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Seller Beware

The most common question I get from directors at speeches is “What should our marketing and brand position be in the cancel culture age?” It used to be that marketing and government relations controlled the narrative with the “Four Horsemen” – advertising, PR, PAC funding and lobbying. A full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post and some timely campaign contributions were about enough to stem most threats from Washington. No more. Today, mass movements and boycotts seem to crop up overnight, ax share value and threaten brands.

How did Uber fall so fast and Lyft, sensing its opportunity, market its way to competitiveness and two years later lose credibility and find that marketing “woke” requires not just words but action? How do companies such as Penzy increase online sales by nearly 60% while directly taking on the President? How do formerly disruptive companies like Victoria’s Secret suffer continued losses in sales for simultaneously selling too much male fantasy and for not being LGBTQ diverse enough in their models while Dick’s quickly returns to pre-ban profitability after no longer selling firearms and taking on the NRA? How did Walmart go from a brand negative to a positive in under two decades? Would the creation of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Montgomery Ward in 1940 cause a stir like the Peloton ad did two weeks ago? And how did Pelton understand, like both President Eisenhower and Senator Adlai Stevenson liked to say, “Don’t just do something, stand there?” When is the best action no action?

Part social media platforms, part Russian disruption, part media creation, part generational and part hyper-democracy, the cancel culture and monetized criticism are real. The new rules of corporate communications and marketing in this age aren’t easy, but there are lessons and rules. We see some pathways in the wilderness and will continue to write about the lessons from those companies which got it right and those that stumbled.

In my latest Forbes column, I outline some of the new rules. It’s no longer caveat emptor but caveat venditor. Seller beware.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Wishing you all the joys of the holiday season.

Richard Levick

Read: The New “Rules” Of Corporate Social Activism

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