The Best Of The Worst Of Kenneth Cole’s Pun Ads

The fashion CEO is taking heat this week for his unfunny punny Syria tweet. But his past crimes against the English language have been much more egregious.

1. Cole’s contribution post-Hurricane Katrina. In New York City.

In the upcoming issue of Details, on newsstands September 19th, Cole is unapologetic and takes full responsibility for his tweets. He talks specifically about his infamous “Arab Spring” tweet (posted further down in this article). Via Adweek

” I write most of (the tweets) myself, often as people around me cringe. 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? [Laughs] Within hours, I tweeted an explanation, which had to be vetted by lawyers. I’m not even sure I used the words I’m sorry—because I wasn’t sorry.”

So, Cole thinks being purposely insensitive is good business and marketing strategy.

Consumers will have the last word on that.

Here are some of his ads and billboards, most of them from the last seven years.

He says he writes them himself.

Untrue, according to this comment (LINK) made by an alleged former employee on a 2006 Gawker article I wrote.

Well he signs off on them anyway.

2. 1989 print ad.

3. He used the above line again, tweeting it during the Senate debate on background checks.

4. Cole uses the Iraqi War dead to shill boots. He didn’t write the line — It was used on buttons and signs during the Vietnam War.

snapped in Soho NYC, in 2006.

5. Exploting AIDS to sell handbags.

Ad scanned from a 2007 Details.

6. A dirty bomb of an eyewear print ad. From 2007.

7. 2009 billboard. Stay calm and shop. This national debt sales tax stunt was pure Phineas Taylor Barnum.

On the West Side Highway, NYC.

8. “…give a ship.” Among ad copywriters, it is well known that the ellipsis…is the sure sign…of an unsure mind.

On Houston Street, NYC, 2009.

9. Print ad Cole ran in the middle of the economic meltdown.

Scanned from a February 2009 New York Post.

10. Cole’s tribute to Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and the survivors of Flight 1549. At least he didn’t try to shoehorn in a product pitch.

11. Fun with climate change. In New York City, 2009.

12. Deepwater Horizon oil spill billboard from 2010.

13. Cole’s tweet during the 2011 Arab Spring.

14. Cole dresses (sorry, addresses) the New York City education issue. He later sort of apologized for the board.

15. Piggybacking on Immigration Reform to sell boat shoes.

16. HandGunBags. Or something. From April.

GOD DRESS AMERICA!


Lastly, in the Fall of 2001, shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Cole put this horrible headline on a billboard in New York City. A Cole rep responded to criticism:

“Kenneth Cole is known for social activism, using words in ads to speak his mind. Kenneth Cole absolutely felt it was time for humor. In some, the ads invoked the reaction of people smiling. We needed that.”

“Humor.”

17. Not the actual billboard.

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