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Birkenstock’s New Campaign is an Ode to the Ugly Shoe

Birkenstock is telling consumers its shoes are “ugly for a reason.”

The German footwear company debuted a global campaign laying out the benefits of comfort and support over trendy style. The three-part video series raises awareness about the importance of foot health, as well as the role that footwear plays in maintaining it.

“Most people are born with healthy feet and develop painful foot issues because the shoes we’re wearing are often too small, too narrow or have heels that are too high,” CEO Oliver Reichert said. Birkenstock wants to draw attention to the pitfalls of choosing fashion over function, “and enable consumers to make better-informed decisions—no matter which footwear brand they ultimately choose.”

“Without an upright walk the human species would not have survived,” he added. “It is all the more surprising how little research has been done on the human foot.”

Founder and master shoemaker Konrad Birkenstock developed the first contoured arch support device in Germany in 1902. By the 1920s, the cobbler was educating peers about foot ailments and the proper devices to treat pain. Son Carl Birkenstock continued the tradition, passing it down to grandson Karl, who developed the brand’s first leather sandal in 1964. Karl Birkenstock’s three sons, Alex, Christian and Stephan each joined the company before 1990, helping the brand to develop and patent a number of sandal styles that remain core to the brand’s range today while expanding Birkenstock’s business globally.

Produced by T Brand, the New York Times’ advertising content studio, the paid campaign debuted on the New York Times website on Friday. It features University of Missouri professor of paleontology Carol Ward, who details how humans evolved to walk upright. “Walking upright on two feet and the changes in our feet that enabled us to do that set the stage for all of the other developments that make us human, and make humans unique,” she said. The first episode of the three-part series depicts the biomechanics of human movement and diagrams the foot’s function.

Birkenstock's first video debuted on the New York Times website on Friday.
Birkenstock’s first video debuted on the New York Times website on Friday. Birkenstock

Episode two will launch on Aug. 11. Entitled “Finding Our Feet,” the video will examine the future of foot health through the lens of Birkenstock’s history in orthopedics. The third installment, “Stepping into the Details,” will premiere on Sept. 21 and examine how quality footwear designed for function supports foot health. Throughout the four-month period, Birkenstock said other media activations across the New York Times website and its print editions will complement the videos.