Errol Vas: Cancel Culture in Marketing Interview


The Culture Sway Podcast with guest & expert Digital Marketer Errol Vas, discussing how Cancel Culture is affecting the marketing industry.

[Culture Sway]: Errol. Errol Vas, thank you so much for joining me here today on Culture Sway. You are an international digital marketer. So, if you wouldn’t mind, maybe tell us a little bit more about your role and a bit more about, I suppose, digital marketing, and then let’s dive into actually chatting about cancel culture.

[Errol Vas]: Definitely. Yeah. So, I’m a digital marketer originally from Canada. Right now, I live out in China where I am a digital marketing director for a company called Diversitech, our brands include Hi-Spec Tools, as well as Mamba Grinders. By profession, I’m a digital marketer, and in my free time, I also run a digital marketing blog. I do an internship program for up-and-coming marketers. And yeah, I like to like to stay busy with everything marketing.

[Culture Sway]: Fantastic. Actually, can I just ask you, as well, what sort of tips do you have for small businesses that are trying to kind of set up online and whatnot? Because there are so many now, particularly with everybody working from home and locked down and things. A lot of people are probably pivoting and setting up their own businesses, and they probably just don’t know where to begin with online advertising, digital marketing, et cetera. What would be the process—two tips you would have to anybody that is looking to dive into digital marketing?

[Errol Vas]: Yeah. For companies who are looking to increase their online presence, a good tip I’d give is there are so many different things that a company can do online. You can do social media. You can do SEO. You can do paid advertisements. There are so many different things you can do.

My first piece of advice is to be good at one or two things. Don’t try to do everything right off the bat. It’s better to be good at a couple of things rather than being mediocre at everything. So, that’s a big piece of advice that I could give.

Second, you said two tips. Another great tip is to just be authentic when you’re online. Marketing nowadays, gimmicky. Gimmicky marketing tactics, advertisements, they don’t work. Nowadays, people are looking for authenticity. So, if you can portray your company and your brand and in an authentic manner, you’re already well ahead of many.

[Culture Sway]: A hundred percent. I couldn’t agree more. Tell me as well, how has cancel culture affected digital marketing space and then yourself as well as a digital marketing director?

[Errol Vas]: Yeah, we’ll cancel culture. I guess, first I’ll go into what cancel culture is just for anyone listening. So, cancel culture is the process of canceling, calling out, or advocating a boycott on a person, a brand, or a company, and this mainly begins on social media. So, even if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’ve likely known a brand or public figure that’s being canceled for either acting offensively or not taking a stance against a social issue or just inadvertently insulting a group of people. I think we’ve all encountered cancel culture, whether we are familiar with the term or not.

Yeah, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, cancel culture is present. We’ve seen it in like the rebranding of sports teams down to countless brands being boycotted for saying too much or saying too little. Yeah, so we’re seeing cancel culture just almost in every industry.

[Culture Sway]: Yeah, that’s very true, and I suppose you were mentioning there are a few brands. Can you give some examples of brands that have felt the sting of cancel culture?

[Errol Vas]: Yeah, for sure. There’s been a couple recently. Goya Foods, the company, Goya Foods, their CEO, when Donald Trump became president in the United States, their CEO came out and said that America was, I think his exact words were, “America was truly blessed.” This caused a big boycott of Goya Foods by the Latino population in the United States. So, that was a big one.

The bank Wells Fargo, their head, Charles Scharf—he made some insensitive comment. I can’t remember the exact comment, but he made an insensitive comment about racial inclusion, and that caused quite a bit of backlash for the Wells Fargo brand.

Very recently was Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Syrup. There was some backlash against them for being racially insensitive, and for a personal cancel culture was Ellen Degeneres the TV show host. There were some rumors that she wasn’t too nice to employees and that the work culture at the Ellen DeGeneres show wasn’t too nice, and that caused some backlash on Ellen and called for a lot of boycotting of her show as well. So, those are some immediate examples I can think of.

[Culture Sway]: Fair enough. I suppose, when you think of cancel culture, what’s your particular opinion on it? Do you think it’s good or bad, or are you indifferent?

[Errol Vas]: Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, and I’d say it really depends. As a marketer, and I know you asked me this question before, and I didn’t really answer this. But as a marketer, I don’t really like cancel culture because I don’t want to offend anyone, and at times, I guess I second guess my campaigns or messages because I’m worried of unintentionally insulting someone. But at the same time, I do see the importance of respectful and informed marketing.

