In the past few years, “cancel culture” has been able to make its way into the mainstream, thanks in part to the continuously increasing power of social media. The term has since become central to public debates across a number of different topics such as politics, culture, and the media.
In its simplest form, cancel culture refers to the withdrawal of support for an individual or brand based on their views and actions. In addition to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has only lent itself to further strengthen the cultural impact the internet has on society today.
This behaviour is usually targeted towards individuals, mainly celebrities and public figures who have committed mistakes in the past or even present. However, brands and companies are not exempted from this movement as the number of consumers that are becoming more aware and more socially-responsible is increasing every day.
Where Does Brand Accountability Come Into Play?
As companies continue to realign their messages that will better resonate with consumers, it is also important to note which of these messages may backfire. The key to navigating an environment where consumers are more aware than ever of the social responsibility that corporations assume is realizing that possessing these messages alone will not be enough for the new wave of consumers.
As an example, a recent study co-conducted by Forbes and Elite Daily shows that 75% of millennials in the U.S. think it’s fairly or very important for companies to give back to society instead of just trying to turn a profit, while 43% of them ranked authenticity over content when it comes to news. Therefore, brands are encouraged to evolve their entire purpose to address the questions millennials are concerned with.
We can highlight Sunnies Face as a brand that responded amicably to a looming case of being “cancelled”. When Sunnies Face, a make-up brand made in the Philippines, was launched, many Filipino netizens were quick to notice how its art and marketing directions are similar to that of American make-up and skincare brand, Glossier.
Glossier uniforms (left) that Sunnies Face was accused of copying (right). Photo from SnippetMedia
Glossier’s loyalists came after Sunnies for the alleged copying. However, in an interview with Bustle, Martine Cajucom-Ho, one of the owners of Sunnies, addressed the similarities between the two entities and said that Glossier is a brand that they look up to and are inspired by, and any brands that aren’t also inspired are by what they’re doing are not looking in the right direction. She added that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sunnies Face, despite the controversy, continues to sell out their products at their outlets around the country.
The bottomline is that brand accountability means much more than targeted marketing and hollow messages. The social media generation can sense a fake when they see it, like when SkinWhite posted an ad captioned, “Dark or White. You are Beautiful. #DarkorWhiteIsBeautiful”.
SkinWhite’s controversial ad. Photo from SkinWhite.
Instead of opting to feature a morena model, they elected to use twins and dressed one in blackface. The ad preaches a commendable and empowering message but the execution was appalling. The brand tried to respond to a number of outraged commenters with how they came up with their concept but they were still met with flak.
The Light and Dark Side of Cancel Culture
The supporters of cancel culture view the “movement” as an essential tool in achieving social justice. Social media provides a platform for people from all walks of life to share their views, opinions, and experiences on various topics such as politics, education, economy, entertainment, and the media. A single post, image or tweet has the power to cause share prices to plummet, hold politicians accountable―like when Koko Pimentel violated COVID-19 protocols earlier this year―and force celebrities to admit to any wrongdoing―such as another recent blackface incident by MYMP’s guitarist, Chin Alcantara.
If put into other words, cancel culture represents the voice of the voiceless. However, a deeper layer of social, cultural, and historical context can be applied to the matter. It could be argued that cancel culture is a synonym for legitimate criticisms and concerns from groups who until recently, lacked the means to make their messages heard to right historical wrongs and push for meaningful change.
In contrast, critics of the movement view it as a modern form of “mob rule”. They believe cancellation prevents open debate which has long been the foundation of democracy. The greatest breakthroughs in human history have occurred when contrary ideas are shared and exchanged between different cultures, whereas cancel culture can execute opposing viewpoints without any due process or context.
The cancel culture debate has since spilled over into the world of marketing and advertising. Since consumers today are more informed and more empowered than ever before, they expect brands to turn words into action.
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Visual by: Chloe Gaw