Special Reports

Autumn 2011 Life Decisions International vol. xiv • no. 4

KENNETH COLE’S CONTROVERSIAL ADS
Funding Of Planned Parenthood May Have Ceased, But…
by Douglas R. Scott, Jr.

K

enneth Cole Productions Inc., a past boycott target due to its funding of Planned Parenthood, has garnered a lot of free publicity thanks to a series of recently released advertisements. The “Where do you stand?” campaign is the mechanism being used to permeate the nation with his point of view on four important issues: abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, and war. And you can guess which position the company has taken on each subject. There are several main components to the “Where do you stand?” campaign. It is made up primarily of four print ads. Corresponding videos, which range in length from 41 to 47 seconds, have also been released and could be edited for use as television commercials. All were made in black-and-white. Another element of the campaign is use of the internet to expand on the four previously noted topics, and to raise several other issues. While the print ads and videos are certainly controversial, the bulk of the propaganda spewed by the clothier is found online.
Videos/Ads Videos/Ads

As she walks away we see that the words on the wall have changed from “Should it be a woman’s right to choose…” to “…if she’s the one carrying it? – Kenneth Cole.” Point made. The 41-second video ends with a website address (also on the wall) (wheredoyoustand.com), which automatically connects to an advocacy site (awearness.com).

The print version of the ad described above.

Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. hired director Sean Ellis (“The Broken,” “Left Turn,” etc.) to create videos for its Fall/Winter 2011 lineup. The videos and print ads feature models Angela Lindvall and/or Casey Taylor. Let us describe the videos and take a look at the related print ads. Abortion: The first scene of the video is a close-up of an attractive woman. She looks sad, troubled, maybe even a little frightened. We soon see that the woman is leaning with her back against a wall. The close-up returns and the look of worry continues. She stands up straight and walks over to another wall which bears the words, “Should it be a woman’s right to choose…” Returning to a close-up, her look of concern slowly turns to one of control, contentment, and self-assurance. In the next scene several Kenneth Cole brand handbags have been lined up as if they were on a store shelf. The woman confidently walks to them and picks one up. Yes, she had to make a choice. Which handbag is right for her?

Gun Control: The shadow of a man is seen as he walks. The man’s hand is shown. It is twitching as though he is about to draw in a Wild West showdown. Returning to the shadow, we now see the man’s arms are at his sides and the other hand is twitching in the same manner. A glance at the man’s face, which bears a look of seriousness, is just what one would expect of a man about to draw his guns. The next scene shows a message on a wall. “Is the person most at risk…” The man is shown drawing the weapon, but it is just his right hand in the shape of a gun. With the fist clenched and his index and forefingers pointed out, the man walks cautiously. We see there is a second man who is also acting as though he has a weapon. The sound of two rounds is heard and one man, who has been backed into a wall, is “shot.” A message on the wall reads, “Is the person most at risk the one with the gun? – Kenneth Cole.” Once again, point made. The 47-second video ends with the same website address.

