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Just The Numbers: Cancel Culture’s Impact on Brands

Published January 24, 2022
Published January 24, 2022

The confluence of social media, divisive partisanship, and snap judgments create the breeding ground for anyone or anything to be put on trial in the court of public opinion. However, a new report from Forrester suggests brands rarely suffer financial consequences from being "canceled." Forrester defines canceling a brand as a widespread public campaign (often via social media) to hold a company accountable for the consequences of a perceived wrongdoing. This may include, among other things, calls for boycotts, terminations, and product changes.

Findings from Forrester's research:

  • 55% of US online adults say that they'll boycott a brand if it's found to have unethical business practices.
  • 53% of US online adults indicated that they are likely to boycott a brand if that brand is found to have mistreated its employees.
  • 40% of US online adults indicated that they are likely to boycott a brand if the brand's CEO does or says something inappropriate/offensive/scandalous, 32% were neutral on the matter—signaling that they could flip depending on the nature of the issue.
  • While about half of US online adults say they'll boycott a brand due to unethical business practices or mistreatment of employees, 25% say their loyalty to a brand may prevent them from following through.
  • 57% of brands believe that threats of being canceled have no material impact on company sales and nearly 6 in 10 feel the same about the impact to their company's brand.
  • 41% of US online adults would go back to a brand after an apology.
  • 32% say they won't boycott a brand that is embedded in their lives.
  • 22% say they will boycott a brand that doesn't share their values.

Important takeaways from the report: "cancel culture is loud, but for most brands, it's just noise," its impact is nominal, affecting people more than companies, and when cancellation happens, "own up to mistakes, push back on misinformation, and wait out the noise."


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