“Cancel Culture” & the Conscious Consumer

By Bailey Chenevert

Describing a modern form of alienation, cancel culture is a phenomenon wherein people express disapproval of an influential person, product or organization on social media due to some controversy. The meaning behind getting “cancelled” was originally popularized by Black Twitter to call-out celebrities with racist histories online. As an organization focused on corporate impacts, we’re most interested in how the term applies in practice to corporations. 

In an increasingly skeptical world, cancel culture reaches our pockets, where it prompts everyday consumers to reconsider the companies and products they’ve supported in the past. 

Propelled by catchy hashtags and viral memes, some of the world’s biggest brands have been the subject of viral cancellation campaigns and boycotts, referred to as corporate cancel culture. Porter Novelli, a global communications consultancy, examined the effectiveness of these campaigns. With a majority of Americans (87%) believing companies are responsible for the words and statements of executives, the Business of Cancel Culture is more relevant than ever. 

Cancel culture itself is controversial – some circles consider it overused and inherently toxic, while others find it a necessary component to inspire change in the modern world. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, there’s still no denying the influencing power of viral cancelling campaigns on social media. It can prompt even the largest of companies to change their tune. Nearly 80% of Americans would be willing to uncancel a company if it apologizes and commits to making changes. 

Cancel culture is also a nuanced phenomenon, and a lot of the catalysts that spark a cancellation are hot-button social issues. A lot of these corporate cancellations follow offenses against the social issues that are most important to the public today: racism, sexism and public health. Porter Novelli found that a majority of Americans are likely to cancel a brand that inappropriately addresses racial justice (70%), women’s rights (69%), COVID-19 protocols (68%), immigration (61%), climate change (57%) and the LGBTQ+ community (57%). 

Goya, Wells Fargo and L’Oréal are major brands that showed a rapid decline of consumer sentiment on social media following company controversy. The conversation around these brands online had been steadily positive until the events that caused their cancellations: Goya’s president publicly supported Donald Trump’s presidency, Wells Fargo’s CEO stated there was a “limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” and trans model Munroe Bergdorf revealed she was fired by L’Oréal after speaking out against racial violence. 

Importantly, consumer sentiment continued to suffer for the companies that didn’t do enough to address their offenses, Goya and Wells Fargo. Only after rehiring Bergdorf and issuing a public apology did the conversation around L’Oréal begin to improve. 

In an age where corporations retain much of the world’s wealth, cancel culture can be seen as a way for consumers to engage with these economic powerhouses and influence their policies to reflect what matters to the average person, not just the pockets of their CEOs. 

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Bailey Chenevert is a freelance journalist and guest editorial contributor for Cluey Consumer. As a recent 2020 college graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Bailey supplemented her studies as both a research assistant and a student editor at La Louisiane. Bailey is passionate about impartial reporting on consumerism and the impacts that fashion brands have on our modern world. 

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