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Gini Dietrich

Kenneth Cole Demonstrates How Not to Use Twitter

By: Gini Dietrich | February 4, 2011 | 
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We interrupt your regularly scheduled #FollowFriday to bring you the Kenneth Cole Twitter fiasco. Typically I would wait until Monday to write about it, but it’s unfolding as I write this and it’s too important to wait. Plus…it’s a PR nightmare and you all know how much I love a good crisis!

But, first. Allow me to tell you a story about Habitat, the furniture company based in the U.K.

In July 2009, they hired an intern to help them with their social media efforts. And the intern, rightfully so, thought he/she would look at the trending topics to see if there was something he/she could use in tweets.

Turns out there was. And it was big!

The company began tweeting a chance to win a gift card (worth about $2,000) with a link to some pretty juicy news… the deadly protests in Iran after the disputed presidential election. Bad enough in its own right. But they used the hashtag #mousavi, so when people were searching for information on the protests, they instead found the Habitat contest. To say people were angry is putting it mildly. And Habitat was put on serious defense.

Now. Fast forward 18 months and another well-known brand has made the same mistake.

Yesterday morning we had a Project Jack Bauer team meeting and, when I got back to my desk, Sean McGinnis had DM’d me a tweet from Kenneth Cole. Thinking he was trying to get on my good side and sending me a shoe sale, I clicked on it (he called me Gumby on Facebook and I threatened to egg his house – don’t ask).

What I found, instead, is the tweet below.

Um. What? Using what’s happening in Egypt to promote your new spring collection? Seriously?

I know a lot of people will argue that this did exactly what the company intended – to get us all talking. And others will say I’m playing into that strategy by blogging about it. And others will say there is no such thing as bad PR.

But there is such a thing as bad PR. Even if Kenneth Cole, himself, posts a mea culpa.

This is a perfect example of why Spin Sucks. People have a horrible perception of the PR industry because of crap like this. And that’s what it is. C-R-A-P.

Public relations is meant to build awareness that drives sales. It is not meant to build awareness for the sake of people saying your name. Or blogging about you. Bad PR is BAD PR. It’s not good.

Maybe it won’t hurt sales. Maybe some people will be grateful to be reminded of how much they love his shoes and clothes. Maybe it won’t bother people outside the social media bubble one bit. But maybe it will create boycotts. And maybe it will decrease sales. And that, folks, is BAD PR.

Anytime you have to issue an apology and interrupt your work growing your business, that is bad PR. No matter how many people are talking about you.

I’m not going to give Kenneth Cole a lesson in crisis driven by something stupid said on Twitter. Lots of people have already done that. Instead I recommend doing your flipping research so you don’t make the same mistakes as an intern did 18 months ago.

Update: 8:14 a.m. on Friday, February 4: Someone found a window decal in a Kenneth Cole store of the tweet. It seems Dino Dogan is correct…this was planned and I have now lost all faith in humanity. Bad PR sucks. Spin Sucks. And Kenneth Cole sucks.

Update: 8:19 a.m. on Friday, February 4 (I’m obsessed): Jeremiah Owyang is asking some intelligent questions and not getting a response from anyone, including Kenneth Cole. They might return his call – he’s a big deal. They’d just ignore me. So go, Jeremiah, go!

Can you help confirm how this was done? I’m having a hard time believing they would do this for a few reasons:

1) why would they put campaign copy on a window with the Twitter chrome?

2) The corporate website didn’t reflect the Cario language.

3) I’m not seeing any other images online that confirm this.

4) in the second picture (see top right) the copy interferes with visualization of the product display –advertising-wise, it just doesn’t make sense for the store front.

5) Given the trauma to the brand, no chance the store would have kept this up for a full day and into the night.

This could be: A decal someone slapped on the window (the coloring is a bit off from the KC logo) or a photoshop (per Hugger below), or a real KC campaign (which I doubt)

(I’m often wrong, but just want to double check before drawing conclusions)

Update: 12:18 p.m. on Friday, February 4: Decal is Photoshopped on to the store window. My view of humanity is beginning to be restored…a bit.

