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  • Paul Jankowski

7 Tips For Brands When Their Influencers Get Canceled

There’s a lot of canceling going on.

And while some cancellations are justified and short-lived, others end up blacklisted, leaving a stain on not only their careers, but also on the reputations of brands they represented.

Some may think the harshest judgments of influencers come from older customers, but a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of American voters in July 2020 revealed that Millennials and Gen-Zers are nearly twice as likely to withdraw support from a brand and/or individual over a social faux pas than Baby Boomers.

Millennials and Gen-Z currently command a combined $2.5 trillion in spending power, and they will wield it—shunning brands who are represented by canceled influencers.

Canceled Influencers

2021 isn’t the first year that influential people have lost major deals over their past or present poor judgement...Rachel Hollis, Nick Cannon, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Maria Sharapova, Charlie Sheen, et al.

As the 2020 New Heartland Generational Study showed, more than half of Millennials and Gen-Zers—from the New Heartland to the coasts—say social justice and equality are extremely important to them.

Celebrities Canceled By Their Own Words

The most recent string of cancellations gives brands a good indication of the kinds of behaviors, attitudes, and values that their younger customers won’t accept anymore.

Chrissy Teigen, an over-sharing former model and television personality, has been shamed for a robust history of cyberbullying, including telling a 16-year-old girl to commit suicide and take a “dirt nap.” Both Target and Macy’s dropped her cookware line from their stores, though Target claims their partnership ended in December 2020 (before the cyberbullying incidents came to light).

Billie Eilish Won’t Be Canceled Through Quick/Honest Action

Today, Billie Eilish quickly and honestly responds to old videos, “I'm Being Labeled Something That I Am Not.” Last week, videos of Eilish surfaced from when she was 13 or 14. In one clip, the singer mouths the lyrics to the song "Fish" by Tyler the Creator (In the song, the rapper uses a slur against Asians.) Eilish said, "This song is the only time I'd ever heard that word as it was never used around me by anyone in my family," and "Regardless of the ignorance and age at the time, nothing excuses the fact that it was hurtful. And for that I am sorry."

3 Ways Brands Can Avoid/Mitigate Disaster

Even though there is a potential downside to brand-influencer partnerships, I remain a very big proponent of the tactic. Brand managers just need to dive deeper on who they’re working with and take out the emotion (A.K.A. being starstruck) before they sign a deal.

  1. Use an expert! Consult an expert who knows your brand AND the influencer. Too often, brands will reach out for help from the wrong entities such as their inexperienced ad agency or a booking agent who doesn’t have the brand’s interest in mind. Both of these approaches will make your brand more susceptible to a bad talent relationship where the influencer causes more pain than positivity.

  2. Remove unnecessary layers: It’s always best to work directly with personal managers. Bonus points if you can develop a close relationship with the actual influencer. If an influencer has strong, meaningful relationships with brand partners and understands the context of what the brand is trying to achieve, the relationship has a high probability of success.

  3. Values: Don’t shortcut the needed extensive research to make sure your brand values align with the influencer's values. Don’t solely rely on a talents’ representative to give you the full picture of what it might be like to work with a particular individual. Check their engagement rates and what their fans are saying.

  4. Humans: Get to know the human. Spend time over a meal or activity outside the office. THIS is where real partnerships are built.

3 Steps Brands Should Take To Overcome Influencer Fails

Your parents probably told you to say nothing at all if you have nothing good to say. Unfortunately, in this day and age, brands aren’t afforded the same option to remain silent when their influencer sticks their foot in their mouth—or worse.

  1. Quickly Own It: Take ownership of the influencer's mistake too. When your brand decides to work with an influencer, you are just as culpable as them when they end up under a microscope for an error in judgement.

  2. Timely Response: Issue an immediate response to the influencer's gaffe. In your response, make sure you are transparent about the nature of your relationship with the influencer and how it has changed.

  3. Fix It: Demonstrate a commitment to rectifying the problem by supporting whatever cause was tarnished due to your influencer's actions. Remember Target’s response to the Chrissy Teigen debacle? “We dropped that deal ages ago?” Target could have garnered far more customer credit and achieved a ton of positive publicity had the brand organized an anti-cyberbullying campaign instead of merely taking Chrissy's products off their shelves and distancing themselves from the situation.

According to the 2021 Porter Novelli Business of Cancel Culture Study, 38% of customers engage in cancel culture to change a company’s ways. If brands understand the objective of cancel culture and take the time to get to know their audiences and what matters to them, they’ll be able to approach influencer partnerships with confidence.

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