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Understanding Cancel Culture for Brands and Marketers


Cancel Culture

The rise of “Cancel Culture” is an extremely hot topic on the internet right now, but what really is it? Should it be a concern for marketers and brands? The short answer is yes, and here is why.

What is Cancel Culture?

The term “Cancel Culture” refers to a public, mass withdraw of support, typically in response to perceived poor behavior or wrong doings, of a person, a product, a brand or an organization. Individuals who take part in a “Cancel Culture” demonstration typically broadcast their views and reasoning for “cancelling” someone or something online.

Why should brands care about Cancel Culture?

While many Cancel Culture micro-revolutions revolve around influencers, causing their natural rise and fall, “cancellations” can also impact brands. Brands can quickly be canceled, for right or wrong reasons, if just one person gets a hashtag trending or makes a highly viewed YouTube or TikTok video. This can quickly turn in to a brand reputation crisis, lead to consumer boycotts and prevent influencer collaborations, partnerships and more.

How should brands respond if they are canceled?

Being “canceled” doesn’t always mean there is a brand crisis. Cancel Culture movements often include a lot of vocal performative activists. This means many of those driving a trending hashtag may say they are discontinuing purchases or support for a brand because they feel like they should show others they are, not because they will actually follow through.

Brands should always listen to their audience, correct wrongs and acknowledge past mistakes, but sometimes Cancel Culture movements can begin on the basis of false information or wrong assumptions. If incorrect information is the cause of a cry for a brand being canceled, brands should manage this by presenting factual information in an authentic way. Most Cancel Culture participants are looking for social change, accountability and authenticity, brands should consider this when addressing Cancel Culture situations.

What if an influencer connected to your brand is canceled?

Influencer marketing is an extremely popular marketing communications strategy to increase brand exposure, reach new audiences and provide a brand boosting testimonial from someone a brand’s target audience admires. However, there is risk in closely associating an influencer with a brand.

Many brands have been victim to Cancel Culture due to the wrong doings of their influencer and brand advocates actions. If an influencer is canceled, brands need to step back and analyze the situation. Consider who the influencer is being canceled by and who the influencer is meant to target for the brand. For example, if an influencer is being canceled by a Gen X population, but it is because of an action that Gen Z’s support and Gen Z is being targeted with this influencer, standing by this influencer could be the correct move. Gen Z values brands taking strong stances on controversial topics and this could actually boost brand loyalty among the target demographic.

How does a brand avoid being canceled?

While Cancel Culture and crisis communication situations cannot always be avoided, a brand can be prepared if faced with a difficult situation or choice. Brands should always consider their values and the values of their consumers. They must keep open channels of communication with consumers, evaluate risks of business and marketing decisions and understand when it is time to address and correct wrong doings. 

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Meet the Author

Emily Zekonis

Emily Zekonis
Acquisitions Manager at Oliver and Barney

Emily is formarly a Marketing and Events Graduate Service Assistant for the Marketing Communications Online Programs through the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. She is currently the Acquisitions Manager at Oliver and Marketing Manager at Barney. She is an alumna of WVU's M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) and has been working in marketing for over 3 years.

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