When it launched 15 years ago, Crocs 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 company has spent years trying to rejuvenate the brand, and on Monday will debut a spring campaign from New York-based agency Yard, though it seems there may already be cracks in the Crocs relationship.
The campaign includes a 30-second manifesto 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 manifesto 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," wrote Ms. Bernstein. "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."
Crocs did not return a request for comment regarding the brand's current and future relationship with Yard, which had been working with the marketer on a project basis. A Yard spokeswoman had no comment on the possibility of future projects. Crocs worked with McKinney on media for the new campaign, a relationship that began in 2014. FleishmanHillard handled PR and R/GA worked on social media.
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. Revenue for the quarter was $187.4 million, a 10% 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.
"[Crocs] is trying to do a lot of things during a challenging macro time," said Steven Marotta, a retail analyst with C.L. King & Associates. He noted that Crocs is "turnaround-able," as it has done over $1 billion in sales for six consecutive years and diversified its product line and presence overseas in recent years. He also stressed the importance of the new campaign for Crocs' long-term viability.
"In this time of changing consumer buying patterns, which are skewing more toward direct-to-consumer, marketing campaigns that are engaging and measurable are critical to a brand's success," said Mr. Marotta.
The new marketing push will exclude TV and be a pure digital play, including social media, banner ads and new content with Ms. Barrymore and Mr. Cena. Mr. Reilly noted that the budget is on par with previous campaigns, though dollars were diversified to include the celebrity investment. Crocs spent $9 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media, and $56 million on total advertising, according to the company's financial documents.
"Digital and social campaigns are the most effective means of reaching our target consumers," said Greg Ribatt, the outgoing CEO, on a recent conference call. "We are channeling the majority of our marketing dollars there and materially reducing our use of TV and print."
Early behind-the-scenes content has already been well-received, said Mr. Reilly, who noted that Crocs is seeing record engagement on social media. Later this month, Crocs will release a GIF-generator for consumers and a Mother's Day promotion in May with Ms. Barrymore.