Kenneth Cole’s Attempt at Brand Suicide

Kenneth Cole’s Attempt at Brand Suicide

By: Shelly Kramer
February 3, 2011

Kenneth Cole

Watching the morning news with my 5 year-olds today, it was more than a little unsettling to see all that’s happening in Cairo. Even my children, who rarely think about much but that which affects them personally, were wide-eyed at the footage of the riots, burning in the streets and talk of death and destruction. Journalists were reportedly beaten with sticks and detained by pro-government security forces. Even the intrepid Katie Couric was swarmed as she tried to report from the scene and her cameraman maced as they filmed.

Serious stuff? You bet.

That said, it was unimaginable to see the Twitter stream this afternoon and talk on Facebook about Kenneth Cole and its abhorrent behavior. Using the unrest in Egypt as a springboard to promote their Spring collection seems to me just about the worst strategic move ever. Never mind a definitive step toward brand suicide.

Funny? No, not one bit. Especially to the people who are there, living through it. Or to the Americans and many folks of other nationalities who are desperately trying to get out of the country. Or to the families and loved ones of those people – who I’m sure aren’t getting much sleep these days.

Kenneth Cole's Tweet In Bad Taste

This is a huge international crisis. The government in Egypt shut off the Internet for cripe’s sake. There are movements everywhere, trying to get information out – and in – and help keep people up-to-date and, more importantly, safe. And the Internet – and social media – has truly made this revolution even more revolutionary.

And yet some moron at Kenneth Cole thought it might be a good idea to take the situation in Cairo and capitalize on it. And, apparently, no one else in the organization thought that might be a bad idea. Or, maybe this is an instance of a brand using an intern or other inexperienced low-level staffer instead of an experienced, qualified marketing or PR pro to man their social media accounts. After all, it’s only the Internet. No biggie. Updated: When I wrote this, I overlooked the Twitter bio on the Kenneth Cole account. Thankfully, my friend Lisa Byrne, ever intrepid and clearly paying more attention than I was, pointed out that the tweet actually came from Kenneth Cole himself. Even better. A CEO who is clearly clueless.

Talk about Holy PR Crisis, Batman. This is enough to make me never buy a pair of Kenneth Cole shoes – or any other product from them – ever again.

What will be interesting now is to watch and see how they maneuver through the crisis they brought upon themselves. Will they bury their heads like BP and Tiger Woods, or will they stand up, like Etsy recently did, and acknowledge that they screwed up? Time will tell. And I predict we’ll soon know the answer.

Here’s some feedback from the Twitter stream in response to the post:

Twitter Stream of the Unfortunately Idiotic Kenneth Cole

Am I crazy or does this seem over the edge? Are you appalled or does this seem like a smart marketing tactic? I’d love to know.

Oh, and by the way, two hours after the unfortunate and ill-thought Tweetage, Kenneth Cole updated their Twitter stream with this:

“Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC”

Think that’s enough?

Update: Kenneth Cole removed the Tweet and posted the following on his Facebook page. Clearly, there are a number of ‘fans’ who aren’t interested in his apology.

Kenneth Cole Facebook Post

  • Actually, if you read the twitter bio that moran is the Kenneth Cole himself…good thing he’s CEO or someone’s head would be on the chopping block. Bet he’s hating life right now.

  • Anonymous


    This reminds me of the PR flack who, on Sept. 12, 2001, sent a pitch to reporters that was something like “If you thought yesterday was a tragedy, you should see how poorly people are saving for college!”

  • Anonymous

    You know what, Lisa, you’re right. Thanks for the heads up. In fact, I’ll modify my post accordingly. Note to self: Don’t let interns, inexperienced staffers OR CEOs who know NOTHING about their own brand and/or what’s appropriate and what’s not man your social media accounts!!!

  • You’ve got that right. I wonder which young social media person put that out there without running it by more, shall we say, worldly and seasoned executives. I at least hope that’s what happened.

  • That’s a good question. I don’t know if that’s enough. For a brand that has successfully skirted and tie into sensitive issues before, I find this lapse baffling. I think this will effect their reputation temporarily, but they can recover by turning it into something positive (and evaluating how they are managing their social media channels.)

  • Anonymous

    Sarah, I just updated the post. It was, in fact, Kenneth Cole himself who tweeted that. Color him clueless. Or, just plain idiotic.

  • Anonymous

    Ann Marie,

    They probably can turn it around. It will be interesting to see their next moves. Oh, and by the way, it was Kenneth Cole himself doing that unfortunate tweeting. I’ll bet this is one instance where he wishes he could blame it on someone else.

  • Anonymous

    OMG. I totally missed that story!!!!

  • I was just about to comment that it appears to have been the man himself manning the twitter station but it seems like someone else beat me to it. The fact that this was well planned, e.g., bitly link to Spring collection with the word “Cairo” in it makes me think that the entire marketing team was involved. It is a shame because KC is a brand that has long tied itself responsibly to social causes. I think that it’s cause related marketing days may be over.

  • The only thing over the edge would be if their effort to recover did not consist of more then their follow-up tweet. The sad reality is that the folks most offended by this total lapse in judgement are not exactly the same folks buying their products.

    Crazy that it was Kenneth himself tweeting. A rare case where having an intern in charge probably would have been a much better plan.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Kenneth Cole's Attempt at Brand Suicide | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency --

  • Completely boggles the mind.

