Brands’ initial responses to cancel culture have been reactionary, a hasty response marked by defensiveness in hopes of quickly course-correcting. MRA data shows, however, that instead of preparing to respond to the aftermath of a consumer callout, brands should invest in strategies that allow for proactive accountability. By having a strong understanding of their consumer bases and a definitive brand reputation rooted in values, brands will be better equipped to proactively address controversial situations in a way that aligns with consumer expectations and their brand’s position.

While some consumers are not able or interested in buying according to brands’ values, more than half of the population wants to know they are financially supporting brands with values that align with their own. Research shows that the desire to shop with values is more likely to gain traction rather than dissipate any time soon, making this an urgent consideration. Understanding the values and expectations of their core audience is a brand’s first step in avoiding cancel culture.

Navigating cancel culture
Brands can take a proactive approach towards accountability culture by deeply understanding their consumers and leveraging their own brand values and ethical positions.

Leaning into consumer identity and brand reputation is the best way forward

Committing to a brand position, whether speaking up or staying silent, comes with the risk of alienating some people.

Accountability in practice

Both Nike and Citibank provide examples of how insights-driven consumer understanding and genuine commitment to values-based initiatives keep a brand accountable, but clear of cancel culture.

It’s important to note that this decision was not made lightly as Citibank and that the brand did not stand idly by. Rather, the company risked alienating a portion of its base in order to hold Thomas reasonably accountable and maintain its commitment for positive social change, a much larger strategy than mitigating a short-term loss.