Cancel Culture | The Playbook for Defending Your Brand
Cancel culture was a key theme at the 2020 Republican National Convention but is it a real worry for brands? This branding expert says yes.
Has your company been impacted by cancel culture backlash? If so, you’re not alone. This article is the definitive guide for how to defend your business from being canceled. Managing brands in the age of cancel culture is uncharted territory, yet mission-critical for any public relations strategy to be successful.
In this article on cancel culture and online reputation brand management, you will learn:
- What does cancel culture mean?
- Brand Management strategies in the age of cancel culture: tips for mitigating risk
- How to protect your brand from PR backlash if it is canceled
- Monitor social signals of an impending crisis with social listening tools
- How to build a brand in the cancel culture era of online outrage
WHAT IS CANCEL CULTURE?
Cancel culture is the act of canceling a brand, public figure, or company that you disagree with. When a brand is canceled, support is withdrawn and consumers spend their money with competitors if the brand or company has said something offensive. The brand is canceled through online shaming on social media platforms.
What does cancel culture mean?
Cancel Culture Meaning: Cancel culture is used to describe the cancellation of any brand, product, or company you disagree with. The goal of the cancel culture movement is to “cancel” the brand by expressing public discern on social media platforms. It only takes one tweet from ten years ago to cancel a public figure or brand on social media.
Brands are being canceled left and right, (no pun intended) for issues ranging from support of Former President Trump to not kneeling during the national anthem. Increased racial tensions and the upcoming political election are some of the recent factors that have led to recent brand cancellations of popular public figures and corporate executives.
The problem with cancel culture is that there is no rhyme or reason as to the criteria for cancellation. It is a moving target.
The cancel culture movement seeks to hold influential people, brands, politicians, celebrities, and people in power accountable through public shaming and cancellations on social media platforms.
In addition to tarnishing a brand’s reputation, financial consequences are another byproduct of the cancel culture movement. Cancel culture is not only bad for your online reputation and PR efforts, it is also bad for business and bottom-line revenues.
Cancel culture developed as a result of people feeling a sense of responsibility to hold public figures and brands accountable for their actions. The term is used to describe any brand, product, or company that you disagree with. The goal is to cancel the brand by expressing public discern on social media platforms. Advertiser boycotts and exposing contact information of advertisers is one of the many tactics used on social media to cancel a brand.
The Woke Twitter movement represents the shifting values in American culture and society. But this doesn’t just stop at politics, religion, values, or demographics. It intersects with corporate brand strategy, too.
CORPORATE CANCEL CULTURE:
Holding brands accountable
The publication of Harper’s Letter on Justice and Open Debate was signed by 150 prominent authors, journalists, and academics. This letter is critical in understanding the cancel culture debate in America.
“The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”
Free speech in society is not truly free. When you calculate the cost of hiring a PR firm, an attorney, and a reputation management team to clean up what you posted on social media because you thought you lived in a free society, you will soon realize it should be called expensive speech instead.
Consequences of cancel culture.
Cancel culture demands corporate accountability by seeking to fire executives and those in positions of power for any perceived transgression or wrongdoing. But the key phrase here is perceived. What if these brands didn’t actually do anything wrong? What if they are apologizing for something they never even meant? This is why cancel culture is so toxic and represents a threat to our democracy.
When brands become targets, the consequences are severe.
Cancel Culture consequences include:
- Damaging and destroying a brands reputation
- Ruining an executive’s online reputation, search engine results, and career
- Silencing a brand through social media bullying
- Boycotting products by demanding advertisers withdraw monetary support and cancel advertising contracts with the brand
- Publicly withdrawing financial, political, and social support for brands
There is a discrepancy between how corporate executives, celebrities, and politicians react to being canceled versus less well-known brands. It ultimately comes down to resource allocation. Is being canceled a luxury afforded to only the most influential who can PR their way out of it?
Many argue that cancel culture represents a class divide between those that can buy their way out of being canceled and those who can’t. One way politicians and corporate executives are able to defend their reputation is to hire a PR crisis communications agency.
How some brands have responded to being canceled:
- Donating to charities or organizations
- Reemerging after long periods of silence
- Renaming the brand
- Shifting personal support for companies
- Changing public perception by severing ties with influencers who have been boycotted
Has cancel culture gone too far?
When cancel culture goes after private citizens and small business owners, it is also a form of cyberbullying, harassment, and defamation. It is important to understand the legal implications involved when Internet users defame individuals on social media.
A perfect example of this is the landmark Covington case involving the lawsuit of Nicholas Sandmann. He sued CNN and The Washington Post for defamation. His case ultimately proves that cancel culture has consequences.
“One of their political weapons is cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.” – Former President Donald Trump
How is Cancel Culture impacting brands? Building consumer trust online
Cancel culture reigns supreme on social media platforms. From Twitter to Facebook, every brand in corporate America runs the risk of being publicly shamed for any perceived wrongdoing. This has led to open debates on free speech, social media censorship, and just how far PR and brand managers need to go to wage war in the corporate brand wars.