Update: 5:37 p.m. on Friday, February 4: Turns out the decal was NOT Photoshopped and this seems to be an intentional campaign to get people talking. Now I have an entirely different blog post to write. It’s going to be titled: Dear Kenneth Cole, SPIN SUCKS and so do you.

Update: 6:22 p.m. on Friday, February 4: The photos were real, but pranksters put them up, not Kenneth Cole. My head hurts now.

P.S. I’ll do this week’s #FollowFriday at noon today and the Top Five tomorrow for your weekend reading.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

130 comments
LindsayDianne
LindsayDianne

I read a whole article a couple of weeks ago about how there is this eye glasses company who actually goes out of their way to generate bad press, because google doesn't yet discriminate what kinds of things are being said in the incoming links, only the rank of the pages who link to you and yours.
In this way, technically, there is indeed no bad press, and in fact... Like you predicted someone would say... It's a brilliant ploy to get people yakking.
I never ever thought about Kenneth Cole until I saw a couple things about this in passing, so if his intention was brand awareness? He's succeeded.
If it was inspiring people to purchase his brand? He probably failed.
Thoughtful post.

AbbieF
AbbieF

There are so many things wrong with this KC situation. I'm not sure we'll ever know - was this planned or a really DUMB move? I do not subscribe to the idea that any publicity is good publicity -- that's even more true in today's instantaneous 140-character world that we live in. If KC really posted this himself and did not consult his PR team, it is all on him. If he did consult and no one told him this was in bad taste, then fire them all. As PR people we should not be "yes men/women" to our bosses/clients. We are hired to offer strategic counsel and sometimes to tell someone something is just plain wrong.

Time will tell what the real impact will be.

And on a side note -- Gumby?

mirbiz
mirbiz

LOL! @ "he called me Gumby on Facebook and I threatened to egg his house."

I agree that this was a stupid thing to do, but due to the fact that there was no malice (imo at least) I don't think it will really hurt them.

I wrote about the McDonald's/Adrian Peterson PR fiasco. I still don't understand what the f the person who fired the woman was thinking. Firing a person for such a petty thing in this economy aside, how f'n stupid do you have to be not to see it backfiring?

That said, that was a much more public than this and I bet Adrian Peterson jersey sales and that the particular McDonald's location are doing fine.

In our society, we punish malice and intent.

Kenneth Cole (company) made a stupid joke. It's a statement that's so ridiculous that it cannot be taken seriously. Obviously the people in Egypt are not rioting about Kenneth Cole. This was clearly a joke.

IT WAS A STUPID MOVE, however, the sad fact is that just like I didn't give a crap who Kenneth Cole was before, I (along with most other people) will continue to purchase Kenneth Cole stuff despite this.

Gini if you go to the store and see some awesome Kenneth Cole product, are you going to be like, "no, they made that tasteless joke?" You are buying, or not buying, the clothes due to comfort and style -- at least that why I do. If we were going to be bothered by anything, why not the sweatshops companies use to manufacture our clothes?

I'm sure it may affect some, but I don't think it was a KILLER mistake. If I was handling their PR, I would suggest they donate money to a non-political cause that benefits the people of Egypt and not address this anymore.

I get what you mean though, by not understanding how something like this could be published (Tweeted, Posted, etc.) It just goes to show how much more careful companies need to be in this day and age about who and what they allow to publish using their name.

NoudW
NoudW

Well, tasteless as it may be, it is a sticky story indeed. And that is not so strange. For a story to get sticky it needs to meet at least three out of six of the following criteria: It must be simple, unexpected, credible, concrete, emotional and a story. (Thanks, Chip and Dan Heath). Offcourse if the KC Tweet was written about any other happening it would never have gotten this attention.
One can make jokes just about anything, but not for plain commerce. This Sticky Story will be remembered for a long period of time. And in its own way, it will help others not to make this misstake (I hope). Gini, good piece, thx!

Elyse_D
Elyse_D

Hi Gini,

PR Crisis indeed! My co-worker pulled some data on Kenneth Cole's social media stats and it is absolutely dismal. One of the fun parts about working for a social media monitoring company - you get to pull the numbers out of curiosity. Let me know if you want me to send you the graphs - they are interesting to say the least.

