Danny Rogers: The problem with spontaneous tweets

Kenneth Cole is a bona fide New Yorker who sells very nice clothes. Last week, the successful designer tweeted this: 'Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo - KC.'

The tweet was timed at the peak of international coverage of pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt, in which hundreds died.

Cole is known for his outspoken, often controversial, marketing campaigns. The designer is unusual in that he writes them himself, as shown by his trademark 'KC' sign-off.

But the move was misjudged. Thousands complained across the world and KC was forced to post a Facebook apology: 'I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I've dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humour regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.'

Credit to KC for his prompt and unequivocal apology. But some commentators argued it had all done his brand no harm. One wrote: 'Personally I think it was one of the better planned viral campaigns in the past year - it follows a simple format: latch on to the biggest issue in the world, be controversial enough to create uproar but not quite enough to create catastrophe. Kudos to the millions in free PR you got KC! After all, any publicity is good publicity right?'

Fortunately, the latter myth was shattered many years ago, not least by the notorious Gerald Ratner.

And KC's strategy is derivative of rival clothes brand Benetton, which for decades has run edgy marketing campaigns to cut through the clutter. Unlike Benetton's hard-hitting posters, however KC's tweet was a spontaneous, opportunistic move; the sort of thing that the social medium encourages.

One admires KC for taking personal responsibility for marketing his brand - and for putting himself in the firing line; it does make the brand feel relevant and audience responsive.

But the Cairo tweet teaches him - indeed all of us - that such spontaneity must be tempered with utmost cultural sensitivity and sound judgement in today's ultra-wired world. One doubts he consulted his comms chief before that particular tweet.

The ultimate irony is that, as many firms consider whether to encourage their thousands of individual employees to tweet for their brands, a company founder can score such a spectacular own goal.

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