But cancel culture doesn’t only apply to Fortune 500 brands; it also applies to public figures, influencers, and personal brands, too. Ultimately, cancel culture can lead to dire professional consequences without a crisis communications PR strategy in place to mitigate potential risks and digital threats.
BRAND MANAGEMENT IN THE AGE OF CANCEL CULTURE
CANCEL CULTURE IMPACTING BRANDS:
Your brand+ canceled
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”-Warren Buffet
Online reputation management is a central component of any public relations campaign. Brand management focuses on the growth and improvement of a brand’s reputation by positively increasing recognition of the brand. Every PR professional’s dream is to represent a brand with a flawless reputation, but this is becoming less of a possibility as brands take a stand on controversial policies and social justice movements.
PR professionals and social media managers are tasked with the job of managing a brand’s image and reputation on digital platforms by controlling external threats to a brand. However, navigating brand management in the age of cancel culture is not an easy feat. It requires unique insights into brand strategy, knowing the role that corporate social responsibility plays, and having an effective crisis communications plan in the wings in case the brand finds itself a victim of cancel culture.
CANCEL CULTURE AND BRANDS
Why are so many companies concerned about brand management?
In an age where brands are one tweet away from being canceled, brands are increasingly concerned about purpose-driven marketing. If you aren’t concerned about brand management in the era of cancel culture, you should be. Disasters can be avoided if we plan for them.
Who is responsible for corporate brand management?
Public relations managers are responsible for corporate brand management. The principal job of an online reputation management company is to react to any negative media coverage and take care of issues before they turn into a large, cancel culture level public media fiasco on cable news.
A public relations agency is trained in proactively mitigating risk and aiding in the process of online reputation management.
PR firms must be able to take a proactive and reactive position where they can manage the brand’s online presence and execute crisis communication strategies.
PR Tip: Make sure the marketing team, HR, PR, and the legal team reviews a brand statement before it is posted on social media.
Why does cancel culture stop conversation?
Prioritizing customer retention by catering to social media activist Twitter mobs is not true brand stewardship or leadership. The question should not be, ‘Will this pacify the Twitter mob?
The question should be: Did we truly do something wrong or did we just deviate from the narrative?
There is a new breed of CMOs today that believe it is a better PR move to fire someone, change a logo or issue a brand statement to appease social media activists, even if it means compromising their values.
Not every brand that is canceled deserves to be, and instead of defending the initial thought behind a campaign, the brands cater to the Twitter mob, even if public opinion is wrong.
Compliance is not the same thing as leadership. Taking a stand is not the same as bowing to the Twitter mob.
Performative activism is not real brand activism.
Any brand that threatens to go against the narrative in pop culture will be countered with cancel culture threats. This is the sad state of reality we live in.
Online shaming is a toxic trend and it must come to an end.
Brands respond to protests across the U.S.
Businesses are being looted digitally and every business owner must protect their online reputation in digital platforms before it gets destroyed. Saying the wrong thing can lead to digital “looting” and saying nothing can also have the same consequence. It is a very delicate line and this is why there is truly an art to branding and marketing.
Every company has something at stake and no one is immune to cancel culture. The protesting is taking place on digital platforms and social media platforms, too. The environment on Facebook and Twitter has become toxic and social media threads are filled with fighting.
Should you wear a mask? Should you not wear a mask? If you are wrong, do you deserve to be canceled?
The best way to handle public relations for your business is to think about your media relations / crisis communications strategy and how you can adapt your messaging to be purpose-driven.
Social media posts with corporate social responsibility brand messaging should be backed with actionable business steps you have taken to address a situation and show how your business is helping. If you post something to win social media points, but your business doesn’t back that up with tangible actions you have taken, that is not authentic brand marketing, and I can assure you your brand will be canceled for it.
What you say on your personal social media platforms represents your business.
Myth: If it doesn’t come from a company Facebook page it is private. False.
Fact: Your personal brand reflects your corporate brand.
What changes does this new environment demand from the corporate community of social media brand managers?
There is nothing predictive about the current digital media landscape.
We are living in an unprecedented media environment where social media posts cannot be planned out beyond the hour.
There is no longer a daily rhythm of normalcy in the digital media landscape. Marketers, publicists, and social media strategists must be ready to adapt their crisis communications PR strategy not by the quarter or month, but by the hour. Brands that are still crafting editorial calendars for the month are completely missing the boat.
For example, every brand that shifted its strategy to COVID-19 health information is now shifting their strategy again as we face new challenges for how brands should respond in this politically charged environment.
For brands that have kept the same marketing budget, the challenge is, how do you maximize time and dollars when the creative you are investing in keeps changing by the hour?
