COVID-19 appears to be “cancelling” many celebs, largely due to the fact that the public has more time on their hands and animosity levels are high. Critics and muckrakers are digging around and finding celebrity skeletons; such as Ellen DeGeneres and the allegedly hostile work environment for her crew.
We live in a time where cancel culture is becoming more prevalent. Cancel culture is a form of boycotting or public shaming in which someone is thrown out of social or professional circles. The canceling of people or brands can be due to offensive or problematic behavior, remarks or ideologies. Specifically, in the Ellen case, her cancel campaign began on Twitter and could potentially bring an end to her show of 17-years.
So the question becomes: what should brands do if they are targeted by a cancel campaign? When looking at past examples of cancel culture, you can adapt your strategy based on the context of the situation.
The prime example of this strategy is YouTube icon Jenna Marbles, who received backlash this summer over controversial videos from years past. She chose to discontinue her brand and leave the YouTube platform entirely. In her own words, “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I don’t want to offend anyone. I just want to have a good time and I’m not having a good time.” It is important to note this strategy only works if your client has a plan B for their business or brand. This could be a great opportunity to rebrand yourself if you were already anticipating that shift. This also allows your brand to get ahead of the backlash and stop it in its tracks.
Reform Your Behavior
Needless to say, an apology is most often the first line of action, but some companies have changed parts of their brand that show their apologies are (seemingly) genuine. Victoria’s Secret has been under fire for not being inclusive enough with their models. Victoria’s Secret also received backlash after Rhianna successfully executed an inclusive fashion show from her competing brand Savage X Fenty. Victoria’s Secret began reformations and now has models of different sizes – as well as the first openly transgender model. Victoria’s Secret fashion shows are cancelled for the foreseeable future. Now only time will tell if these changes were impactful enough to repair the Victoria’s Secret brand.
Deny, Deny, Deny
This last tactic is one that not many can pull off, but one celebrity that has been able to successfully evade many cancel campaigns: Kylie Jenner. Kylie has been repeatedly called out for ripping off other designers work, and she had a scandal where she inflated the success of her cosmetic company. Her name surrounds many scandals, yet she has escaped unscathed. Much of this is due to the fact that she denies claims and will laugh off accusations. This is a power move that does not always pan out well. Kylie can pull this off, but smaller brands may struggle.
A second example of this response is Justin Bieber and the recent accusations of sexual assault, which he asserted from the beginning were false. He provided transparency through receipts and digital evidence, supporting his claim that he was not in the area of question. This strategy is the best option when you truly believe you are being targeted by falsehoods; however, this can be risky if you are not fully forthright and more facts later come out that support the given scandal.
Mikaila Cordeau is a public relations and content development intern at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional services brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com. Follow Mikaila on Twitter at @CordeauMikaila.