That, in a nutshell, is the logic behind Cities by Foot, a new travel-guide website unveiled today that provides high-definition video presentations of local shops and restaurants in different cities, devised by entertainment and marketing agency Red Robot for its client, footwear maker Crocs.
"Crocs are the best travel shoes," said Ed Wuensch, who happens to be Crocs' director of marketing. "So we were thinking, 'What platform could we use to get that across?'"
"Croc challenged us to come up with a global marketing platform," said Red Robot CEO Tom Flanagan. "We knew it had to come back to content. Travel content has been pretty weak online. There are good TV shows, but online it's terrible low production value or repurposed stuff. ... And the content is rarely original, always dealing with the same old landmarks. 'The world needs better travel content,' we thought, 'and it should be fun.'"
Risk pays off
Red Robot created the first videos from Denver on its own dime, with no guarantee from Crocs that the project would be picked up. After presenting it to a cadre of Crocs marketing execs in Hawaii, they were given the go-ahead to do more. The website boasts more than 70 two- to three-minute videos of different businesses, eateries and general getaways in Aspen, Colo.; Denver; Las Vegas; New Orleans; San Francisco and Vail, Colo. -- all of them noted for being good walking towns. Red Robot owns the content, but licenses it to Crocs. If successful, the site's reach will expand globally (Mr. Flanagan expressed an interest in doing Beijing to capitalize on the upcoming summer Olympics).
"Maps may have Croc retailers listed on them, and the video hosts wear Crocs, but that's about it. We didn't want to hit consumers over the head with the Crocs brand. We wanted it to be authentic, that this is a service brought to you by Crocs," said Mr. Flanagan. And it's a service not only to would-be pedestrian explorers but also the shopkeepers and restaurateurs, as the whole video is underwritten by Crocs. In fact, Cities by Foot offers businesses that don't have it a one-year membership in their local Consumer & Visitor's Bureau.
"When we first approach the shops, they are skeptical about cost," Mr. Flanagan said. "But Crocs was a small, odd entrepreneur in the first place, and now wants to promote other non-mainstream entrepreneurs."
For Beau Timken, president of San Francisco-based True Sake, a store that specializes in the drink, small businesses thrive on passion and word of mouth. "We small businesses do it because we love whatever it is we do," Mr. Timken said. "We grow thanks to our customer base, through word of mouth. It carries most of our passion, but it gets diluted after a while. But if people can see the store for themselves, feel the passion, then we can take the same impact of the word of mouth farther. They're mainlining the passion for us."
Mr. Timken said the visitor's bureau membership made him a part of his community in a way he hadn't considered before.
"Profit isn't our goal on this," said Mr. Wuensch. "We are trying to promote our shoe and create a positive interface for consumers to interact with. Our marketing foundation was built on experiential marketing, so this is another way of showing people the use they could make of their crocs. It's a living asset, and we'd like they pursued it that way."
And footing the bill for this is not as great a sacrifice as it sounds. Mr. Flanagan said that for the price of two 30-second TV ads, nearly 80 videos were shot and the website was constructed.
Red Robot and Crocs have also entered into a deal with Zed.com, a mobile content factory, to syndicate the site's content as a paid service on mobiles. The profits will be split, with half going to the wireless carriers, and the other half being shared between Zed.com, Red Robot and Crocs, offering the brand the possibility to recoup some of its expenses. The creators of Cities by Foot are also looking at possible syndication of the content onto airlines -- a natural gateway for reaching the site's target audience -- which could be available for free with promises to keep the Crocs brand on the content, or become another stream of revenue in exchange for de-branding the content.
"We are still approaching the market with a holistic marketing plan that includes print, TV, internet, etc.," said Mr. Wuensch. "But a growing percentage of our marketing dollars are going into this kind of endeavor. This is our first big foray into interactive."