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How Today’s “Woke” And “Cancel” Culture Affect Brands

You may have heard of the terms “woke” and “cancel culture” being thrown around in conversations. But do you know what they mean, and how they relate to your brand? 

Being “woke” refers to a perceived awareness of social issues like injustice, inequality, and prejudice. While “cancel culture” or the act of “cancelling” a public figure, for example, is essentially ostracising or shaming them for saying something that is deemed to be racist, sexist, bigoted or otherwise offensive. Those offended would then publically withdraw support from the person by calling them out on social media and demanding for boycotts.

Several high-profile people have been called out as part of this recent movement.  Author J.K. Rowling found herself in the middle of controversy when she made exclusionary comments on transgender people.

In the current social media era,  information is being shared and consumed almost instantaneously, making it impossible to sweep issues under the rug. Voices that were once overlooked are now able to rise above the noise, and it is now easier than ever to educate yourself on ‘sensitive’ topics that were previously missing from public discourse.

You may wonder how this matters to your business – well, more people are showing interest in social causes, and are supporting brands who align with their values. Consumers, especially Gen Zs and Millennials, use their wallets to support brands they believe in and will not hesitate to bring down brands who offend them. 

In order to keep up with today’s fast-moving world, brands need to be “woke” about what the younger generation is passionate about. A good place to start would be social and environmental movements such as #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, and #timesup, which brands can voice their stance on or add meaningfully to the existing conversation. 

Here are 3 tips on how to intelligently express your brand voice without appearing tone-deaf:

Listen to what your target audience is saying

As a brand, it is important to stay on top of current issues, social sentiments and emerging trends. Keep an ear to the ground by listening to what your consumers are saying on social media — find out what they care about and what they are posting about. Analytic tools like Meltwater and Google Analytics can also come in handy when examining audience sentiments and popular media articles surrounding a particular subject. 

Be genuine

If you want a customer to stay loyal to your brand, you have to embody the messaging and brand values you represent. The leaders and employees of a company can no longer separate themselves from the brand- they are one in the same. You can’t fake being “woke”, and it is important that the correct tone and message comes through in all your communication channels. Just look at the infamous Pepsi ad featuring supermodel Kendall Jenner, where Pepsi ended up appearing tone-deaf by appropriating and trivialising crucial aspects of a global racial movement. It pays to be genuine. 

Make meaningful change

Young people resonate strongly with “woke” brands, but cute social media filters or themed merchandise are not enough to win them over. Consumers are looking for brands who want to make a meaningful change, and who can talk the talk as well as walk the walk. This could include  raising funds to contribute to non-profit groups, assisting marginalized communities, or altering their policies and products to benefit the environment. 

Brands who wish to embrace a cause must be consistent in their efforts to create impact. For instance, if you are a brand that advocates for fair trade, make sure that all workers along the production line are being paid fairly and that there’s no unethical labour practises. There’s nothing worse than being exposed as a fraud!


Need help crafting your brand’s messaging? Talk to us at hello@mutant.com.sg.