Normally, I don’t draw attention to morons. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, the loudest voice is always heard, the most controversial always covered. That’s the world we live in today, and I’m not the one who’s going to put the camera on the drunken idiot streaking across the field for their five minutes of fame.
Sometimes, though, one of these mouth breathers pushes my buttons so bad that an example needs to be made of them. The example isn’t a vendetta or a chance to slanderously point a finger, but solely exists to leave no room for interpretation that what they do has no place in this world.
Today, that person is Kenneth Cole.
Kenneth Cole, as most of you know, is a prominent fashion designer. He’s also known for being an extremely polarizing entity, consistently tweeting controversial things in order to thrust his brand to the forefront of media attention.
Recently, he gave an interview in a magazine I won’t name where he talks about his social media strategy. It’s rather lengthy, but this paragraph captured the essence of his strategy:
Billions of people read my inappropriate, self-promoting tweet, I got a lot of harsh responses, and we hired a crisis management firm. 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?
It’s not a gaffe, Mr. Cole. It is a blatant manipulation of a system that further fuels the distrust between advertisers and consumers.
This is the kind of stuff that gives marketing a bad connotation. When you go out and explicitly say your goal is to craft inappropriate tweets that gain attention, what you’re really telling all of us is you’ll say anything to make a buck.
How do you think that helps this industry? As people in charge of brands, our goal is to build a positive relationship with consumers. We want our brands to resonate in the mind because people want our brands there. We want to interact with consumers in a way that keeps them coming back because they enjoy our messages and stories.
What you’re doing, however, is taking unfortunate situations where the innocent suffer and monetizing on these events.
You’re shitting on the people in these situations, and then you’re giving the middle finger to marketers because you think your way of “advertising” works just because your bottom line inflates.
You’re sacrificing the long-term good of the industry as a whole by flaunting your ability to openly manipulate consumers, which breaks any sort of trust we as marketers have built up with people.
That, to me, is extremely selfish and unethical.
And I know what people reading this might be thinking. “You’re playing right into his hands. You’re doing exactly what he wants, talking about his message and spreading it to more people.”
That’s not true. I’m not spreading his tweets, or linking to the articles that talk about him. I’m not thoughtlessly knee-jerk reacting to his messaging. What I’m doing is talking about the overarching theory of the ethics of using status to taint social media and marketing as a whole.
There’s a difference between blindly sharing versus deconstructing and critically thinking about a topic like this one. Someday we’ll be to the point where we don’t have to talk about this kind of stuff, where we can see outlandish douchebaggery like this and not even acknowledge it. But, until then, articles like this need to exist to stamp out this harmful and shortsighted practice.
As for Kenneth Cole, I’m sure his reaction to this article would be, “Who? Never heard of him.”
I’m the next generation of marketers.
I’m the guy that’s going to point out these ridiculous shenanigans and make sure conversations are had about them.
I’m the guy that will make all marketers remember the consumers and ethics always come before the bottom line.
There’s a changing of the guard coming, Mr. Cole. A passing of the torch from one generation of marketers to the next. And when it comes, your style of provocative and manipulative marketing will not exist anymore.