Can You Cancel Or Pivot Your Media As Fast As Consumers Cancel Your Celebrity? – Forbes

Rob Fallon is the CEO of Bluewater, a converged Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Agency based in Clearwater, Florida.

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Cancel culture. It’s not just a buzzword; it’s the people’s empowerment tool of withdrawing support for a person or company over incendiary words or actions, often resulting in being removed from social or professional circles and loss of livelihood. This trend has become pervasive in the past three years.

As a culture, we’ve moved from casually “blackballing” to complete cancellation of people, events and even brands. Who’s to blame for this trend? Is it the millennials’ fault? (We Gen Xers usually blame them for everything.) Not this time. Cancel culture is cross-generational, and the latest round of ANES data shows that political affiliation, education and race are the key factors in determining an individual’s attitude toward cancel culture. Of course, where you stand on the polarity of this practice might depend on the level of the grievance in question.

While the “canceled” party might argue that they are the most affected by the outcome, the advertising and marketing industry is also centrally affected by the fallout of cancel culture. Sure, advertisers have been dealing with rogue celebrities long before the idea of cancel culture existed. So much so, that brands are sure to put all kinds of caveats in a celebrity contract to try and protect themselves from any repugnant celebrity behavior. It’s smart business; they must prepare for that potential risk. However, one thing many brands are not prepared for is the need to pivot or cancel their media buys in response to a “canceled” endorser.

My business partner, Gina, a longtime media veteran, recalls a “cancel” memory from way back in early 2003. When President George W. Bush was dealing with the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the popular country band the Dixie Chicks (now known as the Chicks), were blackballed by numerous Americans and much of the country music world for telling a crowd in London they were “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” At the time, Gina was about to launch a major TV campaign for a client who had engaged the Dixie Chicks as celebrity endorsers for their product. Needless to say, the campaign was immediately redirected.

Thankfully, being direct-to-consumer marketers, we are able to turn on a dime and quickly shift to an entirely new media plan. That pivot can be very seamless when your media is bought in a direct-to-consumer fashion. Having the right media partner with the nimbleness and ability to cancel and move media dollars around is pivotal to success when you’re in the throes of a campaign upheaval.

We weren’t the first media company to solve this problem for our clients, and we certainly won’t be the last. But if you’re a marketer thrust into a position where you need to change quickly, and if you don’t have the right media partner, you’re in for a world of headaches. Let’s not forget how fast cancel culture moves. Remember when Pepsi was canceled after being criticized for a TV spot that touched on a global protest? My Pillow, J.K. Rowling and even L’Oréal Paris have fallen to cancel culture. Many companies’ marketing strategies have been and will continue to be negatively impacted by the behavior, words, images, actions or perceptions of athletes, celebrity endorsers, entire brands, social support and political leaders.

Obviously, cancellation is a very powerful tool, and it’s fair to say that sometimes the populous can have a knee-jerk reaction, rushing to cancel someone for a potentially forgivable crime. Of course, there are some cases where we all need to jump into action. For those cases, I call it the “jerk-jerk” reaction, when someone has been such a jerk that you must respond by jerking every ounce of business you can out from under them.

Some call this power a great equalizer, while others say it’s total BS. How far is too far? I’ll let you decide that one for yourself, but I’ll leave you with one critical thought: Make sure you have the right media partner and a pivot plan ready if you’re using a celebrity to endorse your brand.


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