Kenneth Cole Gets the BP Treatment

The Social Media universe has a strong sense of justice. Just ask BP.  This past summer, in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the @BPGlobalPR Twitter feed popped up. This scathing Twitter feed initially started as a parody of the perceived aloofness and lack of compassion being demonstrated by BP at the start of the spill, and evolved into an ongoing PR nightmare the company tried to shut down. Today, the account still boasts 179,000 followers and remains a constant reminder of those negative feelings toward the BP brand.

After seeing the way the “Twitterverse” likes to right a wrong, it makes Kenneth Cole’s actions yesterday all the more inexplicable.  If you haven’t seen the story yet, this was tweeted yesterday afternoon from the Kenneth Cole corporate account:

Thanks to mashable.com for the image

Sensitive?  Nope.  Clever?  Not really.  Damaging?  I think so.

Almost immediately after this post appeared, Twitter sprang into action making the insensitive comment viral. Angry tweets began pouring in, and  a new Twitter meme of  #kennethcoletweets popped up, with users satirizing the model Cole created(horrible human event or struggle, bad pun, Cole brand promotion) and raising the insensitivity to the nth degree.  In fact, a new Twitter account – @KennethColePR – has also come online.  Clearly inspired by the BPGlobalPR account, this is likely to remain in circulation for some time, with almost 7,000 followers as of this writing.

Cole did issue an apology and deleted the offending message, and it’s unlikely we will ever understand the true reason for the message. But, this isn’t Cole’s first instance of making insensitive comments in the aftermath of a disaster, so failure to think it through seems to be a likely candidate.  The company debuted a billboard that read “God Dress America” after 9/11, so it’s clear they are willing to cross the line of good taste in order to draw attention the brand. The big difference is 10 years ago social media was not part of our daily routines, so the channels for amplifying outrage were not nearly as accessible.

The lesson for all companies is that the Twitterverse is not fond of large companies marginalizing the struggles of common people.  Especially when that marginalization is done to try and save face or increase company profit.  The perceived slights don’t need to take place on Twitter in order to be mocked there either. Social media is democratizing – it gives a voice to anyone who wants to participate.  And it’s clear people are listening.