Kenneth Cole was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 23, 1954. His father, Charles Cole, owned El Greco Inc., a shoe manufacturing company that created the highly successful Candie’s line of footwear for women. Before learning the family business and starting his own company in 1982, Cole studied law at Emory University but left to enter the family business. Cole started his own women’s footwear company in 1982. He wanted to unveil the Kenneth Cole Inc. line of shoes during New York City’s Market Week, but was unable to rent a room to display his product. Undaunted, Cole asked about parking a trailer two blocks from the event venue where he could show his wares. Upon learning that permits for trailers were only given to utility and production companies, Cole changed Kenneth Cole Inc. to Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. He applied for a permit to film what he called “The Birth of a Shoe Company.” The ploy worked and Cole sold some 40,000 pairs of shoes in less than 60 hours. After establishing the Kenneth Cole name as a premier designer of women’s footwear, Cole branched out into clothing and accessories for men and women. His clothing was made recognizable through the use of simple designs, a clean yet stylish look, and functionality. The company became known for its one-liner, pun-filled ads that are often riddled with double entendres, sometimes mixing in messages unrelated to business. An ad from 1998 proclaimed, “Have a heart, give a sole,” and encouraged buyers to donate a pair of their old shoes by reducing the prices of new pairs by 20 percent. One of the company’s first controversial ads, “Wear a rubber sole,” was used to encourage men to use condoms. For World AIDS Day in 2005 Kenneth Cole Products released tee-shirts bearing the message, “We All Have AIDS” or “I Have AIDS.” The idea was to get people to wear the shirts regardless of their health status, which Cole believed would help diminish the stigma attached to the disease. As he explained, “There is a legend of the Danish king, Christian X, who, during World War II, when Hitler insisted all Jews publicly wear a yellow Star of David, would wear the star himself, hence making it difficult to differentiate who was Jewish. This is kind of like that, hopefully.” In the summer of 2007 Kenneth Cole began its “Awearness” campaign, which included a new line of tee-shirts used to promote the work of several organizations. Proceeds were donated to the company’s Awearness Fund. The campaign was further aided by a book, Awearness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference, which features celebrities who were promoting various causes. Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. went public in 1994. It has been included on Forbes list of the 200 “Best Small Companies” four times. The company sells its products under one of three brand names: Kenneth Cole New York, Kenneth Cole Reaction, or Unlisted. It now operates over 90 retail and outlet stores worldwide but does much of its business through catalogue and internet sales. Cole controls almost all of the voting rights and 45 percent of the company. Annual income exceeds $457.3 million. In August 2006 Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. announced that it would stop using fur in its garments. Cole has supported AIDS awareness and research since 1985. He has donated to such groups as Mentoring USA, amfAR and Rock the Vote. Cole married Maria Cuomo in 1987. She is the daughter of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, D-N.Y., sister of the sitting governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, D-N.Y., and sister of Christopher C. Cuomo, co-host of “20/20” on the ABC television network. While claiming to be Catholic, the pro-abortion views of the Cuomo family are well-known. By becoming Cole’s wife Maria Cuomo married outside of her faith, but it is clear that Catholicism and its tenets are not of particular importance to her. Cole is Jewish. They have three daughters.
Autumn 2011
The print version of the ad described above.

The print version of the ad described above.

Same-Sex Marriage: The first scene is a close-up of an attractive woman. The scene changes to a close-up of a handsome man but it quickly returns to the woman. The next thing we see is a wall bearing a message. “Those against same-sex marriage aren’t thinking straight.” In the next scene the man and woman are facing each other. They kiss passionately. The scene rapidly changes to one of two women kissing. Back to the man and woman, it changes again to show two men kissing. The three scenes are exchanged with increasing speed and ends with the man and woman standing next to a wall which reads, “Those against same-sex marriage aren’t thinking straight. (Or are they?) – Kenneth Cole.” Point made. The 44-second video ends with the ad campaign’s website address.

War: This 42-second video begins by showing a paintbrush being applied to a canvas. We then see a smoking grenade. On a wall are the words, “In war, is it who’s right…”
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In the next scene it appears as though an enormous protest rally is taking place. We soon see there are only two protesters—one man and one woman. The man holds a sign that reads, “Wear Not War!” The woman has a bullhorn, which she soon throws to the ground and walks away— apparently disgusted that only two people showed up to protest. The man throws his sign to the ground and walks off. We are returned to the message on the wall. “In war, is it who’s right or who’s left? – Kenneth Cole.” The usual website address follows.

page breaks them into four categories: HIV/AIDS, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression, and Disaster Relief. The introduction to the HIV/AIDS section describes Kenneth Cole’s personal commitment:
Kenneth has been committing both his personal and company’s resources to fight HIV/AIDS since he ran his first AIDS awareness ad in 1986. He joined the board of amfAR in 1986…In 2004, Kenneth became Chairman of the Board and still holds that position today. As a company, we support AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. We are dedicated to this meaningful pursuit with the belief that if AIDS exists anywhere, it essentially exists everywhere, and if anyone is infected, we are all affected.

To this end, the Kenneth Cole Foundation supports the work of several groups: amfAR (a foundation supporting AIDS research), AIDS Walk (runs a nationwide database of AIDS research fundraising walks), the William J. Clinton Foundation (works with governments to increase availability of quality AIDS care/treatment), ACT UP (direct action protest group), The Body (online resource for HIV/AIDS data), and UNAIDS (collects the resources of United Nations groups to prevent HIV transmission).
Ads promoting the use of condoms. The print version of the ad described above.

