When it launched 15 years ago, Crocs Inc. was soon the darling of the fashion world, the quirky footwear worn by everyone from celebrities like chef Mario Batali to podiatrist patients.
But like many "it" brands, the company expanded too quickly, distributing overseas and snapping up retail locations in geographies not necessarily appropriate for its warmer-climate products.
The Niwot, Colo.-based company, which uses a proprietary closed-cell resin for its colorful footwear, has spent years trying to rejuvenate the brand, and on April 3 will debut a spring campaign from New York-based ad agency Yard, though it seems there may already be cracks in the Crocs relationship.
The campaign includes a 30-second video starring new brand ambassadors Drew Barrymore and John Cena, as well as Asian celebrities Yoona Lim and Henry Lau. In the spot, they tell consumers to "come as you are" and celebrate differences in an inclusivity-pushing strategy.
"It's really about rebooting consumers' perception of the brand, especially in wider culture," said Terence Reilly, chief marketing officer who joined $1 billion Crocs four years ago. "The use of celebrities to do that is something we have not done before."
Yard declined to comment on the video, which it said Crocs' internal team handled rather than the agency. Instead, Ruth Bernstein, Yard's co-founder and chief strategic officer, emailed a statement about the overarching strategy for the "Come As You Are" campaign.
"The concept of 'Come As You Are' is built on the insight that it has never been easier to judge others. As a brand that has been bullied themselves, Crocs wanted to convey empathy for and understanding of their consumers through this campaign," Bernstein wrote. "It was incredibly powerful to make the films with the celebrity co-collaborators like John Cena and Drew Barrymore, as we were able to lean into their own experiences and thoughts on this subject and ultimately their ability to inspire people to take a stand against prejudice."
"The biggest factor in me becoming comfortable in my own skin was to experience failure," said Cena, a professional wrestler. "A lot of times, it hasn't been popular to have 'Never Give Up' plastered all over me, but that's how I live. It helps a lot of people. The message 'Come As You Are' comes from folks who have been through that struggle, and have found themselves, and feel comfortable in their own skin."
Any turnaround is tough, but it's even more difficult in the current retail environment, as consumers shift their buying habits and shopping preferences. In the most-recent fourth quarter, Crocs posted a $44.5 million sales decline — in the year-earlier period, the brand lost $73.9 million. Sales for the quarter was $187.4 million, a 10 percent drop over 2015, and the company plans to close some 160 of its 500 stores as it navigates retail pressures. Crocs recently announced that Andrew Rees, who joined three years ago as president, will add chief executive to his title in June.