To give you an idea....
The word cloud includes some of these lovelies: fail fake anger outrage oops uproar apologizes insensitive.

You get the point. Bad Bad Bad! If this was a "campaign", I don't think it was a success.

- Elyse DeVries
Marketing Specialist
Alterian
@Elyse_D

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@LindsayDianne Isn't that company despicable? Since then, though, Google has changed its algorithms so it can discern between the good and the bad. They're not saying Christina Aguilera sang the wrong words to the Natioanl Athem for publicity sake. One day we'll get back to bad PR being bad PR.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@ginidietrich
I think you're doing a great job of making sure that repercussions are severe short-erm, but I worry that if they aren't long-term there will be "all PR is good PR!" excuses used. I know you'll stay on it (& have a feeling that I don't ever want to anger you! :-) ).

I take this personally beacuse I cannot believe that anyone smugly thought it could be fashionable to make light of civil unrest. But as I learn more about the mission of SpinSucks the more I can see you have a good fight here that is worth supporting. Sadly, like much of the abuses in politics or reporting, I think the real problem is inherent in our culture.

It is a good fight and very much taking a stand. Thank you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@AbbieF And what's even more scary, it's sounding more and more like this was planned. If it was, our industry is about to have a heavy heart. But to @wabbitoid point, perhaps there are serious repercussions, like with Cook's Source.

And yes...Gumby. He's mean.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mirbiz I don't think a tweet is an apology. Not in this kind of uproar. It feels like he's burying his head until it all goes away.

mirbiz
mirbiz

@ginidietrich I'm not so sure that's the best strategy. The company has apologized and acknowledged it was a mistake. Either the people accept it or they don't. Anything more would just give the company more negative publicity.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mirbiz Nooo! If I were advising him, I would have him come out and come clean. I'd have him tweeting about it. I'd have him do a video. I'd have him say, "You know, I thought this would be funny, but I wasn't thinking and it was really stupid. I'm very sorry." His "apology" seems very disingenuous to me. It's very, "OK! OK! You got me!"

mirbiz
mirbiz

@ginidietrich @J_Lay you'd love to hear from him, but if you were advising him, wouldn't you tell him not to respond? The apology on the website should be the last the company speaks of this fiasco.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@mirbiz LOL! I can't believe you were the first person to point out the Gumby/egg comment. I like you even more now!

Women and men are MUCH different in how they shop. I actually won't buy KC anymore (and I have a lot of his stuff in my closet) because of this. If it was a stupid mistake, I'll forgive. If it ends up they did this on purpose, they'll never see another dime from me.

Now that it's been 24 hours, I'm beginning to lean toward what @J_Lay said...he thought he was being funny and it turned out to be a really stupid idea. We've all done it. I'd love to hear that from him, though.

mirbiz
mirbiz

@ginidietrich@NoudW
this will be sticky in that if you search Twitter PR mistakes. However, if you are looking up Kenneth Cole, etc., I don't think it will stick with them.
Gini, I get what you mean by if it was planned . . . but even if it was, the company will make it seem like it was a failed joke attempt by some person who was in charge of the company's Twitter account.

I just saw you post that "It was intentional." I have to catch a train to San Diego, but I will check this out before the game on Sunday or Monday.

Have a good weekend. all!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@NoudW I hope it does help others not to make this mistake. Maybe the Habitat thing was too old and I remember it because I"m in the business. We'll see what happens...if anything at all.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Elyse_D If you haven't already sent it, yes that works. I'll figure out who that goes to and ask them to forward to me. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Elyse_D Oh I freaking love that! I'd love to see the graphics - it would make an awesome follow-up piece.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] – and something that we would see more brands doing in the future. Gini Dietrich laments that Spin Sucks and this kind of tactic is what makes people distrust PR and the people who spin. She also updated [...]

  2. [...] into the devastating events currently happening in Egypt was picked up and discussed on various PR and marketing blogs and news sites [...]

  3. [...] me. What would you name the series? It runs every Friday at noon (except this week because of the Kenneth Cole fiasco) and it’s always the top five stories we think you should [...]

