Did Kenneth Cole commit brand suicide on Twitter?

This PR pro is enraged at the shoemaker’s #Cairo tweet. Will it negatively affect the brand and sales? Weigh in.

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Watching the morning news with my five-year-olds today, it was more than a little unsettling to see what’s happening in Cairo. Even my children were wide-eyed at the footage of the riots, street fires 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. The tweet that sparked it all said:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.

Using the unrest in Egypt as a springboard to promote their spring collection seems 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 the chaos. 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.

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. My first thought was that 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.

But it turned out the tweet came from Kenneth Cole himself. Even better—a CEO who is clearly clueless.

Once the twittersphere erupted, Kenneth Cole updated its Twitter stream with this two hours after the unfortunate and ill-thought tweet:

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

And two hours after that, Cole removed the tweet and apologized on Facebook. His apology:

I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.

But has the damage been done?

This is enough to make me never buy a pair of Kenneth Cole shoes or any other product from them, ever again.

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.

Shelly Kramer is the Chief Imagination Officer at V3 Integrated Marketing. Read her blog here.

Topics: PR


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