Brands know they need crisis communication PR teams and to ramp up social media and community managers now more than ever before, but they are slow to pull the trigger or write the check until after a brand cancellation has occurred and it is already too late.
It would be foolish to cut spending in those two areas because consumers are expecting a response from your brand and you need a strategic public relations team to manage this for your business. How does this team adapt to the increasing demand to change messages with the current environment?
As brand strategists, we can barely predict what will happen five hours from now, let alone a week or a month from now. Content must be created in rhythm with the socio-political environment.
Marketers who create content and ignore this rhythm are not marketing in alignment with the new reality of cancel culture that brand marketers now live in.
What is a brand management strategy?
A brand management strategy is the process of mitigating risk through public relations and crisis communications tactics. The cancel culture movement seeks to hold brands and corporations accountable through social media shaming, death threats, boycotts, and negative reviews.
A brand management strategy is particularly important to have during the cancel culture era to help mitigate risk before a crisis occurs. There is increasing pressure on brands to take a stand, which means that there is even more pressure on CMOs and Public Relations agencies to craft the stance these brands are taking. A brand management strategy for cancel culture would include:
- Corporate policies with updated social media guidelines
- Standard operating procedure (SOP) for how the PR firm and legal can work together before a brand statement is issued
- Alignment between PR, marketing, and the social media agency of record on behalf of the brand
- Budget/resource allocation for crisis communications
Many brands do not budget for a social media boycott or brand cancellation. In 2020, this is the biggest mistake a brand could make. Not only is it reckless PR planning, but it is also outright irresponsible. There is increasing pressure on brands with heightened polarization and high-profile brands are targets. Additionally, a brand cancellation impacts every component of your digital PR and marketing campaign.
For example, if your brand is being canceled on social media because of a social media ad or product, that product may need to be pulled from Google ads, Facebook ads, and the e-commerce platform.
A brand cancellation is never as simple as impacting only one area of communications: it has a ripple effect.
Brand positioning starts with knowing what could threaten the company’s sales, profitability, or online reputation and taking proactive steps to mitigate those risks. Brands should forecast worst-case scenarios and understand how larger social-political issues impact the economy, and ultimately, the company.
Strategize worst-case scenarios and reverse engineer a crisis communications public relations plan to combat perceived threats. Have a standing process for escalation in place to alert key stakeholders on any perceived brand threats.
What is brand image strategy?
A brand image strategy is crafting the key messaging behind how you want your organization to be perceived on digital platforms.
What is a brand message strategy?
A brand message strategy incorporates all of the key statements or brand pillars that your company incorporates.
What activities are part of the brand manager role?
Strategic brand management involves crafting a company’s brand identity, managing ongoing brand positioning, and creating a corporate brand strategy. A brand manager manages the consumer-facing promotional channels on behalf of a brand.
Brand managers are responsible for developing brand positioning, community management, capitalizing market opportunities, managing brand partnerships, and increasing positive public perception of the brand through earned media strategies, including public relations campaigns.
On a daily basis, a brand manager should be:
- Addressing customer concerns in a strategic way
- Minimizing risk
- Building trust with consumers
- Addressing a brand crisis with a well thought out PR brand statement
Do brands have a duty of care towards the influencers they work with?
Brand managers play an integral role in the cancel culture movement. They are often the ones on the frontline fielding off negative tweets. A successful brand manager is one who is able to assess and reassess risk constantly. During heightened times of brand polarization, brand managers should be on the lookout for potential brand cancellations.
Brand management is best led by a crisis PR firm. Public relations consultants have an intricate understanding of how actions and statements are perceived by the public and can weigh the risk or potential repercussions of brand activations and partnership opportunities. Yes, brands need to care about the influencers they choose to engage with.
For example, a brand could have a pristine reputation, but if they retain an influencer that has been canceled on social media, the brand will then be guilty by association.
Brands are measured by the company they keep.
Since brands do not have total control over the words of partners of influencers, it is critical to reassess external partnerships to help mitigate risk in the cancel culture era.
How to move from a brand crisis to a PR action plan in 5 steps:
- Monitor for pending brand risks using social listening tools.
- Notify the Director of Marketing at first sight of a brand cancellation.
- Notify legal counsel with screenshots.
- Retain a crisis communications PR firm to assist with messaging development.
- Do not post anything on social media until legal, marketing, and the PR team have come to an agreement.
Online Reputation Management: Can you rebuild brand trust if you have been canceled?
As the Internet grows, the ability to quickly tank your brand’s online reputation grows with it. Management of an online reputation entails extensively monitoring all mentions, reviews, and comments about a brand online.
With a competent public relations agency providing strategic brand counsel, it is entirely possible to recover from lost consumer trust. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but do not lose hope. Trust is something consumers hold high value in. It’s hard to earn, and once trust is broken, it can be difficult to win back without authenticity and exceptional guidance from crisis PR experts. Crisis communication public relations agencies can provide the necessary rapid insight into how to best react to and recover from lost consumer trust.