The ads and videos serve as an effective enticement to visit the associated website.
Website/Foundation
Ads: Billboard Ads: “Wear a rubber sole…” and “Some prostitution rings are
safer than others…”

As noted above, the website featured in the videos and print ads (wheredoyoustand.com) links to Cole’s advocacy efforts (awearness.com), which are funded by the Kenneth Cole Foundation. Visitors to awearness.com (odd spelling “cleverly” references apparel) are greeting by a two word quotation from Cole, “Getting Involved.” This is followed by a description of the Foundation:
[The Kenneth Cole Foundation] promotes, encourages and inspires meaningful social change, and supports like-minded individuals and organizations to make a difference. As part of each partnership, we create products and host events in support of their important causes, and select a “change agent” to share their story of social activism to help educate and inspire others to get involved.

rePrint ads: “Save a Hide…Wear a Rubber (Boot)…Support HIV/AIDS research: search: 100% of net profits from the same of these boots go to The Awearness Fund to support amfAR.org…,” “Think Negative…,” and “Our shoes aren’t the only thing we encourage you to wear.”

The introduction to the Civil Rights section is clearly intended to make the public believe the people at Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. are the epitome of bravery:
At Kenneth Cole we believe in equal rights and speaking up for minorities and other communities whose civil liberties are compromised or discriminated against. We have often fought controversial issues with controversial messages to raise awareness of injustices in the hope that the power of public opinion can find solutions to help and protect those in need. From Homelessness to Gun Control to Gay Rights, you can rest assured that we’ll continue to fight for what we believe in (while we’re still at liberty to say what we think, that is).

The primary concern of the Kenneth Cole Foundation is HIV/AIDS research and policy related to efforts intended to combat them. In addition to Cole, celebrities Skylar Grey, Ke$ha, Rose McGowan, Cyndi Lauper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cheyenne Jackson, and Estelle have recorded public service spots in support of the campaign. The celebrities are referred to as “change agents.” In addition to the aforementioned subjects, the website addresses several other topics. The “Issues & Archive”
Autumn 2011

This section includes several other subjects. For example, the Kenneth Cole Foundation addresses homelessness
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and capital punishment. Support is also expressed for the “Occupation Movement” and Barack Hussein Obama II.
Civil Rights: Ads and product that take a stand.

but we also support a variety of communities who express themselves through the arts and other important movements. Many of the organizations we partner with have a bigger agenda than just entertainment. There’s often a social commentary that’s inspiring and influential in the search for a greater good. After all, why waste all of that creative freedom if you’re expressing nothing?

Homosexual Rights: “Take your lover up the isle. Support marriage
equality”, “I want you. You are so repealing. (Don’t ask, don’t tell.)”, “52% of Americans think same-sex marriages don’t deserve a good reception. sameAre you putting us on?”

The Foundation funds many groups under the Freedom of Expression banner: Sundance Institute (promotes independent artistry), Council of Fashion Designers of America (designers trade group), Declare Yourself (pushes youth voter registeration), International Freedom of Expression Exchange (consortium of groups that back free expression”), Body As Billboard (tee-shirt company that markets “wearables with a message”), and Active Voice (communications specialists who work with the media). The Disaster Relief section begins with a statement:

Homosexual Rights: “Come out, come out, wherever you are…And while
you’re out, stop by one of our stores.”, and “Shoes shouldn’t have to stay in the closer either.” ● Privacy: “Think you have no privacy? You’re not alone…”

Too often we’re left thinking, “Why on earth is this happening?” From earthquakes to tsunamis to hurricanes, we can’t prevent natural disasters, but through a speedy response and focused support we can save many lives and help rebuild them. Through partnerships with established aid organizations, we believe it is our civic duty to help any national or international communities affected. Whether we’re raising funds, awareness, or both, we hope that our relief efforts will inspire humanitarians around the world to get involved.

“Occupation Movement”: “We stand in support of the occupation movement (and many other movements for that matter).” ● Obama: “A Precedent we can be proud of…Congratulations Barack Obama.”

War: “Many children get sent to their rooms. 500,000 have recently been sent to war. Are you putting us on?” ● War/Homelessness : “The billions
spent on evicting one Iraqi dictator could house America’s 3.5 million on?…” homeless… forever. Are you putting us on?…”

The Kenneth Cole Foundation supports the following groups as part of its Disaster Relief efforts (those in italic type are in the Dishonorable Mention section of The Boycott List): American Red Cross (various relief services), UNICEF (United Nations relief agency), International Rescue Committee (worldwide network of relief workers), Americares (quickly responds to disasters), Doctors Without Borders (international group of medical professionals), and Save the Children (various relief services).
Offending People Is The Norm

