Clothing designer Kenneth Cole has a nasty little habit of newsjacking world events for his own benefit.
You may remember that he tried to get publicity for his new clothing line in 2011 by using the Egyptian Revolution
that killed more than 800 people as a marketing hook:
At the time, Cole issued an 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.”
It turns out he didn’t mean his apology. In September, Cole repeated the stunt
as the threat of war in Syria loomed:
It's hard to imagine how families with children serving in the armed forces must have reacted to Cole’s callous tweet. When faced with the inevitable social media backlash this time, however, Cole turned defiant.
Let’s be clear: His insistence that he was trying to “provoke a dialogue about important issues” is either knowingly false or downright delusional. His tweets had nothing to do with substance. It appears that they were both intended to promote his products.
Even the phoned-in quality of the video reinforces his flippant attitude. This controversy is worth addressing—though barely, the exceedingly casual aesthetic seems to say.
At least he kind of apologized, right?
Nope. According to an upcoming interview in the October issue of Details Magazine
(as reported by The Huffington Post
), Cole said:
“If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we’re always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”
“Within hours, I tweeted an explanation, which had to be vetted by lawyers,” he added. “I’m not even sure I used the words I’m sorry — because I wasn’t sorry.”
Got that? Cole apologized after the 2011 incident, but he didn’t mean it. Now he’s claiming he was just trying to “provoke a conversation” when it seems clear that profit was his motive.
All this makes Cole the most insidious kind of marketer—one who uses tragedy and war to sell products. Based on his shifting explanations, it appears to make him a disingenuous one, too.
[RELATED: Find out about our November event that has instruction for your entire communications team.]Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.