Political Brand Wars
What does your brand stand for and against? We have entered into the era of the political brand wars, where politics can now impact your bottom line.
Now is the time to study wartime marketing because we are a nation that is divided. In addition to the protests on the streets, there are protests on social media platforms, which I refer to as the social media brand wars. The riots have transcended to digital platforms into a full-out social media war and boycotts and aggressive comments keep the flames going.
Social media brand managers are tasked with the job of managing these threads on behalf of the brand. It is a challenging situation to wade through and requires critical thinking and high-level strategy. One wrong move or tweet and the brand will come under fire for not reacting the right way. This is why it is extremely important to hire a brand manager and social media agency you trust to make these snap judgments for you. You will not always be available when they make the tough call for you. This is why trust and experience are critical for a successful community management strategy.
Marketing is no longer about marketing anymore.
Ethics, politics, and activism are intertwined and interwoven in the daily responsibilities, but often lacking from the job description. The ability to think critically and strategically about these issues is critical to being successful at social media community management, and too often, entry-level talent is thrown in the role to handle these areas with little to no training on brand guidelines.
If you are trusting someone to represent your brand online without properly training them to make critical judgment calls on your behalf, you are making a mistake.
As I always say to clients, a social media strategy is about what you don’t say, and knowing when not to post, just as much as it is about knowing when to post and what to say. It takes senior-level experience to navigate these decisions; not commodity bargain pin pricing.
In an election cycle, companies should increase retainers for social media marketing agency services as brands are on high alert for possible cancellation. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what most companies are doing as they try to conserve resources during a period of economic uncertainty.
Someone needs to “man the fort” of your digital assets. Just like you wouldn’t leave your post unarmed, the same is true for your business online.
As marketers and publicists, we must refine brand messaging to navigate cancel culture and assist with corporate social responsibility initiatives and crisis communications efforts.
Brand marketing questions to ask include:
- Why did you start your company?
- What is your mission?
- What are your company values?
- What do you believe in?
If you can’t answer these basic branding questions, you will be overlooked by consumers in favor of brands who have these answers woven into the DNA of their brand promise and mission statement. Your brand will quickly become irrelevant and extinct if you do not have a strong brand mission.
Your mission must go beyond the product or service you offer and extend to answering why you are in business.
Are you failing to adapt to the new brand standards required in the cancel culture era? Here is a five-point brand strategy checklist to measure your progress.
- SWOT analysis. Redefine and articulate what makes your brand competitive at critical moments of change.
- Brand affiliations and partnerships. Reevaluate the vendors, partners, and influencers you are aligned with.
- Changing your brand’s key messaging. Are you truly addressing consumer’s needs?
- Brand promise. Are you delivering on the promises your website claims to deliver on?
- Brand mission statement. Does your mission statement accurately represent what you stand for?
THE HISTORY OF CANCEL CULTURE
Why is cancel culture important?
It is important to understand cancel culture to see how far purpose-driven marketing has shifted across the digital landscape. However, there is a difference between public accountability of those in power and online bullying and harassment. If cancel culture continues at the pace it is going, there will be no brands left. We must allow for diversity of thinking.
The question is inherently flawed, because cancel culture is actually not important, and is one of the biggest threats to democracy. From politicians to brands, nobody is safe from the public declaring them canceled. There is even a website that is now tracking cancellations, which can be found here.
Thought leaders must think their own thoughts, but if we stifle their ability to express those thoughts, then we are all complicit in creating an Internet that is an echo chamber.
Cancel culture rages on with no signs of slowing down.
When will cancel culture end?
What is social media’s role in cancel culture?
Social media is the primary tool used in the spread of cancel culture. Without social media, it would be significantly harder for cancel culture to exist. Social media enables the outrage to spread like wildfire in real-time. For brands, it shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Protect your brand today before it is too late.
Social media platforms serve as distribution portals to enable brand cancellations at warp speed. The cancellations come quicker and on a condensed timeline.
Social media platforms are the new form of protesting. Your tweets are your digital activist sign.
America is at a tipping point. Social media is not in and of itself the tipping point. It is simply a portal people use to communicate. When you cut off public access to a utility like Twitter, you cut off access to the digital public square, which means cutting off someone’s ability to stand outside and protest. This is where the line between censorship and cancel culture becomes complicated.
The Rise of Cancel Culture in 2021
Is cancel culture a fleeting trend or is it the future of brand marketing?
Why has cancel culture spiked among Corporate America in recent months?
Consumers are home during the pandemic and paying closer attention to brands now than ever before. They are also angry about the economy and potential job losses incurred during the pandemic. Despite positive job numbers that can be seen in different sectors, many people are suffering. We are seeing consumers express this outrage on social media and in the streets, too, at alarming rates.
