Offensive Tweets Good Business?

There’s no doubt that Twitter has become the fastest way for a person or company to communicate directly to fans or consumers on an extremely personal level, but what happens when a tweet goes wrong? Most would assume that controversial or offensive tweets would hurt a brand rather than lead to success. Well, Kenneth Cole believes that his style of posting controversial, insensitive and timely tweets is a good piece of his business model structure and to a certain extent, he has a point.

Take a look at his tweet from two weeks ago:

Seems hard to believe this self-proclaimed “designer with a conscience” could post something humorous about possibility of a Syrian war in order to promote shoes without repercussions. But, this is exactly what he wanted. After a host of angry tweets and outraged followers, Cole dishes in the upcoming October edition of Details magazine that he isn’t sorry for this tweet or for his controversial 2011 Cairo tweet that produced a parody account as well.


…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. I’m not even sure I used the words I’m sorry—because I wasn’t sorry.

While this strategy may have increased Cole’s stock and Twitter followers, how will this plan affect his brand and reputation? Cole, who confirmed that he constructs most of the tweets on his @KennethCole account, says he simply wants to start a conversation through these tweets but audiences may beg to differ.

What do you think? Is this Twitter strategy a successful tool in a company’s business model? Or is this strategy a short-term “15 minutes of fame” stunt that will ultimately end up hurting the brand’s reputation and public relations? Also, what does this say about humanity’s Twitter behavior? Do we value controversy and scandal above sensitivity and trust?

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3 Responses to Offensive Tweets Good Business?

  1. Marcela Palefsky says:

    This is a great topic! For years, the idea that “any publicity is good publicity” has been used in the entertainment business. So, whether it is a good corporate PR strategy is a very valid question. On the one hand, controversy and “out-there” antics create a buzz and now, with social media, buzz like that spreads fast. On the other hand, if you are attempting to create a clean, professional image for yourself or your company, this may not be the strategy for you. I really think it depends on what kind of reputation you want to maintain for your company. If Kenneth Cole is comfortable with having some controversy attached to his brand in exchange for more business and more social followers, then more power to him. I think PR professionals should consider this strategy on a case-by-case basis, depending on their client.

  2. Katlyn Orton says:

    I definitely think that this was a bad move on Kenneth Cole’s part. It feels like many companies or individuals are taking the approach that any publicity is good publicity, like Marcella said, no matter how bad it is. This reminds me of the recent Miley Cyrus controversy from her performance at the VMAs. Like Kenneth Cole, she claims that she doesn’t care about the negative feedback because she got more Twitter followers and interview requests after (per her Twitter). I really don’t agree with this. While yes, you may get more attention and fans, at the end of the day, your reputation is still shot. People follow Kenneth Cole and Miley Cyrus because it’s like watching a car wreck — not because they are fans. Kenneth Cole is now positioning himself to be remembered as an insensitive individual, not a great designer. My advice is for him to let his products create their own buzz. Focus on your craft, not your Twitter, Kenneth.

  3. Marlee Bever says:

    I agree with both Katlyn and Marcela. Just because Kenneth Cole is receiving attention does not necessarily mean that it is good attention. I used to think highly of his brand, however after reading this post, my opinion of the company has completely changed. I also agree with Katlyn that this is similar to Miley Cyrus and will hurt their reputation, whether they are confident about their actions or not. There have been several times where I have stopped buying a certain product or supporting a particular person because of the actions and language that they are displaying in public.

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