Canceling A Brand Is Personal

A combination of hot takes, social media, and divisive partisanship has proliferated cancel culture across society. Now, anyone and anything can be on trial for “cancellation” in the court of public opinion. In some cases, cancel culture is regarded as consequence culture — conscious appeals for accountability. In other cases, it’s slated as call-out culture — snap condemnations for ostracism.

Where’s the line between these two cases? Well, it’s personal. It depends on the point of view of who you ask — their values, beliefs, affiliations, and worldview. It’s also personal when it comes to brand impact. We’ve observed that: Cancel culture impacts personal brands more than company brands. People, rather than companies, can be materially impacted by the fury of cancel culture. But does that mean companies are immune to its effects? That also depends.

Forrester defines canceling a (company) brand as:

A widespread public campaign (often via social media) to hold a company accountable for the consequences of a perceived wrongdoing. This may include, among other things, calls for boycotts, terminations, and product changes.

Cancel Culture Tests A Brand’s Resilience

Our just-published Forrester report tackles the effect of cancel culture on company brands. In it, we examine consumers’ attitudes on cancel culture and their behaviors around brand boycotts. We analyze the conditions by which cancel culture can impact brands, and we lay out three ways for brands to mitigate its effects. A company faces the most risk from:

  • Unethical business practices. Trust is at the heart of company ethics. And when that trust is breached, consumers respond. Forrester’s September 2021 Consumer Energy Index And Retail Pulse Survey shows that 55% of US online adults say that they’ll boycott a brand if it’s found to have unethical business practices.
  • Mistreating employees. With employee activism around company practices on the rise, consumers are becoming more exposed to instances of employee mistreatment. Forrester found that 53% of US online adults indicated that they are likely to boycott a brand if that brand is found to have mistreated its employees.
  • Executives acting inappropriately. While less than a majority (40%) of US online adults indicated that they are likely to boycott a brand if the brand’s CEO does or says something inappropriate/offensive/scandalous, 32% were neutral on the matter — signaling that they could flip depending on the nature of the issue.

So, what do you do if your brand gets “canceled”?

Own up to mistakes, push back on misinformation, and wait out the noise. Check out our full report, where we go into details about how to do that, as well as ways to fortify brand trust and brand energy to mitigate the effects of cancel culture. Tweet me your thoughts at @McProulx, and let’s chat more about it via a Forrester guidance session.