Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

Recently I read an article about Kenneth Cole and his latest tweeting escapades where he referenced a Barack Obama phrase regarding the conflict in Syria to promote the sale of their shoes.

 In a war-weary USA, his comment seemed to touch a nerve with columnists and what was perhaps more interesting was the fact that Kenneth Cole was purposely trying to be offensive in order to generate publicity for his brand. This raises an interesting question: Is all publicity good publicity?

In my opinion, the purpose of communication strategies are to provide awareness and recognition of what your brand promises to deliver to the right customer audience. Just as I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts on humorous advertising,  the type of edginess used as a strategy will depend on the type of audience that you wish to covet. For example, Diesel is a brand that is young, edgy, and in your face – and their “Be Stupid” ad campaign did not seem offensive to the audience they were catering to and as a result the brand saw strong growth.


If Martha Stewart launched that same “Be Stupid” campaign, her core audience would be very offended and confused by the campaign and although it would definitely draw attention to the brand, it would not help strengthen the brand image. The point is, be who you are because if you try and sell your brand as something that it is not, it just looks fake, contrived, and not very credible.

Kenneth Cole is a fairly conservative, inoffensive bridge brand that caters to both men and women looking for contemporary style at a moderate price point – a fairly large demographic where a lot of brands compete. Therefore, his core audience would tend to be those who like to wear conservative, fairly inoffensive clothing that looks sharp without making too bold of a statement.  As someone whose personal style and demeanour is much edgier than what the Kenneth Cole brand represents, I actually do not find the tweet particularly offensive at all, however I can see how his comments appear more offensive to the media because it is coming from an unexpected source.

What is interesting to note is that Kenneth Cole himself purposely tries to be offensive in his communication in spite of his brand being more toned down.

“We’re clearly bolder with our social messages than we are with our fashion messages, and that is by design.”

So why is Kenneth Cole using this approach?

As I stated earlier, the target audience Kenneth Cole is competing for has a wide selection of brands to choose from and it is difficult to stand out and get noticed. I believe that Kenneth Cole is employing the shock and awe tactic in order to increase awareness of the brand because he has seen short term spikes in sales whenever he does something offensive.

“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?”

Kenneth Cole’s strive for awareness and short term sales spikes may come at a cost if he does not re-align his product mix with his messaging because existing customers will be offended and leave, while new customers will be disappointed with the fact that the existing product line does not coincide with the edgier image being communicated.

The “all publicity is good publicity” approach is a great mantra when you are struggling to become noticed and are looking for a quick and dirty approach to letting people know that you exist. The problem with this philosophy is that unless the message is consistent with what you are offering, customers will not know what you are about, and once the initial curiosity fades you will not be remembered.

What are your thoughts about Kenneth Cole’s communication strategy?

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