Fashion retailer Kenneth Cole is no stranger to social media controversy, having jumped on the back of the Egyptian riots to promote a clothing line earlier this year.

Hashtag hijacking can go badly wrong, and there was predictable outrage at the time, given the gravity of the situation in Egypt.

Equally, jumping on the back of other serious causes isn’t always a good idea. In this respect, Kenneth Cole’s new social media campaign is playing with fire.

Called ‘What Do You Stand For’, one half of the dedicated website encourages people to take part in “a series of provocative debates” which it hopes will “educate and inspire us all to understand relevant social issues from a larger perspective”. The other half of the website encourages people to buy clothes from Kenneth Cole. No surprise there.

The debates are focused on four divisive topics: guns, pro-choice, gay rights and war. These four topics are then presented as individual sections, with three sub-debates (I can only access the first one as the Flash site isn’t working properly for me). 

The sub-debates are anchored around a question, such as whether or not the government should have the right to choose who can or can’t have an abortion. Two Facebook ‘Like’ buttons are placed directly underneath the question, alongside ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ labels, allowing visitors to participate. Facebook users can also leave a comment.

One comment reads: “This site is so beyond liberally biased it’s amazing. There are 12 questions and all of them are completely loaded so as to make it sound illogical to choose the answer they do not desire.”

Loaded questions aside, it seems remarkably crass for a retailer to align deeply serious issues – such as the right to have an abortion – with throwaway questions along the lines of whether the ‘black on black’ look is on trend for a man. 

As Matthew Curry says: “Dear @KennethCole, boiling gay rights down to two Facebook Like buttons in order to shift clothes is a pretty shitty thing to do.”

What do you think? Is provocation and controversy something that should be used to boost sales? Is this a brave move, or is it a dumb move?