‘Cancel culture’: Third of Brits reject brands due to behaviour

Feb 12, 2020 | Marketing transformation, Online advertising, Regulation

‘Cancel culture’: Third of Brits reject brands due to behaviour
The current ‘cancel culture’ is increasingly affecting companies as well as individuals and, with scrutiny fiercer than ever on a business’s every decision, more than a third of Brits have turned away from a brand because of its behaviours, according to new research.

These are the findings from the ‘Walk the Talk’ report, from Brands2Life, based on research conducted by Opinium into the behaviours and issues that most influence whether or not we continue to use a company’s products or services.

The key points include:

  • Protecting consumer privacy and data (94%) and good customer service (94%) are the top things consumers care about
  • 68% of consumers aged between 18-24 have stopped or reduced using an online brand because of poor reputation or malpractice
  • The top reasons consumers have stopped using a brand are customer service (15%) and not paying taxes (9%)
  • To counter that, brands are advised to be transparent; customer-centric; better in their treatment of staff, suppliers and the environment; engaging; and local
  • Personal issues, such as poor customer service and privacy & security, are the biggest issues. However, there are broader issues that rank high as well: including CEO behaviour, the way businesses treat staff and vulnerable groups, workforce diversity, and respect for the countries in which they operate.

The report is based on a survey of 6,001 consumers across France, Germany, UK and US undertaken in December 2019 by research firm Opinium. One-third (2,000) were interviewed in the UK.


The key UK takeaways of the report are as follows:

‘CARE ABOUT ME’ – Protecting consumer privacy and data (94%) and good customer service (94%) are the top concerns above issues relating to the corporate brand, such as CEO behaviour (75%) and workforce diversity (65%).

‘VOTE WITH MY WALLET’ – Over a third of the correspondents (35%) have stopped or reduced their usage of online brands in the past twelve months due to poor reputation or malpractice. The ‘cancel culture’ is here to stay and can only increase in popularity.

‘BE REAL’ – Authenticity and honesty are very important to consumers when they are considering which online brands to use. Twice as many UK consumers cited this (47%) than the next key criteria.

‘GET GREENER’ – Environmental impact is by no means top of the list but, unsurprisingly, it is on the rise – especially amongst 18-24 year olds worldwide where 78% say they will stop using a brand if they don’t think they are doing enough in this area.

‘AI-N’T READY FOR AI’ – Whilst online brands are introducing AI to improve customer service and reduce costs, only 19% of UK consumers think this will be beneficial.


Unsurprisingly, poor customer service (14%) is the top reason why UK consumers have stopped using or reduced their usage of an online brand.

Other factors may be surprising and require more work and investment to address. Top reasons include: ‘because they don’t pay enough tax in my country’ (12%); ‘treating their workers and suppliers unfairly’ (8%); ‘because they haven’t taken action to reduce their impact on the environment’ (6%) and ‘because they don’t show enough respect to the country it is operating in’ (6%).


UK consumers think these factors are the most important: ‘protects data and privacy’ (94%); ‘provides good customers service’ (94%); ‘treats workers and suppliers fairly’ (90%); ‘safeguards in place to protect vulnerable groups’ (90%); ‘pays the right amount of tax in my country’ (89%); champions rights of consumers (85%); and ‘takes action to reduce their impact on the environment’ (83%).


Top reasons UK consumers say that they are more likely to use a brand are: ‘if they reduce their prices’ (72%); ‘properly compensate customers if there has been a problem’ (71%); ‘make a commitment to protect users’ privacy and security’ (68%); and ‘apologises properly if they do something wrong’ (65%).

When it comes to marketing, their key demand is that the brand is authentic and honest. Twice as many people (46%) called this out compared to the next three most important: ‘if friends and family use them’ (19%); ‘marketing that educates and informs me’ (18%); and ‘if their marketing entertains me’ (14%).

When it comes to climate change, 43% of UK consumers say they would be more positive about a brand that talked about its plans. However, 29% say they would be sceptical and want to investigate.


Brands2Life summarised the report findings into five recommendations for online brands:

BE TRANSPARENT – The better consumers know the brand and its good intentions, the more they will use it.
BE CUSTOMER-CENTRIC – When they need help, consumers want great customer service, including the opportunity to talk to a human being. Brands that decide to make this investment should shout about it.
BE BETTER – Whether it be treating staff or suppliers better, respecting the countries they operate in or tackling climate change, consumers want to see more of it.
BE ENGAGING – Consumers want to be informed, educated and entertained in equal measures.
BE LOCAL – An investment in and commitment to the consumer’s home country will drive loyalty.

Giles Fraser, Co-Founder, Brands2Life, comments, “Online brands dominate our lives today and we all know that their business models are under increasing scrutiny from regulators and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. This report illustrates that they need to be fully aware of how consumers see them and their behaviour. If they don’t offer best-in-class customer service and display the highest standards of corporate citizenship, consumers will simply stop using them.”

Ngaire Moyes, Senior Director, Brand Marketing and Communications, EMEA and LATAM, LinkedIn, comments, “Consumers want brands to do the right thing. Brand purpose has moved into the spotlight over the last five years, but the next five will be defined by action so brands need to live up to their narratives and show – concretely – how they deliver their values.”

Opinium Research interviewed 6,001 consumers between 2nd – 9th December 2019 – 2,000 in the UK, 2,000 in the US, 1,000 in France and 1,000 in Germany.

The full report can be accessed here