By Emily Adams
Using images, characters and biting, savage wit to shape the mind of the reader or point them to new truths, internet memes have normalized a practice which at one time was reserved only for newspaper pundits and advertising executives – the dissemination of easy-to-digest information to the world. Now, these communications can be created and made viral by anyone with a laptop, a platform, and a little bit of free time.
Internet memes have impact. In an age of shrinking attention spans, memes as a medium use humor, accessibility and an authentic, community “word-of-mouth” authority to shape consumer attitudes and perceptions.
This practice is enough to strike fear into the heart of any brand manager devoted to painstakingly curating the core values and associations of their brands. While up-and-coming brands might undertake an “all publicity is good publicity” attitude to the awareness brought on by a viral meme, it is undeniable they can often also be disastrous for a brand’s image. Crocs is a brand that has perhaps been virally ridiculed the most.
So what is the appropriate response?
For Crocs, the global pioneering brand of “Ugly-Chic” comfort and statement-piece footwear, the answer lies in harnessing brand vulnerability. Crocs reminds us that brands, like people, can be bullied. Their message is simple, empathetic and impactful – “Come as you are”.
Vulnerability is a complicated concept. Typically, it is an unfavorable one – one that defines us as humans but is also something we vehemently disassociate ourselves with. For Crocs, the concept is painted as a symbol of identity, humanity and defiance – stating that is cool to be real, to be human. With this brilliant piece of branding, Crocs can both harness the awareness brought on by negative memes– and turn negative feedback into a defining, positive aspect of the brand’s image.
Using spokespeople such as Drew Barrymore, and WWE fighter Jon Cena (who publicly came forth to various media outlets at the start of this campaign about being bullied as a child and how it propelled him to start fighting) Crocs draws attention to people whose success has stemmed from being different and facing obstacles. These communications tap into something which a brand which has never been ridiculed on a public, constant basis might not be able to authentically pull off. This is the basis on Crocs’ new brand resonance - an intangible, emotional relationship between its brand and consumers.
Crocs’ brand image also been reinforced via secondary associations.
What do Crocs, the grunge movement of the 1990’s and haute couture brands such as Balenciaga all have in common? Bold, radical non-conformity which is often a little bit weird but then again, the epitome of cool. “Come as you are” for many, may conjure up reminders of Nirvana’s hit single of the same title – of the uniqueness, defiance and again, vulnerability of the grunge music movement of the mid 1990’s. Crocs were also featured in Spring Fashion Week 2017, where Balenciaga models sported bejeweled, platform crocs down the catwalk, lending avant-garde associations to the brand.
Crocs’ #ComeAsYouAre campaign may just be the force driving the company's rejuvenation.
 Annita, Katee "'I was a string bean'! WWE champion John Cena reveals he was bullied for being a scrawny kid and says he struggled with looking 'different' " The Daily Mail, November 28th 2017