  4. [...] mad? Everyday I speak to a client or find a new story on the net which I can only describe as a social media car crash, and not a little fender bender, the real Guinness book of records pile [...]

  5. [...] }else{ $('#dd_ajax_float').hide() } }); });Last week a lot was written about Kenneth Cole’s twitter debacle. Ironically while KC was busy riding the wave of trending topics like #egypt and #jan25, a little [...]

  6. [...] to Enron, Toyota and BP), it can never be good when you or your company name is viewed negatively. Gini Dietrich summed it up nicely with this analysis: Anytime you have to issue an apology and interrupt your [...]

  7. [...] this has probably not reached the Kenneth Cole level of PR fiascos but the ripples of that brand debacle in the Middle East has now hit the US [...]

  8. [...] With these 132 characters, designer Kenneth Cole unleashed a worldwide revolt: not against the Egyptian regime, but against the ill-advised use of Twitter. The tweet generated an immediate backlash from social media observers, marketing professionals and fashion bloggers, making Cole an instant poster boy for social media PR gone horribly wrong. [...]

  9. [...] With these 132 characters, designer Kenneth Cole unleashed a worldwide revolt: not against the Egyptian regime, but against the ill-advised use of Twitter. The tweet generated an immediate backlash from social media observers, marketing professionals and fashion bloggers, making Cole an instant poster boy for social media PR gone horribly wrong. [...]

  10. [...] Cole tweeted about the Egyptian revolution to promote his new collection, the social web saw red. Gini Dietrich of ArmentDietrich wrote Maybe it won’t bother people outside the social media bubble one bit. But [...]

  11. [...] Dietrich, Gini. “Kenneth Cole Demonstrates How Not to Use Twitter | Spin Sucks.” Spin Sucks – Social Media Strategy and Social Media Consulting for Marketing and PR. 04 Feb. 2011. Web. 04 Feb. 2011. <http://spinsucks.com/social-media/kenneth-cole-demonstrates-how-not-to-use-twitter/&gt;. [...]

  12. [...] mad? Everyday I speak to a client or find a new story on the net which I can only describe as a social media car crash, and not a little fender bender, the real Guinness book of records pile [...]

  13. [...] Twitter. But the thing about being someone who primarily listens online is you see so many people shoot themselves in the foot, that it can a little intimidating.” Am I going to sound like a complete idiot?” you [...]

  14. [...] Ugly: Kenneth Cole, hands down, gets this award from me. He fell flat on his face when he used the uprising in Egypt [...]

  15. [...] Tweeting before thinking – We’ve all heard the stories about Kenneth Cole, the Red Cross, and a lot of the other companies that screwed up when they tweeted something they [...]

  16. [...] talk a lot here about what we would have done if we were counseling News Corp. or Kenneth Cole or Tiger Woods. But, finally, a PR professional got it [...]

  17. [...] Tweeting before thinking – We’ve all heard the stories about Kenneth Cole, the Red Cross, and a lot of the other companies that screwed up when they tweeted something they [...]

  18. [...] just write the policy. Actually go through it with your employees. Give them examples like Kenneth Cole, Papa John’s, and Boners BBQ. Talk to them about the importance of being professional, no [...]

  19. [...] such as Chrysler, Kenneth Cole, and CelebBoutique have all made the mistake of tweeting something offensive from the business [...]

  20. [...] none of the examples are as tacky as the Kenneth Cole Cairo tweet – and one does offer generators and air mattresses for those affected by the storm – [...]

  21. [...] also be good for this, as long as they aren’t crisis events. Don’t do something like Kenneth Cole or the Gap did as they tried to take advantage of bad situations, and paid the price for it. [...]

  22. [...] Usually when something for a Brand goes viral it is because they did something dumb (Chrysler), wrong (BP Oil Spill), or stupid (Kenneth Cole). [...]

  23. […] just write the policy. Actually go through it with your employees. Give them examples like Kenneth Cole, Papa John’s, and Boners BBQ. Talk to them about the importance of being professional, no […]

  24. […] were lots of social media bloopers in 2011: Ragu, Weinergate, Kenneth Cole, Qantas, Ashton Kutcher. I just know there’ll be more in 2012 as brands continue to trip up as […]