Crocs are known for, some marketing experts say.

A big change can damage a brand because suddenly people won't know what to expect, said Kelly O'Keefe, managing director of the Brand Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Crocs should skip the heels and stick to its strengths, said Laura Ries, president of the Ries & Ries brand strategy firm in Atlanta.

"There's plenty of competition with pretty shoes," Ries said. "But to have one that is ugly, good and comfortable? That's what their strength is in, and they should stay closer to that."

But Crocs, based in Niwot, Colo., feels strongly it needs more styles so it can cater to more tastes and sell more shoes. With the new spring and summer collections there are 120 styles now, ranging from ballerina flats for women to trail shoes for men.

In a television ad running on Lifetime, Bravo, and during prime-time shows such as "Modern Family," a woman comes home, presumably from work. A pair of pink Croslites wait for her and take off her high heels. They slip a new style — low-wedge casual Crocs — onto her feet and she goes back out. "Feel the love" flashes across the screen.

Plenty of people felt love for the brand when the shoes were introduced in 2002. Revenue reached $355 million in 2006, the year the company went public. A year later, that figure had more than doubled to $847.4 million. The clogs were everywhere.

But by 2009, sales had fallen nearly a quarter to $645.8 million. The company cut marketing spending, too, to $4.4 million from $12.7 million in 2008, according to research firm Kantar Media.

The sales falloff hurt even more because the company had invested so much in its rapid manufacturing and sales expansion, particularly overseas. But Crocs says cost cuts have it on more solid footing. New CEO John McCarvel took over last month.

Emily Auth of Kokomo, Ind., just added a fourth pair to her collection and jokes she's a Crocs hypocrite because she mocked the shoes when she first saw them. But the 25-year-old loves them so much she ended up wearing red high-heel Crocs at her wedding last summer.

"Everyone complimented me on them, and when I told them they were Crocs, they were like 'what?'" Auth said.