As part of its Civil Liberties activism, the Kenneth Cole Foundation funds Help USA (aids the homeless), Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (gun control), Human Rights Campaign (pro-homosexual causes such as samesex marriage), Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (advocates the positive portrayal of homosexuals and their agenda in the media and entertainment), The Candies Foundation (addresses teen pregnancy in the same way Planned Parenthood does so), and Amnesty International USA (fights human rights abuses, except for those committed against preborn humans). Amnesty International appears in the “Dishonorable Mention” section of The Boycott List because it has publicly expressed its official support of abortion. The Freedom of Expression section opens in this way:
We believe that having the freedom to express ourselves is a basic human right. Fashion will always be one of our core outlets,
Autumn 2011

Advocacy is nothing new for Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. In fact, the first ad advocating gun control appeared 25 years ago. An abortion-related ad was first seen during a national advertising campaign that ran in 1997. The message in the pro-abortion ad (“It’s a woman’s right to choose. After all, she’s the one carrying it.”) is almost identical to the one released this year. One year later the company released an ad which read, “We think women should have a choice when it comes to being pregnant. Barefoot is another story.” “Over the years I’ve used my brand platform to raise awareness about vital social issues to remind people that it’s not just what they look like on the outside, but who they are on the inside; and not just what they stand in, but what they stand for,” Cole said. “When I first started out, the means of communicating we have today didn’t exist.
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So in this new age of social media, I wanted to use this campaign to reenergize a debate with customers and like minded individuals around certain provocative, and at the same time, defining social issues.”
More ads that take a stand.

picks up a handbag. Apparently that was the choice which was tearing her up inside.” Thomas quoted feminist Naomi Wolfe who, in 2004, said, “I used to think of abortion as being somewhat trivial; the moral equivalent of serious root canal dentistry.” He said one “won’t find many pro-aborts being so flippant about abortion now, at least in public when they argue for legal abortion ‘rights’. Kenneth Cole evidently hasn’t caught up, despite all of its efforts to be contemporary and trendy.” Thomas had more to say about Kenneth Cole’s ad:
As part of this campaign, Kenneth Cole has a series of “debates” surrounding “pro-choice” issues, such as “allowing a minor to have an abortion” and “keeping abortion regulated and safe.” How does Kenneth Cole think abortion can ever be truly made safe when we have to worry about minors getting abortions? I guess they’re too cool to worry about questions like that. The current debate is “Making it the government’s right to choose.” Frankly, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean…Normally I love rocking abortion-related polls toward the pro-life side but this time around I see no reason to give Kenneth Cole more attention than I already have. If you feel compelled to, however, you’re welcome to leave a comment. I would say something like this: Comparing abortion to shopping is totally offensive to me. Because I believe in supporting women to choose LIFE I’m choosing NOT to support you. Everyone who buys from you had a mother who chose life. Maybe your next campaign should focus on honoring them.

Abortion: “It’s a woman’s right to choose. After all, she’s the one carrying
it.”, and “We think women should have a right to choose when it comes to being pregnant. Barefoot is another story.” ● National Healthcare: “A national plan to provide heeling to all. Why didn’t we think of that?…”

Gun Control: “Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet…” ● Capital Punishment: “1 in 27 people executed is
later proven innocent.”

Homelessness:

current “Despite our current economy, more homeless than fortunes are being made every day. ☺…”, “This is no time for cold feet. Help us support NY’s Homeless…”, and “There are too many people who would love to be in your shows. During the month of February, we’ll give you 20% off a new pair of shoes when you bring in an old pair for someone who really needs them…”

Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League told “Fox News” that the ad makes abortion seem insignificant. Popular pro-life blogger Jill Stanek commented on the campaign to The Christian Post:
It’s interesting that men are only told to shut up about abortion when they’re pro-life. But here we have a male fashion designer I expect even pro-choice women would like to shut up. Kenneth Cole is out of touch and behind the times. Even abortion proponents these days freely acknowledge abortion is a difficult choice, certainly meriting more consideration than choosing a handbag, no matter what the snooty label or ridiculous price. Here’s to Cole’s campaign falling flat, resulting in purchases of his label being safe and legal but rare.

