What The F*ck Is Cancel Culture, And How Can It Can Effect Your Business

Hector Zepeda

In Behaviour, Marketing Posted

In the past week or so, drama-filled YouTubers have been dominating Gen Z group chats, as Shane Dawson, Tati Westbrook, and James Charles have been feuding over various things. But it’s been mainly Dawson, who’s been feeling the wrath of the online cancel gang.

You only need to go back to May 2019, with some of the same people mentioned, to get one of the biggest #cancel moments of that year. Through a vlog, James Charles was exposed for his nasty behaviour by friend/YouTube star Tati Westbrook. Which lead many fans to turn against him once they discovered this negative side of the influencer. The incident lead him to lose over 2.6 million subscribers (insane), deals with brands, and his online credibility was shaken. Everything occurring within a span of 48 hours.

Because of this fast and powerful effect, many see cancel culture as a storm that quickly spreads and destroys everything in its way. It wasn’t too long ago that Barack Obama condemned cancel culture for its destructive capacities, arguing it destroys careers and businesses over pretences or misunderstandings. “You should get over that quickly”, President Obama said. We get where he’s coming from, but it’s a controversial angle that’s for sure.

And yeah, there is often a witch hunt mentality behind cancel culture. People rapidly jump on the cancel wagon, some just for fun. We see trolls rush to their phones, excited to spam with hateful comments and snake emojis. But the thing is, cancel culture exists – and it doesn’t take much for the storm to roll in.

So What Exactly Is This Whole Cancel Culture Thing And Why Does It Exist?

Some see it as a form of online activism, where masses try to boycott or #cancel a brand or figure through social platforms. They usually go against those that push misogyny, homophobia, racism, classism, or problematic tendencies or beliefs. Cancel culture has given minorities the opportunity to stand up for themselves, from cases of police brutality, to the rise of the #MeToo movement. Those who used to be too powerful are now rightfully condemned by being exposed, and as a result, “cancelled”

At it’s core getting cancelled is really just getting called out for bad behaviour, so if you want the straight answer on avoiding cancel culture – just make sure your brand doesn’t do bad stuff. But of course we know, sometimes it ain’t as simple as that.

The thing is, in the 21st century no one – or brand – is safe from cancel culture. You only need to look at some of the world’s biggest companies like Amazon, Domino’s Pizza, Nestle, Google and Forever 21 to see the negative discourse around it. So what happens if your brand has fallen under the cancel cloud?

Victoria’s Secret were in some hot water after a press release came out on 2018 with anti-trans model remarks. This lead to a loss of sales, market share and cancellation of the yearly fashion show (although obviously this was from years of backlash). The company followed up the scandal by releasing an apology statement by their CMO, deciding to focus on improving its brand perception through a better online marketing presence. Would they have got a second chance in today’s climate? Arguably they’re big enough to have the resources, but it’s dangerous ground.

As a brand you should be very conscious of your social space and words, such as any PR efforts. But, if this happens to your brand, understanding the audience’s reaction should give you new insights into their way of thinking. Which if analysed correctly, will help you move forward.

Remember, to regain customer’s trust in a woke market can be hard. But issuing an apology is a good start, or actually taking the time to listen to the people you might have offended. Understand what a good apology looks like to your audience. Be as authentic as you can – because after all, honesty is all that matters.

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be afraid of cancel culture. Social media gave us the channel to connect, discover and create in ways we never imagined. This has given Gen Zs a voice to create change. One that’s used against abuse, homophobia, inequality, sexism and any sort of hatred. So to say that cancel culture should stop, is to say we should stop these people. And that’s not right. 

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