Many people are temporarily pausing their social media accounts or taking a digital detox to avoid any further stress that comes from fighting with the woke mob on Twitter over politics or the daily face mask debate. When citizens feel a loss of control, they tend to grab onto things that give them a semblance of control. The one area consumers can control is where they spend their dollars and they are exhibiting that control by attempting to influence change through their consumer spending.
Some of the notable verticals most often inflicted by cancel culture that result in brand casualties include:
- Consumer brands
- Sports and Entertainment
- Historical Figures & Past Presidents
- Monuments & Statues
- School names
- Brand/ Product names
- Higher Education
Cancel Culture vs. Call-Out Culture
Although cancel culture has become the hot topic of social media, call-out culture has to be examined alongside it to get the full picture of how far cancel culture has gone. Call-out culture is often the first step to cancel culture. It involves public shaming for reprehensible actions with the sole goal of holding those responsible accountable. Cancel culture is similar to call-out culture but takes it a step further by calling for boycotting of the brand, public figure, or celebrity.
Call-out culture is when a celebrity makes an ill-advised statement and the public feels that they have the responsibility to educate them on why it was wrong and demand an apology for the action. The public doesn’t want the celebrity to disappear into the abyss; they want accountability and change. Cancel culture comes from more extreme and egregious actions committed by people of power, where the public feels that no apology could make up for what they did.
Anti-Cancel Culture & Anti-Woke Culture
Is the cancel culture movement similar to the Salem Witch trials of the 1600s? Yes.
Will we see a backlash to cancel culture starting to develop? What will be the long-term impact of cancel culture?
Cancel Culture has become the new normal and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. We are canceling ourselves. This begs the question as to why.
Why are Americans so keep on canceling our culture?
I predict that Americans will continue canceling brands until there is nothing left to cancel, and that is what is most troublesome of this cultural movement.
Cancel Culture: Is it free speech or censorship?
One argument against cancel culture is that it violates the right to free speech and is about censoring those with opposing opinions. Cancel culture can quickly turn into cyberbullying and harassment.
The constitution protects your right to free speech and to various degrees, it protects you from defamation, although even that is questionable because of Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act.
However, the constitution will ultimately never protect your online reputation, that is why it is critical to control the conversation with the help of a PR consultant before someone else does.
It is your responsibility to stay in control of protecting your online reputation. Do not leave it up to Internet trolls to control your digital destiny.
There is a line between expressing dissent and destroying someone’s professional reputation. A society built on free speech supports open debate but often misses the mark when it comes to allowing any discussion of different opinions.
As a consumer, you hold a great deal of power to cancel a brand, but with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t just cancel a brand because you can. Voice your opinion to the brand directly to see if your opinion is heard before blasting a brand or company on social media. Every time you cancel a brand, think about all of the jobs you are canceling in the process, too.
BRAND STRATEGY: HOW TO MANAGE A BRAND DURING CANCEL CULTURE
How can a brand avoid being canceled?
I have spoken at length over the past year about brand activism and the critical question: should brands take a stand on controversial issues? There are consequences for brands that take a stand and do not follow through with corporate social responsibility efforts with tangible actions to support the stance they took.
Hashtag activism or “slacktivism’ is a consequence of PR tactics on social media platforms that do not have a long-term strategic plan entrenched in the foundation of a marketing communications plan.
Not only are brands being canceled, but they are also being called out for slacktivism when they make claims and statements they ultimately fail to support and follow through to fruition.
CANCEL CULTURE AND BUSINESS IN AMERICA
What brands need to know about cancel culture: from Woke Capitalism to Twitter Mobs
Cancel culture in B2B: Micro cancel culture
One of the most fascinating aspects of cancel culture that has yet to be addressed is cancel culture in the B2B sector. We hear a lot about how consumers are canceling brands in the B2C space, but what about B2B? Why do we not hear those stories in industry trade publications?
A prospect reached out recently to inquire about PR services for his business. I sent over a proposed scope of work and he was ready to move forward. But then I received an abrupt email that he would not be moving forward with the work. I pressed for an answer because something seemed off. It turns out he looked at my personal Twitter and saw a few tweets that reflected conservative views. So, before I even got the deal or closed the contract that he was ready to close on, he “canceled” the process from moving forward to the next step in the sales funnel.
This is an act of micro cancel culture that is happening every day across America to any business owner who expresses conservative views on social media. The story isn’t as sexy as some of these other headlines, but the impact is just as great for small business owners in America who have already been kicked from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Does a brand or business deserve to be canceled because they re-tweet the President or share a conservative view that deviates from social norms and the mainstream narrative?
Is this really solid ground for not moving forward with a proposal that you reached out to someone for? Is this the state of where we are at as a society?