Gun Control: “4,000 kids died from guns last year. This is a sign for
change…”, “The family gun is more likely to kill you than a stranger. To be important aware is more important than what you wear…”, and “Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet…”

Reaction

Predictably, “Where do you stand?” opened to mixed reviews. Abortion apologists, gun control advocates, homosexual groups and anti-war activists love the ads. Those who hold opposing points of view do not. But many people think the ads will be hurtful and offensive. “I don’t mind designer clothes,” wrote Thomas Peters on the American Papist website (catholicvote.org), “but Kenneth Cole’s campaign comparing the ‘right’ of women to chose [sic] to have an abortion with the ‘right’ of women to choose which handbag they buy is just ridiculous. More than ridiculous—it’s [sic] morally unseriousness [sic].” Thomas said the video’s depiction of a woman “anguishing over a decision—we think the decision to abort or keep her baby—then she walks over and
Autumn 2011

Sarah Erdeich thinks the ad encourages free thought. “We live in a society that shies away from talking about abortion in movies and on television; we have numerous politicians that are eager to strip funding from Planned Parenthood,” she told The Christian Post. “If Kenneth Cole can help normalize discussions about abortion rights and their precarious place in our society, then I’m all for it.” Radical feminist Anne Enke had a mixed reaction. Like pro-life activists, she is “highly critical” of the company because the video trivializes abortion. But her logic is, well, unique. “To suggest that abortion is the equivalent
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of deciding which handbag to buy is a travesty and reaffirms the stereotype that pro-choice women are total narcissists, which we are not,” the marketing queen wrote. While critical of the abortion-related video, Enke is otherwise supportive of the Kenneth Cole ad campaign:
Kenneth Cole is saying indirectly…that if he steps up to raise our consciousness on key social issues in SATC (“Sex and the City”)—you are the sum of your stilettos [sic] America—Cole hopes you will buy his brand. This is the Kenneth Cole I have known and supported…. Smart Sensuality consumers…want more than an expensive luxury handbag. We expect some kind of social conscience out of our brands.

time to reflect,” he told the New York Daily News. “To remind us, sometimes, that it’s not only important what you wear, but it’s also important to be aware.”

While Cole wholeheartedly backs legal abortion, some fashion insiders say he is simply using controversy to survive in a bad economy and highly competitive market. (Annual revenue for Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. has consistently exceeded $450 million.) For example, Leah Chernikoff, executive editor of a website that covers the fashion industry, told “Fox News” that Cole’s campaign is an “obvious” public relations move. Stylist and fashion guru Mary Alice Stephenson agreed. “Nowadays it’s a battle for the buck. Whether you love it or you hate it, it does make you look and that’s what designers need to do because these days the clothes just don’t sell themselves.”
Talking Before Thinking

“Out with the cold in with the new.” Several people mocked Cole for his Several ads. Tweet about Egypt by posting fake Kenneth Cole ads. In this example, six Egyptian protesters, some bloodied, are lined up against a closed store.

While Cole’s statements relating to events in Egypt and September 11, 2001 were surely not intended to offend, the same cannot be said of the new ad campaign. No apology will be forthcoming. It is not as though Cole cares what pro-life advocates think or feel. In fact, he probably relishes any opportunity to get under our collective skin.
Choosing Choosing Not To Play

Cole’s left-leaning views have not been enough to make him immune to criticism unrelated to fashion and marketing. In February 2011 Cole posted a message on Twitter that referenced the anti-government protests in Egypt. “Millions are in uproar in…Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online….” he wrote. A link to the company website was included. Accused of being insensitive to the seriousness of what was taking place in Egypt, Cole posted another message intended to serve as something of an apology. “Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment.” Cole posted a more extensive apology on his Facebook page. “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 humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.” The fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks gave Cole another opportunity to make a similarly tactless remark. “Important moments like this are a
Autumn 2011

It is important to recognize that Kenneth Cole is free to use his money—personal or corporate—in any legal way he sees fit. If that means exercising rights in a manner we find offensive, it is the “price” we pay for living in a democracy. Nothing about this campaign will change even one mind. (This is also true when any celebrity speaks on the issue.) Changing minds is not the goal. The campaign is intended to generate controversy that will bring attention to the brands sold by Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. But the creation of controversy requires, to at least some degree, our participation. What if the most we just said was how sorry we feel for the post-abortive women who will be upset by the insensitive publicity stunt? What if we just said how sad it is that a filthy rich fashion designer would use attentiongrabbing tactics to put more money in his pocket, even though it could emotionally traumatize many women? What if we just simply ignored such gimmicks? What if?
– Douglas R. Scott, Jr. is president of Life Decisions International Special Reports, an official periodical of Life Decisions International (LDI), is published four times per year. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of every LDI Partner or members of its Board of Directors/Advisors or staff. This publication may be copied or quoted so long as appropriate citation(s) are included. Write: P.O. Box 439, Front Royal, VA 22630-0009 (USA). Phone: (540) 631-0380. Many past editions of Special Reports are available on LDI’s website (fightpp.org).
© 2011 Life Decisions International

Special Reports

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