If a leading high-end retailer says being insensitive and offensive will lead to better business, should you do it?
The simple answer? No – regardless of what fashion designer Kenneth Cole says.
As the United States Congress debated the possibility of putting “boots on the ground” in a potentially long and deadly conflict in Syria last week, Cole used the debate to market his line of high-end shoes.
Almost immediately after the missive was sent to the tweeting universe, he received a strong backlash to his marketing attempt from hundreds online.
But Cole sees it differently. Defending himself in a Huffington Post article last week, he stated that insensitive tweets like that, and others he has sent in the past are just good business. He points to more Twitter followers, a higher stock price and better e-commerce business on the days of this and other controversial tweets. He then went on to say that he wasn’t sorry about the tweet either.
This sort of social media marketing is wrong – on both a human and marketing level. Paying more attention to what Miley Cyrus did at this year’s VMAs, and ignoring the horrors that are going on in Syria is one thing. But exploiting the suffering of others so your company can sell more shoes? Whether you are a politician or a large company like Kenneth Cole, no one likes to see sad situations like these exploited for benefit. Consumers know what crap smells like and will point it out when they see it.
In a world that is increasingly more concerned with social responsibility, brands that engage in this behaviour are in dangerous waters. Consumers will not only decide to boycott your products, but they will tweet, Facebook, and blog about their hatred for your brand. They will start and sign petitions, post videos and create hilarious memes that will mock you in return. The internet has given the power to the consumer – piss them off and you will get burned – always.
But bad publicity is better than no publicity, right? Wrong. Bad publicity, while garnering attention for a while, will always fade away, changing the public’s attitude about your business forever. I imagine the public view of Kenneth Cole is much more negative than before its CEO’s foray onto Twitter. More importantly, bad publicity isn’t sustainable. This has been tried by the bad boys and girls of Hollywood and the music industry for decades, and have demonstrated that this strategy will not work.
So take a note from Kenneth Cole’s marketing strategy and don’t follow his lead. It is at your peril if you do.