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When you’re a student, boycotting a business seems like a lot of fun and the right thing to do, particularly for the morally righteous. But when you’re on the receiving end of such action, it doesn't feel so good. What’s more, in recent times, the risks have only increased. Even the slightest misstep can land a company in serious trouble.
Cancel culture is, unfortunately, an ever-present threat at the moment. The instinct to shut people down whose opinions differ from the mainstream (or accepted narrative) is reaching ever greater heights. People who spend decades cultivating their careers have seen them shattered in just a few minutes because of the odd remark they’ve made here or there.
Brands, therefore, need to be careful. It’s not clear how long the current social environment will last. With universities continuing to pump out students steeped in these ideas, businesses might be in it for the long haul.
Studies show that cancel culture is accelerating. Around a third of people say that they’ve “canceled” a brand in recent years because of something that it’s said or done. Around 25 percent said that they’d cancelled brands permanently because they disagreed with something that they did.
So how should brands respond?
If you don’t have somebody on your team who understands cancel culture, try to hire one. This individual is essentially a public relations expert – somebody who understands how to navigate the treacherous waters of the ongoing culture wars – and help your company emerge intact on the other side.
Ideally, it should be someone who is university educated and knows the full narrative. They should be on the lookout for anything that your company might do that could offend somebody (unless you have a partisan brand). This way, you can avoid missteps and try to remain neutral in these troubled and difficult times.
Agencies, such as Make Honey, point out that getting professional PR support is absolutely vital. Without it, it can be hard to contain damage if you do happen to make a mistake.
While many brands are jumping on the identity politics bandwagon to try to protect themselves, it’s not a good idea. No matter what you do or say, you’re going to alienate someone.
Instead of wading into the war, avoid it altogether. Find ways to entice people to enjoy your brand that don’t contain any politically-motivated content. Focus on the primary drivers of human desires. This way, you’ll avoid a considerable amount of pain while still creating something that stands out.
Many of the world’s biggest brands got cancelled in 2020. Oreo, L’Oreal and Wells Fargo were all victims of vicious backlashes. Stay abreast of the latest news and then find out what’s making companies a target. If you discover something, audit your own brand to ensure that you’re not making the same mistakes.
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