#Canceled: How Backlash And Cancel Culture Affect Brands When They Get Their Messaging Wrong

Written by Ann Brown
Via Giphy

Canceled. Canceled Canceled. Cancel culture has taken hold. It’s what happens when a company or person does or says something racist, bigoted or homophobic and people speak out en masse against the offender, mainly on social media.

Fitness company Equinox, for example, was recently canceled after news broke that Stephen Ross, the chairman of parent Related Companies, was getting ready to throw a fundraiser for President Donald Trump.

“That didn’t sit well with those whose politics disagreed with Trump’s — and especially felt at odds with Equinox’s hot bod community, mostly clustered in urban (blue) centers in major cities,” Digiday reported. “Then, the effects continued, since Ross owns many, many things, including Momofuku, Hudson Yards and what seems to be half of Manhattan. It’s all canceled.”

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But cancel culture can be dangerous when a hashtag is started based on a rumor that turns out to be false. A company could go out of business, or a person’s reputation destroyed on a falsity.

Cancel culture is such a hot trend that advertising company TBWA/Chiat/Day has a dedicated team called “Backslash” that focuses solely on figuring out big cultural shifts that will, in turn, affect advertising, marketing, and media.

Madison Avenue has found that cancel culture is the trend this year, according to Sarah Rabia, global strategy director. “The language of cancel is quite transactional,” Rabia said. “It’s like applying a ‘cancel subscriptions’ mindset to a human being or brand.”

According to Rabia, the issue comes down to how much “under attack” everyone feels today. “People are quick to voice opinions and gang up and have quick reactions because of some kind of fear that the other side will win,” she said.

She added, “People feel powerless. That fuels cancel culture. When you take away people’s power, they lash out. It’s fun to join a movement. A rainbow filter, a hashtag meme — they’re all forms of voicing an opinion. This is all the same. When you can cancel someone, it satisfies you immediately. We can take to social media and make things happen.”

Does cancel culture affect a company’s bottom line? Sometimes, depending on if the hashtag goes viral. Does cancel culture spark change? Again, it all depends on how viral the movement gets. One thing is for sure, it does unite total strangers in a cause, even if just for a bit.