5 Ways Brands Can Navigate the Cancel Culture

Image from Lisa Benson

Cancel culture a concept imported from the United States, is fast taking heat as brands of today face the constant threat of being cast out. According to the Edelman Brand study, 64% of consumers in the world will consume or boycott a brand merely because of its stance on a particular social or political issue. While there is no clear definition of what it aims to achieve, there is a sense that it is an attempt at social justice to ensure brands, public figures or entities are accountable for what they represent.   The issues debated are often at the heart of socially and politically polarised opinions expressed on social media. Cancel culture has evolved to become vigilante justice as differing opinions on social media convolute how one determines what is right and wrong — is there ever a middle ground one can wonder?  It then becomes an Us vs Them mindset as shared in this Channel News Asia article.

If not handled well, a brand facing the possibility of being cancelled faces many threats; such as a decline in support from key stakeholders, how its brand is now perceived, the loss of credibility amongst customers and even employees and perhaps even financial difficulties.  While the culture is generally built around what is done or said online, circumventing the problem may require going back to basics. To think about what drives the brand in the first place? What are its motivations and goals? Do its values, mission, and goals align with the messaging being sent out?

What defines the heart and soul of a brand is people. The robust growth and reach of social media marketing have brands coming up with creative campaigns and engaging with their customers.  Digital marketing creates an intimate and direct relationship with the customer — while they can sing your praises online, they can also call you out on bad behaviour in real-time. So, the terms of engagement, when things go pear-shaped, must be managed differently.


Here are five suggestions to mitigate the cancel culture risks:


1. Strategic Social Media Monitoring

As tedious as this may sound, it is essential to read the comments and feedback shared on all socials. Do not scroll through for positive reviews and avoid the negative ones like the plague. When consumers express their unhappiness with a brand via social media, it does not mean it should be ignored or taken lightly.  Negative or positive, feedback is vital for growth. If not addressed, your comments sections will become a breeding ground for gossip, rumours.Through regular social media monitoring, brands can look out and respond promptly to any negative mentions on social media that serve as a warning of an impending crisis. As they say, prevention is always better than cure. Detect and rectify any minor problems early, instead of letting it snowball into a potential crisis.


2. “Active Listening”

Brands need to be empathetic when it comes to public and consumer communication. People are the most significant stakeholders of a brand — so there is a need to acknowledge their feelings and needs.Through “active listening” on social media, brands can understand how consumers and the public feel about specific social and political issues. While at the same time receiving concerns or feedback regarding the brand and its product or services.

In return, the information received through “active listening” allows brands to avoid falling victim to cancel culture by being more sensitive on their socials. A study on the target audience’s demographics is ideal for understanding their social, political, and cultural backgrounds to avoid brand messaging controversies. Brand messaging must also align with your brand values.  “Active listening” also ensures that pick any hints of underlying issues early.


3. Don’t Firefight!

It is good public relations practice for brands to have a ready crisis communication plan. In this case, perhaps a clearly defined set of actions to help navigate what happens online would help immensely. While the war is waged online, sometimes the resolution must come in person, bearing in mind that both traditional and digital efforts are necessary for some scenarios.“Be quick with the facts and slow with the blame”, said Leonard Saffir, when faced with a crisis, a brand’s first reaction is to be humble and acknowledge the problem’s existence. The blame game or staying silent by sweeping the problem under the carpet will cause the issue to backfire. Customers will lose trust and confidence in the brand — it is human to err, but inaction to acknowledge the problem and offer a solution, exacerbates the situation.  Especially in the digital era, social media is the quickest avenue for spreading positivity and unnecessary speculation, causing needless panic.

When the crisis ends, brands must regain the customers’ trust and change public perception aside from post-crisis evaluation. This means either going for a refreshed brand image or staying clear off any controversies during the cooling-off period.


4. No More Trolls

As brands can be, the cancel culture crowd is not always morally or politically correct. There is an emergence of online trolls who love stirring people’s negative sentiments by picking on brands, public figures, or entities for any “offensive” comments on social media.  “The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”, said George Orwell.A brand needs to understand when is the right time to speak up for what is right. Do not fan the negativity, if the person is unreasonable. You need to draw a fine line between speaking the truth and saying something “offensive”. A brand can talk about an opposing view but do not be offensive by enforcing this opposing view onto those who disagree. Sometimes it is better to agree to disagree. Everyone is entitled to their opinion so long as it is not offensive, judgmental, or contentious.

By keeping close track of what is happening on the brand’s socials, the brand will recognise valid criticisms from those merely stirring the pot.


5. Relook, Rethink, and stay updated before you communicate

The very last tip on surviving cancel culture is to relook, rethink and stay relevant always. Society evolves socially, culturally, and politically, so does a brand — hence how, what, when and where a brand communicates its ideas, thoughts, and perceptions matter. What a brand chooses to share must be thought through carefully with sensitivity on current issues surrounding the people in the world.


Relook the brand’s story through the target audience and happenings around the world. Does the brand resonate with the needs and ideals of the customer?  Any trending or significant problems that seem to conflict with your brand’s values, morals and offerings. If it does, perhaps consider a rebranding exercise.


Rethink from all marketing, branding and communication efforts— consider how the brand is being conveyed to the audience, does it ensure the brand’s scalability? Do specific actions bring about any negative backlash? If so, perhaps it time to rethink the way the brand walks and talks. The goal is not just for the brand to survive but also thrive.


Keep abreast with what is happening around the world regardless of industry. What happens worldwide and within our society has a domino effect on brands, learning and understanding what is to come, enables brands to create better strategies to deal with changes.

At WriteHaus Asia, we support all your marketing and branding needs. As a boutique outfit, you can be confident that we are there with you every step of the way. So give us a call at 9488 2725 for more information.

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