“But when the wrong word goes in the right ear” – One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx.
The lyrics in the above song come to mind when I think about Kenneth Cole, a US-based international clothing company, and their recent tweet making light of the current serious situation in Egypt by tying a promotion for their spring line to it.
The tweet from the official company Twitter stream:
“@KennethCole – Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available on line http://bit.ly/kcairo – KC” (the link no longer works)
This communications crisis isn’t over and is evolving. The conversations taking place when it was first tweeted and then re-tweeted countless times revolved around how could such a Tweet happen. Most are willing to accept an ill-advised tweet and move on. Kenneth Cole, the man himself, who actually sent the tweet, made an apology on Facebook. Many large corporations lack an understanding of social media so sadly this is a common misstep. Most tweets have the lifespan of no more than ten minutes; however, if the tweet has a “hot” hashtag such as #Cairo or the wrong words hit the right ear, its lifecycle lasts a bit longer. And often picked up by the mainstream media as a story expanding the reach of the gaffe.
Rumors are circulating that this campaign was “planned.” I can’t confirm if that is indeed true, but if it is then most likely it was an opportunistic campaign piggybacking on current events. While that is a common practice, it is typically handled in a more sensitive manner by providing new or important information related to the particular news story. This would be a blatant advertisement for commercial gain with no connection whatsoever.
The old adage, “All publicity is good publicity.” won’t work here. I’m sure it drove many to visit their website, but did it drive people to buy? I’m saying no based on the reactions to the tweet from across the Twittersphere and I don’t know what is being said on Facebook. The company which is usually very savvy by aligning with sensitive topics in the past seems as though they don’t understand the true impact of social media.
And this morning there is a photo circulating on Twitter of a Kenneth Cole store “showing” a decal of this tweet on the store window. The photo has yet to be validated as real. (I’m not linking to the photo until I get word that it is.)
I visited the corporate side of Kenneth Cole website and checked out their annual report for 2009. As part of their business strategies, they list “GOING GLOBAL by focusing on increasing penetration in existing markets and selectively entering new territories with high growth potential.” as one of their key six strategic initiatives. Further along in their report, under business segments, they talk about the expansion of the company in the Middle East (specific countries weren’t named.)
After reading their annual report, I wonder how this ad campaign fits into their business strategies. It doesn’t. Every PR or advertising campaign must fit into the company’s mission and business goals. If they are looking to expand globally then something like this isn’t a smart move. Twitter’s demographics mirror Kenneth Cole’s core demographics.
And in terms of crisis communications, the company needs to take some action to communicate their side. Right now they aren’t driving the conversation. Their silence is allowing for rumors to fly. And not helping their business goals globally.
So yes, one tweet can be bad for business.
UPDATE – It looks like a second photo of a Kenneth Cole store with the decal has surfaced. It is unclear if the decals are company-produced or a grassroots attack. And nothing from the company yet.
4:45pm – It looks like it was a prank per Mashable: Window Cling Prank Lampoons Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo Gaffe

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