  • Shelly Kramer

    I agree, Liz. And it was the fab Lisa Byrne who alerted me. I was too focused on my outrage to pay more attention to the Twitter bio. Egads, what a bad move!

  • Shelly Kramer

    I agree, Ash. And I disagree re the folks buying shoes. Kenneth Cole is a pretty well-known brand and a lot of people seeing and hearing about this are totally their target audience. You might be amazed at how many people this turns off. But, time will tell. That’s one thing for sure. Thanks for coming by!

  • Pingback: Real Time Personal Branding Case Study – Kenneth Cole()

  • I like that Kenneth also personally deleted his Tweet (as if there aren’t thousands and thousands of copies of it flying all over Cyber Space.)

  • What a shame that such a bone-headed move could undue good will built up over years of one company’s philanthropy and social commitment. I do think KC will bounce back, they’ve got too long a track record of credibility in the cause area. I also think they (he) did all he could do in the short term to clean up the mess, but it’s only a start. If I were his PR person I’d recommend a follow-up act of signigificant contribution (financial, in kind, or otherwise) to assist those affected by the turmoil in Egypt. Which is tough, because this is a democratic movement — not a hurricane or wildfire or food shortage where the need and the corporate act are easier to identify.

  • Arrrg. “UNDO” not “UNDUE.”

  • This is what happens when you put PR in the hands of a CEO.

  • Anonymous

    Just admit the mistake, issue an apology, and move on…it’s that simple. The longer they wait and dodge the issue, the worse it’s going to make them look.

  • Anonymous

    Totally with you!

  • Anonymous

    It is a shame, Liz, and they’ve done some good things in the past. Really hard to believe that anyone would have thought this was even remotely a good idea.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, Stephanie. It’s not not fixable. In fact, he should hire DeVries :))

  • Anonymous

    Yes. It does make it go away, doesn’t it, Patrick??

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Ash, well said. In this case, it would have been infinitely better for a minion to have done this. At least for Kenneth.

  • Anonymous

    My 9/11 view is different – I worked for a company (Aon) that lost 175 colleagues. So, when some reporter called me on the 12th to ask if we wanted to comment on the impact of the terrorist attacks on the cost of pension plans, I told her I’d call her back once we were done looking for the employees who were unaccounted for.

  • Pingback: Kenneth Cole. Classless or Clueless? « The Aggregation of Josh "Shua" Peters()

  • Shelly, have you seen the spoof account that cropped up today @KennethColePR. Kind of like the joke BP account, but the scary thing is you can’t tell the real Kenneth Cole tweets from the joke ones. How sad…

    Amber @wordsdonewrite

  • This tweet just came through on my feed:

    @gabriellenyc #KennethCole tweet wasn’t just a tweet. it was a campaign with decals in store windows via @jowyang @monkchips

    If this is a real photo (I’m no photo expert, but it looks valid to me) then it adds a whole new dimension to the discussion. And not a good one. This wasn’t an “oops” tweet, but a planned one.

  • Anonymous


  • typo* (someone’s got plenty of free time)

  • Damn this post went viral. 175 Likes! Wow Shelly! Lexus only had 167 when the launched a hot new car!

    Story hasn’t hit the Huff Post yet. Has any mainstream news picked it up yet? Just curious. Great PR case study. But as we always see I don’t think this will affect the brand. If BP didn’t have to close gas stations and women are still dating Tiger Woods and Michael Vick is selling jerseys this is a minor blunder by someone who wasn’t smart or thought they were cutesy and it backfired. Yes it was classless and tactless. In Dec 2001 when I came back to NY to start a new job and went to see ground zero it was filled with T-Shirt Hawkers making money off the dead. It’s America.

    It goes to something here in the US where we have a lot of apathy. 15,000 murders a year, yet only when a congressperson is shot is there and uproar.

    That said I have plenty of Kenneth Cole though admittedly it was era 2004-07 when I liked his designs more. I can surely take a shirt I rarely wear now and make a video of me burning it then put it on You Tube 8)

  • Anonymous

    :)) You’re not the first person to ever say that, sweets. And yes! Kind of like having your mechanic do your taxes. Not always smart.

  • Anonymous

    Howie, I adore you. And your brain + fab sense of humor. Yes on the video — get going!!

  • Anonymous

    I have, Amber. And that’s the same thing that happened with BP with BPGlobalPR. People are nutty.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, Ann Marie … very much looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

  • Pingback: Kenneth Cole Tweet Not An Accident, But a Campaign | V3 Kansas City Integrated Marketing and Social Media Agency()

  • Pingback: Kenneth Cole Is Just The Latest in a Long Line of Bad PR Decisions | Danny Brown()

  • Social media can be quite unforgiving, can’t it. How many people have we seen get into trouble attempting to be humorous in the most insensitive ways? You can quickly unravel a lifetime’s worth of good work with just a moment of very questionable judgement. Thanks for this well presented example of what not to do with Twitter, Shelly.

  • Pingback: Let's Go Facebook » Blog Archive » De zeven fases van een social media blunder()

  • Pingback: » Blog Archive » De zeven fases van een social media blunder()

  • K.

    I think the Kenneth Cole Tweet was genius.  It was purposefully tasteless in an ironic way, which is a very particular, sophisticated kind of humor.  You would have to be an idiot to be offended at all this. 

  • Anonymous

    Then I’m an idiot! Thanks for that 🙂

    Signature powered by WiseStamp

  • Pingback: 12 Social Media Mistakes | Eclipse Creative()