Cancel culture’s effect on brands

Will consumers hold brands accountable for bad behavior or questionable decisions? 57% of U.S. marketing executives in the business-to-consumer space believe threats of “cancellation” or boycotts will have no impact on sales of their brand. Some 59% of executives believe “cancellation” will not affect their brands. Cancel culture—the process of shaming and boycotting a person, brand, or company on social media—has reached unparalleled heights in recent months and shows no signs of slowing down and 64% of consumers worldwide will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.

According to Forbes, “supporters view cancel culture as an essential tool in achieving social justice. The internet, in particular, social media, provides a platform for the historically underserved to share their views, opinions, and lived experiences. In many ways, Twitter offers an outlet for groups excluded from traditional institutions – such as politics, education, economy, and media – to have a say. Today, marginalized groups are no longer solely reliant on prejudiced establishments built for the privileged few. Every citizen with access to the internet can now write an opinion piece, share their story, and speak truth to power. A single Tweet can plummet share prices, hold politicians accountable and force celebrities to admit wrongdoings. Put another way, cancel culture represents the voice of the voiceless.

Historically, brands have stayed out of politics — for a good reason — taking sides can alienate a large chunk of their customer base. But in today’s increasingly polarised climate, not taking sides can be the more significant risk. Brands can no longer afford to remain neutral because neutral is viewed as complicit. That being said, empty statements of solidarity no longer suffice either. The consumers of today are more informed and empowered than ever before. They expect you to turn your words into action. And if brands don’t stick to their promises, consumers possess the knowledge, determination, and platform to call them out. In short, there’s nowhere to hide. 

According to a study by Edelman, 64% of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.


Only a few years ago, the term boycott was viewed as something confined to the radical fringes of society. But today, boycotting has become a mainstream consumer reaction. And it’s not only directed towards socially irresponsible brands. But also towards brands seen to be overplaying their social and environmental credentials.

It’s also important to remember that 56% believe too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell more of their product. Brands are becoming ever more reactive in the race to reflect societal values, but doing so can lead to consumer backlash unless the sentiment is backed by authentic action.

A Porter Novelli study concludes that no brand is excluded from cancel culture, even those with loyal fans. Two-thirds (66 percent) of those surveyed say even if they love a company’s products or services, they will still cancel that company if it does something wrong or offensive. But most consumers (88 percent) are more willing to forgive a company for making a mistake if it shows a genuine attempt to change; 84 percent say they are more likely to forgive a company for a misstep if it’s that company’s first time making a mistake. Further, companies with an authentic Purpose fare better—as nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. consumers say they are less likely to cancel a company if it is purpose-driven.

According to Porter’s study, more than a third (36 percent) of U.S. consumers say they’ve canceled a brand in the past 12 months; among them, nearly a quarter (23 percent) have canceled that brand permanently. And it seems no brand is safe from cancel culture — two-thirds (66 percent) said they’d cancel a brand that they perceive has committed a wrong, even if they love that company’s products and services. But, 73 percent of respondents said they are less likely to cancel a purpose-driven brand.


Don’t underestimate the level of anger in consumers right now. The recent story about brands/corporations donating to politicians who challenged the election of President Biden has caused them to issue press releases stating they are “withdrawing their support: for these politicians.

Some brands have substantial brand equity and can get away with social mistakes. Apple and Starbucks are two brands that have weathered some terrible social unrest, but people love their products.

Today, consumers have a way to “find out everything” about a brand, and it can spread like wildfire on social media, whether true or not. Goya has paid a steep price for the CEO’s support of Trump and shows no sign of rebounding.

Brands can no longer stay silent about what’s happening, but they also have to be very careful about communicating with consumers.

About richmeyer

Rich is a passionate marketer who is able to quickly understand what turns a prospect into a customer. He challenges the status quo and always asks "what can we do better"? He knows how to take analytics and turn them into opportunities and he is a great communicator.

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