Free Chrome Shoes and Wildly Effective Internet Guerrilla Marketing

So yesterday a free pair of brand-new shoes showed up at my door. Yeah, you read that right. I got a free pair of shoes shipped to me from California. So how did I get this sweet deal? Pretty simple. I hang out with people who ride bicycles, and we all hang out on the Internet.

As geeky as that sounds, it is true. Chrome Industries is a bicycle apparel company out of San Francisco, and they had a two-day Internet marketing campaign back on March 17 and 18, spread through Facebook and Twitter. The promise was simple - “Send us a pair of your old, crappy, beat-up shoes, let us know your address and shoe size, and we will send you a brand new pair of our shoes.” Not only that, but they promised to donate to charity the shoes that could still be worn and recycle the rest that could not. Sound too good to be true? My cyclist friends found out, told me, and I hurriedly mailed away an old pair of sneakers, because I am a man who likes to get free stuff. (One of the many traits I share with the elite 15-98 year-old cyclist demographic.) And guess what? My new shoes, which normally retail for $70, showed up yesterday. They look like this, which pleases me greatly, because my current shoes look like this(but whiter).

I don’t have to tell you that this was a gutsy thing for Chrome to do. They no doubt gave away thousands of pairs of shoes for free. It cost them a lot of money in postage to ship shoes all over the world (the campaign wasn’t limited to the US). They had a lot of logistics to cover to ensure that they could fulfill their promise. And what were they thinking, potentially alienating their hardcore fanbase by giving away an expensive product, an urban cycling status symbol?

But that doesn’t matter, because as I see it, they just pulled off an extremely successful guerrilla marketing scheme that penetrated a very niche market with great depth for very little cost. Hundreds of thousands of cyclists will now here the word “Chrome” and instantly think of environmental responsibility, quality products, and the giving away of sweet loot. Not only that, but the total number of people wearing Chrome shoes in the world just doubled. And I wrote a blog post about it. It would have taken a lot of money and a super-effective traditional advertising campaign to get anywhere near the same effect. Every time I get a comment on my Chrome shoes I will answer, “Yeah, I got them for free. Chromes are sweet!” Even people who don’t care one bit about Chrome shoes will have to put up with me telling about how I mailed in a beat-up pair of Adidas and got a free pair of Chromes.

But what about those people who didn’t get them for free but rather bought them new? Now their (admittedly small) reference group is flooded with shoes that, to be honest, cost a lot of money for what you get. Chromes are more cycling status symbol than comfortable shoe. Those early adopters are now going to be stuck with a bunch of people riding bikes asking each other smug questions like “Hey dude, nice Chromes. How much did you pay for those. Wait! Let me guess!” Maybe we will get some lamenting of all the newbies ruining the Chrome “scene” with their “poseur” ways. Maybe Chromes will go “mainstream” and now owning a pair will be “so 2009”. Regardless, Chrome has made a lot of people happy, and I know that if and when I am in the market for a new messenger bag, there will be one place that will totally hook me up.


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