Cancel culture has a bit of a bad rep. At least, among well-known names decrying the phenomenon.
From Donald Trump, who has made derogatory remarks about, well, everyone, to local influencer Xiaxue, who is infamous for targeting the disabled community, minorities and overweight people, we’ve seen plenty of high-profile folks speaking out against what they term as ‘mob mentality’.
The term has now become loaded, as it is unnecessarily politicized. People who are frequently “cancelled” have written it off as an unfair mob mentality from teenagers on the internet.
But if cancel culture is not just online outrage, what is it, exactly? At Mutant, we define it as the ability for consumers to hold brands accountable, and the opportunity for brands to listen, learn, and implement change.
So sure, while being “cancelled” can be a frightening experience, when you or your brand are at the receiving end of angry and vocal consumer outrage, it’s best to resist the temptation to buckle down and treat it as a momentary social media storm that will pass.
Because newsflash: it just won’t.
Take, for example, the case of Dolce & Gabbana — in 2018, the luxury brand was heavily criticized by Chinese consumers for its racially insensitive and insulting ad campaign. In response, the powers that be at D&G simply scrubbed the ads from its social media channels and thought that would do the trick. The lack of apology coupled with continued racist behaviour from brand’s leaders led to a 98% drop in sales – something Dolce & Gabbana has yet to recover from in the Chinese market.
So let’s go back to that definition of cancel culture: the ability for consumers to hold brands accountable, and the opportunity for brands to listen, learn, and implement change. After seeing how Dolce & Gabbana experienced not just online backlash, but a tangible negative impact on its business, it makes more sense than “mob mentality,” right?
Thinking of “cancel culture” simply as a way for consumers to hold brands accountable is a much more useful and constructive approach to the hot button topic, and I’ve a confession: I plagiarised that description word-for-word from our newest Mutant playbook, You’re Cancelled: How brands can use PR & Content to navigate a crisis. The hyper-linked title was a hint for you to click away and get learning (seriously, the playbook has some greatly valuable insights on navigating crisis), but if you’re still reading on (thanks for your support, mom), here’s a sneak peek of what it has to offer:
FIRST STEPS TO MANAGE BEING CANCELLED
Let’s say your brand’s social media page receives a notification about a comment. Then another a second later. And then a thousand more comments pile up, all of them angry with your company. Not only do you witness a historically high rate of engagement, you’ve also got a full-blown PR crisis on your hands.
So, please don’t throw them up in the air like you just don’t care: you have to take swift steps to get the situation under control. First, tune into social sentiment to identify the people who are part of the outcry and why they’re upset.
Ask yourselves these questions: Who are the people banging on your gate? What are they responding to? And mostly importantly: does it really matter to your brand? (Hint: the answer isn’t always a yes). Once you’ve gotten a better idea of the situation, you can work on actually understanding what went wrong and conveying this to your audiences – if, that is, it does indeed matter to your brand and is something that needs to be corrected.
The first piece of external communication you should put out is a statement — one that acknowledges the situation and the fact that people are upset without being defensive. If there are too many layers to sort through and you need to buy some time, a holding statement works as well. The first response doesn’t need to immediately solve the issue, but it must let people know that you are aware, that you are listening, and that you are urgently working on a resolution.
THE BRANDS THAT GOT IT RIGHT — AND A FEW THAT DID NOT
We’re not just experts because we have helped clients handle past crises well — we’re experts because w constantly survey the field to understand consumer sentiment, industry trends, and all the latest bad and rad crisis management approaches.
We’re talking the hubbub around Victoria’s Secret rebrand, the days-long outrage surrounding Circles.Life’s trendjacking on racism in Singapore, and L’Oreal Paris’s response to being called out amidst the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve studied and analysed these approaches in our cancel culture playbook to distill the best bits and learning points. There can never be a one-size-fits-all solution because undoing cancellation requires a strategic, specific and tailored approach to extinguish the reasons that a brand is coming under fire. But we most certainly can prepare ourselves by taking tips from the best, and learning lessons from the not-so-best.
Good and Not-So-Good apologies from brands: A snapshot from You’re Cancelled
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but we still buy health insurance (and for good reason, too). In the same vein, social media moves extremely quickly, and staying one step ahead of a crisis means that brands must be able to anticipate and respond to any crisis with a toolkit that is already in place, far before the first dissenter taps “post”. Taking stock of the issues that might crop up ahead of time puts you in a better position to respond immediately to impending crises, without getting caught off guard.
This starts with scenario mapping and builds into short-term plans for crisis communication that lead to longer-term plans for success. Responding with immediacy is important, but if cancel culture is a tool for accountability, then consumers must see real and concrete outcomes resulting from any promised changes. This step is non-negotiable. To bounce back, you must show sincerity in your words and actions. Your genuine apology and actual work towards real, meaningful change is what will eventually shift sentiment in your favour and win back customer loyalty.
It’s never easy to manage a crisis, and consumer outcries related to cancel culture can be terribly intimidating. But opening your eyes and ears to the situation and treating it as an opportunity to grow, progress and improve your brand is the first step to successfully turning the situation around. You may be cancelled – but if you play your cards right, you can convince your audience to resubscribe.
Want a deeper dive into the strategy, approach and tactics around crisis management?
Download Mutant’s newest playbook, You’re Cancelled: How Brands Can Use PR and Content to Navigate a Crisis, or drop us a line at [email protected] to find out more about creating your crisis roadmap.