Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes, appeared earlier this month on a very popular American TV program, The Tonight Show, and took a stance in a contentious debate. Weeping as he recalled recent shootings on American soil – particularly the one in Thousand Oaks, California, about 30 straight-line miles from Toms' corporate headquarters in Los Angeles – Mycoskie announced that Toms Shoes would be donating $5 million to groups seeking to end gun violence in the U.S.
At the TV talk show, Mycoskie announced a second, more interesting initiative as well. The company's website, Toms.com, has started inviting visitors to enter their name, address and e-mail address so that Toms can “send a postcard” in their name to their representative in the U.S. Congress. The postcard urges passage of federal law requiring universal background checks on gun sales. Toms is covering the cost of the postcards and their postage. A few days ago, in a video posted on Instagram, Mycoskie said that 285,000 such postcards had been sent. More are expected.
The action underlines Toms Shoes' strong commitment to social values, benefiting the brand's image on top of its numerous “one-for-one” giving programs. But how effective can Toms expect to be in this new venture? The “gun debate,” as it is often called, has existed in the U.S. in some form since the 18th century. At present, it revolves around legislation ratified in 1791: namely, the Bill of Rights, whose Second Amendment forbids the government from infringing the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms.”
For Americans who seek some form of gun control, however, the right to self-defense pales by comparison with certain statistics on gun deaths in the U.S., and recent mass shootings have only raised the debate's temperature. The issue is further complicated by disagreements over words. The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit group, lists 321 mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S. so far this year, but its definition of “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people – shooter(s) excluded – are either injured or killed by gunfire. The shooting at Thousand Oaks qualifies, but so can a drug bust or a robbery gone wrong.
Toms nevertheless seems likely to succeed on the marketing front. The company may alienate Americans who reject mandatory universal background checks, but figures released in 2017 by the Pew Research Center suggest that 84 percent of American adults, and 77 percent of gun owners, favor background checks for sales of guns everywhere. The same study showed that 71 percent of American adults, and 54 percent of gun owners, favor the creation of a federal database to track gun sales.
That's a big potential customer base for Toms. As with issues like sustainability and corporate responsibility, more and more people buy with their conscience.