We live in a country that preaches diversity and inclusion and yet, people are now making business decisions and actively not doing business with anyone who doesn’t share their same political beliefs. Is that diversity of thought? No. This is a way to silence half the country for fear that their business won’t be sustainable if they share their opinion on Twitter.
Micro-cancel culture in B2B is a much larger issue than B2C cancel culture. B2C cancel culture impacts large brands with expensive PR agencies and law firms on retainer. B2B cancel culture does not.
That is the real threat to America and everyday business owners just trying to make it and survive in this pandemic (and beyond).
#Cancelled: What does cancel culture mean for influencers and brands who want to avoid PR backlash?
How do people come up with different issues to focus on canceling?
Cancel culture is not as organized as you are led to believe. People find something to be angry about on Twitter that catches on and then everyone else gets angry, too. Cancel culture can take place in Facebook groups with statements such as, “Everyone who believes X is now banned from this group.”
The problem with cancel culture is that it is a moving target and constantly changing. It is based on individual opinions; therefore, it is hard to predict what will be canceled next.
For example, as someone who doesn’t believe in the massive slaughter of animals taking place in this country, it shocks me that there is no active cancel culture geared towards canceling farmers and dairy producers. The point here is that what I want to cancel may not be what you want to cancel, so who is to determine what is right? Who is the ultimate arbiter of truth?
Cancel culture is opinion-based. If we cancel everything that we have opinions on, there may be nothing left to cancel in a few years.
How are brands selected to cancel? What is the process for canceling a brand and how do activists attacking brands gain momentum on social media?
Whatever makes social media users angry and garners maximum RT’s for momentum. Let’s take, for example, the tweet I recently posted about Aunt Jemima. As a branding expert, my recommendation is that if the brand truly cared about their customers, they would consider a product reformulation, too.
The brand execs at Aunt Jemima care more about brand activism than they do about diabetes. What does that tell you about their priorities? What do you think leads to more deaths in this country? #AuntJemima logo OR the ingredients and high sugar content in their product? 🥞— Kristen Ruby (@sparklingruby) June 17, 2020
Brand messaging must extend through core brand values.
Selling a bottle of sugar under a different name does nothing to address the diabetes epidemic plaguing America. Brands with strategic PR / Crisis communications teams will counsel brands on how to make real change all the way through every brand pillar, rather than changing only one brand aspect at a time.
Strategic branding means reflecting on all of these areas, not only focusing on one of them. It is bigger than tactics.
Pulling a product from a line or changing a corporate name or logo can make sense for a company if they plan on rebranding the entire business. But if they don’t, they are left with a brand that confuses consumes more than it helps them and causes greater long-term reputational damage and market confusion.
Are there special interest groups or competitors often orchestrating which brands are canceled? How does this impact brand preference?
Special interest groups can often hide behind the scenes in the wings. Competitors are not responsible for cancel culture because this would be a very underhanded tactic and most competitors wouldn’t want their brand canceled, either. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are not spending time plotting how to get their competitors canceled. If they are, they should focus on other core business-building activities and consider the ethics behind something like this, or lack thereof.
Cancel culture is a moneymaker for the competitors of the brands and businesses that are canceled. It gives them an opportunity to swoop in and create the opposite brand messaging of the corporations that were canceled.
How to protect your business from being canceled
Brand Marketing idea:
Think about all of the ways your brand could be canceled in the current climate before a controversy erupts.
Look at every aspect of your team, your executive board of directors, your website, and your business mission and values.
Now is the time to carefully review these key areas of your business.
Brand Tip: Cancel your brand before someone else has the chance to.
It is better to control the canceling and proactively address this than to have someone else cancel you first.
Brand makeovers and key messaging are services that are being requested at higher than usual rates as a result of cancel culture.
Is there money to be made in the cancel culture movement?
Every time you read a headline about a brand being canceled, that brand has to spend millions of dollars in consulting fees for a crisis communications agency or PR firm, legal fees, agency consulting fees, management consulting fees, contractor/ vendor fees, design fees, and countless other line items and expenses.
Cancellations cost brands millions of dollars to pivot in a new direction. It is never as simple as saying the brand is canceled. Brands don’t die that fast.
Someone has to pay to bring these brands back to life and the one who is paying for it is the brand.
Cancel culture victims
Who are the real victims of cancel culture? Small business owners.
Every time a small business is canceled, the likelihood of them coming back is even harder because they don’t have access to the same capital source for revival.
How has cancel culture become a money-maker for big tech?
Cancel culture fuels an economy of rapid-fire crisis communications decisions that most businesses are not equipped to make without outside counsel.
We will look back at this period of history twenty years from now and some brands may say they wish they had more time to think through the business decision they made.
Agility is important in business, but so is strategic planning and thinking holistically about how one decision impacts stakeholders and every other product division and vertical.
We haven’t seen the full economic impact of brand cancellations and what this will cost companies in the long term.
