19 Apr 2021 Clicknetwork drops Xiaxue: Cancel Culture or Social Justice?
3 Major Lessons Marketers should take away
Cancel Culture: The New Face of Consumer Activism
This article neither defends nor opposes such consumer action, but instead accepts it as part of the new reality that marketers must adapt to. Indeed, the rise of ‘cancel culture’ or ‘woke’ consumers is not unconnected from trends like the growing demand for environmentally sustainable products, and ethical manufacturing processes involving fairly paid workers rather than exploited child labour. They all reflect a broader trend towards morally engaged consumerism, insofar as the identification with certain moral standards avowedly drives such consumer behaviour. Whether one feels such actions and standards are misguided or enlightened is beside the point.
How then can brands thrive in this brave new world of the activist consumer? By closely examining key aspects of the Raeesah Khan-Xiaxue-Clicknetwork TV controversy and its aftermath, we can draw out 3 major lessons for marketers.
1) Authenticity vs Duplicity: The Importance of Being Earnest
Build trust with morally engaged consumers by working with talents who share your vision – not just the same target audience.
2) Marketing is the Stuff of Dreams and Better Tomorrows
Be empathetic to issues of social inequality and justice to connect with morally engaged consumers yearning for a fairer future.
Why is this relevant for marketing? Like politicians, marketers labour in the court of public opinion – and their success critically depends on their ability to appeal to people’s aspirations for a brighter future: the stuff of dreams and ideals. And in today’s age of activistic consumers, aspirations for greater social justice are increasingly taking centre stage, as social media and digital messaging technologies raise public awareness of historically marginalised and vulnerable groups.
Consequently, brands are facing rising consumer expectations to play a more visible role in nudging society towards a more egalitarian future. This makes it increasingly important for marketers to have a keen grasp on uncomfortable issues of inequality in society, in order to develop campaigns that demonstrate empathy towards these concerns – and help brands better connect with morally engaged consumers.
3) Stand for Something or Fall for Anything
Establish your brand’s position on hot button issues – as marketing becomes more personal, the time to remain agnostic is fast vanishing.
The third aspect of this saga which bears reflection is how previously fragmented criticisms of Xiaxue by netizens offended by her online statements had spontaneously coalesced – without the galvanising efforts of any central personality or interest group – into a decentralised movement to track down her financial sponsors and compel them to dissociate from her.
The speed at which public outrage towards Xiaxue had organically morphed into a pressure campaign for businesses to ‘cancel’ her carries major implications for brand safety. Specifically, the idea that brands can avoid getting embroiled in hot button issues by steering clear of them is becoming increasingly untenable – given how easily consumer action can be mobilised against businesses over statements even loosely connectable to their brand.
Additionally, as marketers work with a growing bevy of colourful influencers and personalities to make their campaigns more relatable to various target audiences, the risk of brands getting entangled with contentious social issues will unavoidably rise, rapidly diminishing the feasibility of brands having ‘no position’ on hot button topics.
This makes it imperative for brands to start preparing for their own ‘Xiaxue moment’, when they have to take a stand on socially divisive issues, even if it means offending certain parties. To do so, brands need to develop a clear picture of their brand identity and the values they uphold as a matter of first principles.
These values have to be specific – for example, is “freedom/honesty” or “fairness/equality” more fundamental? Only then can they act as a moral compass in helping brands arrive at difficult decisions on polarising issues, and win the support of their target market. Conversely, opting to tiptoe around festering issues with hollow platitudes will only lead to brands earning brickbats from multiple sides – and unwelcome perceptions of being an unprincipled or unsympathetic business.
Marketing in an Age of Social Judgment
Cover image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k-sSgIpXnc
Image 1: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/isolation-concept-severing-ties-boycott-655216999
Image 2: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/woman-face-contour-empty-burnout-65061/
Image 3: https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/in-pictures-political-parties-on-walkabouts-on-july-1
Image 4: https://twitter.com/mrseanfoo/status/1286315896357548033
Image 5: https://www.semtrio.com/
About the author
Content Development / Copywriter
I help brands communicate their unique value with clarity and impact, by crafting context-sensitive creative content for digital, print and social media, as part of through-the-line marketing campaigns.