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The Shinola Obsession— Millennials & Brands That Do Good

November 14, 2013

It’s no secret that millennials respond to “cause related marketing”, according to the likes of Boston Consulting Group, Barkley, and Pew, to name a few giants. I fall firmly within the millennial generation, and although in general I find myself nodding along in vague agreement with most of the findings, ‘cause marketing’ as a driver of purchases never felt quite right to me.​

I’m sure most millennials are aware of TOMS, perhaps the most ubiquitous cause-associated brand of our generation, but they certainly aren’t a must-have item. Is the cause marketing pull less effective than research suggests?

The more I think about it, the more it seems perhaps we’re less interested in “supporting a cause”, and more interested in what the association will add to the story of the product we’ve purchased. That seems right—you’re sure to share that your Warby Parker frames provided a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need (note: the tab dedicated to explaining this aspect of the brand has an aptly named URL, “do-good”) . That added layer of a brand’s story is appealing to our generation, call it cause marketing or just call it smart positioning.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Shinola. Talk about a brand doing good and doing everything right. Tom Kartsotis, founder of Fossil, has revived a decades old shoe polish company that still had equity it its name (“You don’t know sh*t from Shinola”), and created an American made luxury watch, bicycle and leather goods brand. Clearly they’ve invested in product development: the $600+ watches ring in at that luxury level, with the quality, brand experience, and history to support it. But Kartsotis didn’t just pour a bunch of money into advertising and opening retail doors—he helped Shinola to take a stand in a sea of “brands” simply pumping out product. Transparency, quality and pride are reflected across every touch point of the Shinola brand, from the “Team” images on their website to the “About Us” that reads more like an impassioned manifesto than a stagnant history account. He brought Shinola’s factories to Detroit, where the original shoe polish brand grew up, and created jobs and skill sets in a community desperately in need of both. “Caring” is critical to the brand, and it seems that the world feels rather strongly that they should care about Shinola.​


There was a time in this country when the goal, more often than not, was to manufacture quality goods at accessible prices and pay a livable wage, thus creating jobs and a sense of optimism at a time when there was a dearth of both. Create a high-quality product using American manufacturing; do good while you’re at it. Sound familiar? It seems as though millennials, especially, have a soft spot for brands that do their best to do good in a world driven by capitalism. Whether the research is right or wrong, one thing’s for sure: I won’t be surprised in the least to see Shinola on the wrists of twenty and thirty-somethings across New York City this fall.​

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As a New York City luxury marketing agency, The O Group has been building legendary brands for the past 35 years across the entire luxury sector including hospitality, home products and materials, fashion, luxury jewelry, fine spirits, food and wine. From our proprietary brand positioning and strategy to crafting essential creative assets needed for brand marketing and digital content, we collaborate with our clients on every part of their brand creation and experience. Our proven process has built a reputation for developing luxury branding that is disruptive, highly desirable and uniquely differentiated.