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How Cancel Culture affects brands

When you hear ‘Simon Go Back’, you remember there was a movement led by the Indians against the Englishmen. Or say till recently, ‘nepotism’ was the face of every topic, targeting different sections of the film industry. 

Find anything common between the two very different events?

Well, both are results of a movement trying to cancel or boycott a specific issue at hand. The effects these phrases created on people, work, and even the country as a whole may be massive. But the generality sums up to the rising crusade – Cancel Culture.

How about we elaborate a bit? Put on those keen glasses and keep reading!

What is Cancel Culture? 

According to Wikipedia, Cancel Culture is a modernized form of ostracizing someone or something from an existent community or social circles. This could be a person of importance, a universally recognized movement, an ideology, or even a practice that is followed. In short, anything can be a victim of this cancelation. 

So, what happens exactly? Well, it’s pretty simple. You witness something you don’t like or approve of or are publicly offensive, then you raise your voice to take action against it through a shared appeal of canceling or disregarding the subject.

“It sounds great but why do they have negative connotations when addressed?”

Exactly what I thought!

This basically depends on the various perceptions linked to the subject. A personal motive cannot trigger a cancelation. There needs to be a set of claims that withstand your purpose for the movement. However, personal is political (more so in recent times), and that naturally motivates a debate. 

Let’s make it a bit simple, shall we?

The Black Lives Matter campaign inspired beauty brands to rethink their marketing strategies (and their very existence too). While popular brands renamed their products, Fair and Handsome is a product that still retains the old name. Social media erupted in unison to cancel the brand and the brand ambassador – Sharukh Khan at the time. By this, it meant canceling out his movies and other endorsements as well. 

And that’s where the line of chaos begins.

You see, the brands are targeted to take accountability for the issues at hand. Prioritizing the ambassador here can lead to the dissolution of the actual purpose of the campaign.

As a quick summary, Cancel Culture sure rouses huge masses to rethink their opinion on matters. But that also tends to deviate into questioning different structures linked to the specific case, losing an authentic opportunity to focus on the protest. 

The brand attack – Cancel Culture reign

A voice for the voiceless, following woke activism, exhibiting the need for a knowledgeable society – these are what the Cancel Culture supporters stand for. At least that’s how it was conceived. 

But, is it really that progressive nowadays?

The Cancel Culture benefits were short-lived in reason. Although the movement still exists, the intolerance and biased criticism among select groups have split up the netizens too. 

The popular food delivery app – Zomato was under the lens as one of their customer executives disrespected a regional customer based on their language barriers. Several other similar experiences brought netizens together urging the brand to take responsibility. Zomato managed it pretty well by responding in solidarity while also making sure they had a solution coming up to cope with the language snag. This way, the ‘reject’ or ‘cancel’ Zomato tag did not take further momentum. 

FabIndia faced backlash for its festive collection ‘Jashn-e-Rizwan’ at the time of Diwali. It was deemed offensive as the name sounded negating the Hindu influence of the festival. Although FabIndia removed it later due to the unintentional trigger, Brand gurus also pointed out that it was an unnecessary inclusion of secularism in their promotions. 

In both the above cases, netizens and critics poked out the brands’ negligence and demanded accountability for their actions.

But where do the creators draw the line?

The Freudian controversy was about the ethnicity of his (Sigmund Freud’s) methods used. It went to the extent of provoking the thought “Are his works meaningless?” And that’s where the thin thread of accountability and freedom of a creator depletes as well. 

Would the critics be able to distinguish the art and the artist? Is all art examined on the same level of perception?

Hmm…maybe! But answers to these are prone to change now and then.

Cancel Culture encourages such debates which put the marketing organizations in a soup. I mean, who wouldn’t be if this threatens your whole structure!

Brand worthy or not? 

Creativity is unlimited and so is the space for criticism. Apart from the legal advertising censorship, an additional screening of concepts for the social media generation is seen to grow rapidly. 

Tanishq got it controversial by showing interfaith unison, Manyavar for its ‘Kanyadan’ negative connotations, Sabyasachi for disrespecting a holy tradition, and Surf Excel for hurting the ‘Holi’ sentiments. 

The internet was divided into two extremes when these brands were held responsible for the alleged claims. At a time when creators are going out the way to bring a moral change in societal hiccups, they are also held answerable for the same reason. The ‘creative perception’ from the audience moves farther away as criticism seems to be unidirectional. Contesting repression still faces backlash in the country due to specific groups, within and external to the internet getting triggered for multiple (slight) discrepancies. This means coming up with innovative scripts just got more competitive. 

Where does this place the creators?

Do they have to be politically correct or creatively right?

Honestly, it’s finding a balance between the two. If a brand wishes to stay their ground on the published opinions, they must have a backup for why they do so. All that ‘cancelers’ need is to know your take on the alleged criticism. But in some cases, staying silent may also work in your favor (depending on the effect of the crisis, of course). The cancel hype stays in trend until there is another subject to scrutinize. But yes, it is true that while the commotion lasts, impacts on the brand reputation are bound to happen. 

So, an easy way (or just another possible way) out of the doubts in creative expression is not to cave in but to build within. Marketing and advertising fields are flexible with the vulnerability of chaos. That’s been pretty evident from ads being sexist to being inclusive over the years. Brands must ensure to keep delving into firm concepts and scale off relative trigger graphs whilst having robust crisis managing strategies. 

Like how every time a Bhansali film is called to ‘cancel’ for its appropriations, and still move ahead with a bigger success – brands have to make sure the right motive excels greater than the criticism at hand. Make your brand worthy!

The internet of dissents 

No icing is needed to blurt out the facts of social media. It’s brutal, overwhelming but still extensively useful. 

While the brands got a hang of this, the critics weren’t far enough either. In fact, everyone was(is) a critic on social media, reminding the marketers to tread carefully. At the time of controversies, polarized criticism plays in a loop from different segments of the audience. 

Think about brand SRK, the popular (brand) ambassador across many organizations in India and worldwide. The internet went crazy when his son was put on a legal trial. Certain groups erupted to cancel his movies, production, endorsements, and whatnot. The legacy of his whole career was disbanded for something external to his professional domain.

Told you, everything is political in today’s world!

The terms anti-religion, anti-Indian, and intolerance are often brought up in creative contexts regardless of their relevance there. One of the many reasons is the misinterpretation of Cancel Culture. Somewhere along the route, this movement embodied all kinds of ‘offense’ under its umbrella, blowing the purpose out of proportion. The internet of things is now looked at as the internet of dissents. 

Canceling the Culture? 

The popular brand Cadbury Perk came up with a mind-blowing campaign a few days ago to put this discussion on the table. It used its brand message smartly by addressing the issues of growing uneasiness in the country.

All arrows right on the target!

The ad mocked how people have innately developed a desire to stress rather than chill for everything they see or hear. So, they present an AI-controlled ‘Perk Disclaimers’ across viral videos, adding to the craziness (smartly). The stance has been widely applauded in the marketing world for its subtle wit. 

This could be the mindscape of the ad world moving forward. Seeking the right space to fit in and portraying extreme creative techniques – ensuring that your brand is still playing the right cards. 

Socio-creative balance is the key! 

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