Brand & Media Owner Partnership
The New York Times Advertising
Birkenstock – “Ugly for a Reason”
In 2022, Birkenstock experienced record sales, partly attributed to the pandemic-induced lockdown and surge in popularity of “ugly” shoes. Despite high consumer awareness, the brand’s true purpose wasn’t being communicated or understood by consumers.
Birkenstock faced a significant challenge in shifting its brand perception from being solely a shoe company to a recognized leader in foot health. Despite its inventing the footbed, an insole that was a milestone in podiatry and the foundation of modern footwear, the brand was often known more for fashion than its unique approach to functional footwear.
To address this challenge, Birkenstock launched its first global paid media campaign to raise awareness about foot health and emphasize its commitment to designing shoes aligned with the foot’s natural anatomy. The aim was to educate consumers on the connection between foot health, overall well-being, and issues caused by ill-fitting shoes.
Recognizing the need for the right partner to solve this challenge, Birkenstock strategically partnered with The New York Times, not only because of our journalistic expertise but also our ability to provide an investigative lens to culturally relevant and engaging topics. This can be seen in our editorial work exploring the intersection of science, culture, and lighthearted subjects, such as coverage of viral phenomena like “The Dress,” which sparked debates about color perception, or the “Yanny vs. Laurel” auditory illusion, showing an ability to take a playful approach to underexplored, scientific topics like foot health.
Overall, our partnership presented an opportunity to weave these narratives together, leveraging Birkenstock’s popularity as an “ugly” shoe and reframing it as an engaging and educational campaign that promotes foot health, and draws on The New York Times’ expertise in exploring the connections between science, culture, and public understanding.
The Content Solution
Our creative approach to this campaign came in the context of the rise in popularity of conventionally unattractive shoes, such as ‘Dad Shoes,’ Crocs and Balenciaga’s unconventional sneakers. Global pandemic-induced lockdowns accelerated the functional footwear trend, as people sought comfort while staying at home. This ignited a cultural moment that Birkenstock, a shoe brand that champions foot health, could take advantage of in a post-lockdown world.
Our campaign showed that Birkenstock was not just another brand capitalizing on the “ugly” shoe trend. Rather, Birkenstock had a higher purpose behind its design; it is “Ugly for a Reason.” This message resonated with consumers, especially those prioritizing health and wellness in a post-lockdown world.
“Ugly for a Reason” was a way to reposition the brand as beneficial to people’s well-being. It is Birkenstock’s first-ever global brand campaign that tackles the importance of foot health by bringing it to the forefront of public consciousness and revealing the critical role Birkenstock plays in maintaining it.
Through a three-part video series, newspaper cover wraps, audio spots, digital ad takeovers and social extensions, the campaign educated audiences on the importance of footwear in maintaining foot health. Grounded in Birkenstock’s ethos that footwear should be designed for functionality not fashion, the ad campaign demonstrated how its shoes are designed for a higher purpose – to complement human anatomy. With striking visuals and insights from distinguished scientists, orthopedic experts and historians, the investigative video series explored the importance of feet in human evolution, how we can all protect the health of our feet and the story of how Birkenstock disrupted the entire footwear industry.
The campaign utilized documentary storytelling techniques to feature scientific experts and cultural figures from the realms of fashion, sport, and entertainment to reveal the truth behind Birkenstock’s seemingly “ugly” appearance.
By linking Birkenstock’s product to a larger cultural conversation around health, and timing it with the rise of ugly looking shoes, our campaign successfully communicated the importance of foot health to consumers linking it back to this iconic brand. As a result, it helped Birkenstock connect with a wider audience who valued both style and foot health, improving their brand perception and making it well-received among consumers.
The Media/Content Amplification Solution
Our feet, being the most utilized and intricate part of our bodies, often face neglect. Despite accounting for over a quarter of all the bones in our body, feet can be a taboo topic that many are grossed out by – the feet averse.
To tackle this issue and prioritize foot health, Birkenstock strategically partnered with The New York Times, recognizing the publisher’s credibility, trustworthiness, and global reach, with an audience that spans 1 in 4 people on the planet. By aligning with a renowned platform known for its thought leadership, Birkenstock aimed to place their message in an environment that would compel individuals to confront and prioritize foot health, prompting them to contemplate the importance of the foot itself.
The New York Times offered a trusted and influential media environment, which helped Birkenstock to not only reach a wider global audience but also establish the credibility of journalistic integrity necessary for their ad campaign.
Through a disruptive promotional campaign, we ensured that feet became unignorable by placing them in every corner of The New York Times. From attention-grabbing print ad cover wraps to dominant digital ad takeovers, strategically placed images of feet throughout the publication conveyed Birkenstock’s message. The impact was such that people would see feet before they even got to the news. This concentrated effort had a significant effect, with a prominent journalist even tweeting about the ubiquitous Birkenstock ad, saying, “that ubiquitous Birkenstock ad on NYT is giving me podophobia. Every story you open, here’s a LOAD OF FEET.”
To add an authentic touch, Birkenstock crowdsourced images of real people’s feet and prominently featured them in print. This approach not only further engaged the audience but also highlighted the diverse perspectives and experiences related to foot health.
Overall, the collaboration with The New York Times allowed Birkenstock to create a disruptive and impactful campaign that brought foot health into the spotlight. The aim was to encourage individuals to prioritize the well-being of their feet and confront any reservations or neglect they may have had.
With an estimated 87% of people experiencing foot health problems at some point in their lifetime with poorly fitting shoes as a significant contributing factor, “Ugly for a Reason” was more than just a brand message; it was a call to action for better foot health that had a significant impact on a global scale.
Our campaign reached over 140 million people around the world, turning foot health into a global conversation with coverage in Adweek, Insider, as well as notable health & lifestyle publications. Leading podiatrists capitalized on the campaign’s widespread coverage to advocate for and increase awareness of foot health, ultimately recommending Birkenstock as a top choice for optimal foot support.
Among viewers, 83% reported learning something about foot health, and 77% expressed an interest in purchasing Birkenstocks. Even more impressive, over two-thirds of viewers expressed an intent to learn more about foot health, with 69% becoming newfound ambassadors for foot health, spreading the word about the benefits of Birkenstock to friends and family.
Finally, Our campaign marked a significant milestone in Birkenstock’s history as it was the first paid global media campaign for the brand, which has been around for nearly 250 years. The success of the campaign directly influenced the brand’s decision to organize a 300+ person experience in New York City focused on highlighting the innovation and use of natural materials in Birkenstock products, as well as its contribution to orthopedic history. Through a series of live activations, the event educated and inspired guests while showcasing the brand’s high-quality product and authentic spirit. The experience was a huge success because it allowed Birkenstock to reposition itself with consumers in a meaningful way by showing its commitment to quality, innovation, health and well-being.