CANCEL CULTURE AND ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
Consumer Trust and Woke Capitalism
With an onslaught of brands weighing into heavy political and social issues, the question becomes, ‘How does this impact the brand-customer trust relationship?”
The Reputation Economy
In Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler’s Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action, they state that reputation is now the currency on which everything else will depend. A brand’s reputation can impact a consumer’s buying preference. Consumers today believe that the actions of CEOs and brands can impact how much trust they can place in them and whether or not they are willing to invest in the brand.
To build a positive reputation, brands today must ask, “What is my organization doing to build trust in the market and society at large”
We are at a point in history where what a brand stands for and against impacts consumer trust. Consumer trust equals sales and sales equal revenue. If consumer trust is violated, it can lead to an inadvertent canceling of your brand.
THE COST OF CANCEL CULTURE:
Brand equity and perceived brand value
“And the more differentiated a brand is, the higher the switching costs for consumers when a brand does something they disagree with (think Equinox or Dior). Therefore, it’s even more important for brands to monitor cultural conversations tied to business results.” -Christina Adranly in ADWEEK
Cost to losing Consumer Trust (hint: it’s expensive!)
The hidden cost of Cancel Culture
Whether you are a celebrity or a world-renowned brand – nobody is safe or immune from being canceled in the court of public opinion. Some believe that cancel culture only exists on the Internet and has no real effect on a brand. But what does it truly mean to be canceled and is there a cost?
Boycotts, in retaliation to brand marketing decisions, can be costly. But, just how expensive?
The ability to strategically answer these questions is integral to calculating what the cost to your brand’s reputation could be should something go wrong. Brand cancellations and negative media coverage in mainstream media cost a substantial loss to your brand equity, your reputation, and your bottom line. While the cost can be monetary, there is also a high cost to the brand’s time, resources, and reputation after suffering from being canceled after a crisis. Brand cancellations are not profitable. They will put you in the red.
This is why we always recommend three important steps to brands:
- Always have an integrated crisis communications plan in place.
- Conduct proper media training to combat negative publicity before making statements in the middle of a negative cycle of news coverage.
- Create an internal media relations guide to use in case of emergency and distribute to agency partners.
Does cancel culture impact a brand’s bottom line revenue?
The point behind canceling a brand can be to force a change in behavior and one of the best ways to ensure this happens is to halt consumer spending through a product boycott or advertiser boycott. Cancel culture can have a significant impact on a brand’s bottom line revenue. It is also important to note that many people that call for brand cancellations are often not even the brand’s target customers. In other words, some people who publicly denounce a brand and call for a boycott of the products were never their customers to begin with. Boycotts that garner mass media attention with a critical mass of negative publicity can lead to a drop in stock prices, too.
BRANDING: Has Cancel Culture Affected Sales of CPG Brands?
CPG brands including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Land O’ Lakes, Trader Joe’s, and Goya have been part of the brand wars in recent history.
Which is more detrimental to sales? The cancelation of a brand of the companies’ reaction to negative publicity?
One thing is certain, cancel culture has affected sales one way or another either through the CEO’s reaction to the cancelation or the media coverage surrounding the cancelation.
Journalism vs. Activism in the age of cancel culture
Today, journalists across the nation blur the line between hate speech and speech that they hate.
Fact: You can’t cancel hate with more hate. Journalists must balance pseudo harmony between their political beliefs and what they are covering.
One journalist I spoke with stated, “I refuse any assignment that is political.”
The journalist also shared that there is an active blacklist of PR firms that represent sources that steer from the mainstream media narrative. Even if a journalist does accept the source for a quote, the chance of the quote getting axed by their editor is extremely high.
A journalist who asked to remain anonymous stated, “If you choose to make yourself an amplified voice, there is more risk.”
The landscape continues to shift in favor of a new breed of journalism called activism journalism, which blurs the line between neutral reporting and full-on opinion editorial disguised as journalism.
Many American journalists are concerned about the long-term consequences to their professional career if they amplify the voice of any source who veers from the mainstream narrative and talking points.
I have heard countless stories of subject matter experts and TV guests who have been banned from national television because their opinion is at odds with corporate management. This is a way to silently cancel someone without publicly shaming them through cancelation on social media.
Not every cancelation is loud. Some of the worst cancelations are often done in silence.
But make no mistake: a cancelation is a cancelation, and whether it is done in public or behind closed doors, it will have a detrimental impact on your professional reputation and career aspirations. If people are actively working behind the scenes to make sure your voice isn’t heard, this is a form of political warfare.
ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT TOOLS
How can brands mitigate online risks and monitor for harmful content on social media that may lead to their brand being canceled?
Monitor for changing tides of sentiment analysis with social listening tools on the company and key stakeholders and executives on social media.
- The Brand Grader
- Google Alerts
- Social Mention
BRAND REPUTATION MANAGEMENT AGENCY
PR brand strategy & crisis communications services.
