Kenneth Cole on Idiots
Kenneth Cole doesn’t just want to sell you stuff. He would like to change the world too. This isn’t news exactly. It’s been somewhat of a sales/publicity mantra of his for years. Recently though, he explained himself in an internet video, laying out his feelings to those that might be interested, explaining that he wanted to make what he does “as meaningful as I can, to truly connect with people” while also using his “brand platform to raise awareness about important social issues – to remind people that it’s not just what they look like on the outside but who they are on the inside.” Sort of admirable, don’t you think? I mean, it’s one thing to buy a pair of shoes or a belt because it makes you feel cool but imagine if you could also feel morally infused by the self-same purchase as well?
The idea that a purchaser can feel morally uplifted (or even superior) when parting with their cash isn’t exactly new. It’s a proven technique that has been employed to sell everything from electric cars to bottled water (back when bottled water was an eco-requirement versus the dirty, dirty eco-sin it has since become today). What you buy is no longer as important as being able to flaunt your social scruples. Never before did hitting the limit on your credit card make you feel so fulfilled.
Now, I could take the cynical approach and accuse Kenneth Cole of faking this “social conscience” thing so he can sell more suits and watches but I actually do think it is important to him that he can sleep at night. That he is doing so on impeccable matched sheets that boast a minimum thread count of 7000 is beside the point. Kenneth is trying. I believe that.
In reality though, many of his attempts at consciousness-raising have fallen somewhat flat, and actually tick a lot of folks off. Thus far, Kenneth Cole Inc. has managed to trivialize the recent Egyptian uproar, abortion, and, well most everything else he spotlights as well. Still, personal tin-ear aside, Mr. Cole is making an effort. He clearly tells us how he sees the world around him. What’s less clear, however, is what he really thinks about the rest of us. At least less clear until now.
Kenneth Cole is pushing one of his colognes – something called “Connected” - and running a couple of ads to do so. Inadvertently, good Kenneth has shown his hand on how he actually feels about the rest of us. One ad, called stop humping, features a far-too-serious moron dancing all by himself in a club. Dude is really putting on the moves, Jackson-style, in an attempt to showcase himself in hopes of attracting a lady or two (or even four – like belts, can you really ever have too many?) Anyway, some unsuspecting lass dances on up and creepy dancer proceeds to grind and air-hump on her like some kind of bull mastiff in heat. The woman, turned off, quickly steps away while moron-man goes back to his masturbatory self-dance of look-at-me. Suddenly, a shock of long blond hair confronts him saying “Dude, what is the matter with you?” It’s not a woman though, just a bearded wise-man sporting a blond wig determined to bring our self-involved twit back to earth. He continues. “You’re trying to dance with her, not get her pregnant. Give her some space, and knock it off with the humping, okay?” At this, our undercover brother then spritzes Kenneth’s new scent on our suddenly informed young man who breathes in the mist of maturity, just in time for the return of the previously repelled young lady. They then dance together – in-sync, thanks to the sage-like wisdom (and scent) of Mr. Kenneth Cole.
The other spot is called Ask about her and in this one too we’re treated to a similarly self-involved everydude sitting at a bar and yabbering on about how underappreciated he is at work. His lady friend could not be less interested and shows it, pursing her lips, looking around and then finally heading away. Dude is oblivious until the bartender (our now famous bearded advice-giver) steps up and offers his denunciation. “What are you doing? You’ve been talking about yourself and your job for the past 10 minutes. Nobody Cares! SHUT UP! Ask her about HER!” He then spritzes dude-guy before dipping quickly back below the bar. Well, dude-ly takes the advice, apologizes for his blather and asks about his lady friend, instantly warming her heart. Saved once more.
Whether his advice in these spots is any good or not (it is), these ads do finally make clear what Kenneth Cole really thinks about his customers. We’re idiots. Each and every last one of us. What else can I take from ads like this? Good Kenneth Cole, he of the supposedly inspired intellect and progressively astute social conscience views those he clothes (or at least wants to) as self-absorbed, saliva-leaking idiots that require a newspaper across the nose before they are safe to engage with the world around them. All these years of pithy ads and tricky witticisms have been too subtle it would seem. Kenneth is running out of time and our collective denseness now requires a bearded preacher to smack our selfish selves upside the head so we listen. I guess even altruistic visionaries get impatient too.
Look, I have no truck with Kenneth Cole using his brand to trumpet his beliefs or even spout his particular ideology. It’s a free country and it’s his brand – have at it. But I do draw the line at being considered a moron by the same guy wanting access to my scratch. To be fair though, if I am willing to pay $85 for a bottle of smelly water that costs Kenneth 8 cents to produce maybe me being a moron is closer to the truth than I care to acknowledge. I think I need some Aqua-Velva – stat!