Is your brand struggling to generate a positive online reputation or needs assistance in developing a crisis communications PR strategy? Ruby Media Group is a leading full-service strategic brand consulting agency specializing in brand research, brand strategy, and brand growth. We have helped hundreds of clients navigate reputation management crises over the last 13 years and want you to benefit from our knowledge, so your business does not have to make the same mistakes others made before you.
You built the brand, now let us protect it. Contact us today to find out more about our brand management and proactive crisis communication strategy services.
Brand Guideline Questionnaire:
The truth is, most prospects focus on the wrong questions when they put out an RFP for new public relations agency partners. They focus on budget, scope, capabilities, core competencies, and vertical history. All of this is important, but the areas above will make or break the longevity of the agency partnership long term.
You ultimately want to choose an agency partner who is in alignment with your brand on these critical areas so that they can represent you in the best way possible. If you hire a firm that is at opposite ends of the spectrum on these issues, they may ultimately never execute the campaign at the level you are looking for. Why? Because they don’t share your values.
Political correctness. Is being politically correct critical to your brand narrative? Or are you a brand that takes risks and veers from the mainstream media narrative?
Ideological conformity. Where does your brand stand on this? Is creative thinking and out-of-the-box ideas critical to your narrative? Or is conformity important?
Moral attitudes. Keeping shareholders, investors and key stakeholders happy is important. How important are moral attitudes to your mission statement? More importantly, define what the moral attitudes are that your company will abide by.
Opposing views. Does your company thrive on a corporate culture that welcomes opposing viewpoints? Do you have alignment with your clients and agency partners on publicly expressing opposing perspectives? Is that core to your mission as an agency? If it is, make sure that is transparent to potential clients before you start working with them.
Social change and sustainability. Where does your brand stand on climate change? If corporate social responsibility is critical to your public relations narrative and brand ethos, make sure you choose an agency partner who can deliver on the execution of this. For example, you would not want to choose an agency partner who believes climate change is not a priority. The clearer you become on your opinions, the easier it is to attract and repel the right consultants for your business.
Public opinion. Does your brand have a great need to be liked? How important is public opinion and approval to your brand sentiment? If the answer is “very!” you are probably going to want to choose employees and agency partners who will align with this as opposed to people who answer “I don’t care what anyone thinks!” which could ultimately sabotage your campaign.
Uncomfortable ideas. How comfortable are you with discussing uncomfortable ideas? Does your brand want to ignore them entirely? Sweep them under the rug? Or face these issues head-on?
When you look for a mate to marry, shared values are most likely at the top of your list.
So why is it at the bottom of your list when hiring an agency?
Cancel Culture PR Firm | Online Reputation Management Agency NY
How can you protect your brand from cancel culture?
Customer loyalty only goes so far. Anything you tweet can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. How can you rebuild trust after your brand has been canceled?
Publicists are skilled at the art of professional online reputation management. While many brands hire online reputation management firms and search engine optimization specialists after their brands have been canceled, they forget to retain the most important component of this equation: a publicist. A publicist can turn even the most unfavorable media coverage into a positive and refreshed public brand image.
A crisis communication PR agency will manage your online reputation to help you avoid being canceled. Every company is at risk of being canceled. Let someone else manage the situation and rebuild your reputation. Expert counsel from a crisis public relations specialist or crisis management PR firm will analyze the brand issue and provide an outside perspective. As a crisis PR firm, we guide clients and corporate brands through challenging cancellations as they unfold on social media, and work alongside your attorney to help minimize any risk for litigation and legal exposure.
Interested in rebuilding your brand’s reputation? Click here to Hire a Crisis PR expert or Crisis management agency today.
Are you worried about having your brand canceled by the woke Twitter mob? Need corporate consulting or a brand protection strategy? Contact us today! If you are looking for cancel culture PR support for your brand, this top NYC PR firm can help.
About the Author | Kris Ruby | Cancel Culture Branding Consultant
Kris Ruby is a top public relations expert that crisis CEOs hire for communications. Ruby specializes in Litigation Public Relations & Crisis management, strategic communication planning for entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Ruby Media Group is a strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, and Brand Growth. Contact us today to learn more about our brand management services. Kris Ruby is a New York based CEO of Ruby Media Group. She consults brands and businesses on brand activism, crisis communications, and B2B public relations strategies. She is a national media commentator on the politics of social media and big tech.
CANCEL CULTURE EXPERT MEDIA INTERVIEWS AND TV APPEARANCES:
“Kris Ruby is the Go-To expert on Cancel Culture in the digital age.” -Podcast Host
“Kris Ruby has become an astute observer of cancel culture.” – Newsmax
“Ruby went from being a social media expert to a cancel culture specialist as social media is the portal for most cancellations to take place on. She even created a playbook for companies to follow if they’re ever in the predicament of potentially being canceled.”- Newsmax
*Date last updated: August 2021