So, I guess to some of the pros of cancel culture is that it’s a powerful tool for achieving social justice. I mean, the internet, in particular, social media, provides a platform for historically underserved individuals to voice their views and tell their stories. But then, at the same time, the internet has also been a place where people can spew off a lot of hate and ignorance. So, having a way to kind of control that may, in fact, be a good thing, and it also allows everyone to have a voice and make more of an impact at scale. So, those are the benefits of cancel culture.

But to speak on the negatives, the cons of cancel culture is almost the same as that last pro that I gave. Messages can be amplified and shared at scale, and it can happen extremely fast. So, when that happens, it can create almost like a mob rule-type situation, which usually isn’t good. Cancel culture also prevents or hinders open debate, which I mean has been a long, long foundation of democracy. So, cancel culture almost makes individuals a little scared to speak up or to voice their opinions or their beliefs. Just because, I mean, as a brand or a company, you’re scared of losing customers or being canceled, right.

[Culture Sway]: True, and I suppose as well do you have any sort of examples of campaigns that you are working on that maybe we’re nearly at the finish line when you had to go and maybe adjust everything because of an issue that came up with cancel culture?

[Errol Vas]: You know what? I actually haven’t encountered too many like that particular scenario. I haven’t had to go back and change any campaigns, but I do have cancel culture in the back of my mind while I’m creating things. I mean, I personally don’t want to offend anyone, and I don’t think any brands are looking to offend anyone, but nowadays, there are just so many movements. There are so many ways to offend people that you can even inadvertently offend a group of people.

[Culture Sway]: Yeah.

[Errol Vas]: I haven’t had to go back and change anything, but I tread lightly while creating campaigns because I just don’t want to run into that situation.

[Culture Sway]: Of course, and do you think it’s kind of gone a bit too far and it’s a bit too much that people can be just a little bit over-sensitive or jumping on the bandwagon when things are clearly not as intentional when it comes to cancel culture?

[Errol Vas]: Well, that’s exactly it. Like I said before, and you summed it up very well, is what cancel culture allows is almost like a mob rule. And mobs can be dangerous because people do jump on bandwagons, and messages get amplified, and they get amplified loud and amplified fast. That can really cause a mob situation, and things can snowball out of control. So, it’s never a good situation. I mean, but it is something that I think marketers are worried about for sure.

[Culture Sway]: Definitely, and tell me as well, how did you get into marketing, or what guided you towards marketing?

[Errol Vas]: What guided me towards marketing actually, you know, I did my university degree in psychology and I also started working at a marketing company. It was nice because it was a good transition from university right into the workforce. But I just really liked marketing. I was so terrible at it when I began. It requires a lot of organization, a lot of study, just things that I wasn’t really, really good at it. So, it really whipped me into shape.

I found it to be fascinating. I really liked the challenge, and so that’s kind of how I began. I just happened to work for a friend’s family’s marketing company just kind of fell in love with the whole industry.

[Culture Sway]: Yeah. Okay. Very good, and lastly, I just want to ask as well. What should brands do if they were on the receiving end of cancel culture?

[Errol Vas]: Yeah. So, I guess first is to just try to avoid it, but I mean, it’s just easier said than done, right? It’s very easy to inadvertently offend a group of people, but historically brands have stayed out of politics and mainly because taking sides can alienate a large chunk of their customer base but in today’s increasingly polarized climate, not taking a side can be an even bigger risk. Brands can no longer afford to remain neutral because neutral’s seen as being complicit, and you don’t want to say too much because then you might run into a cancel culture situation. It’s a very, very thin line to walk.

For a company that’s already on the receiving end of cancel culture, an immediate apology can go a long way, especially with young consumers. There’s been a few studies that show about 60% of individuals trust brands more for being honest about making a mistake. There have been other studies that show that if a brand does something that offends consumers, the best response, especially for young consumers, and this is what young consumers expect, is a very swift apology and just to stop the offensive action immediately. So, that is probably the best route to go. Apologize and just stop the behavior that is offending people.

But on the other side of the coin, perhaps your brand feels very strongly about a certain topic, and it’s really up to you and your brand how you react. Something that may offend people today could perhaps be looked back on in the future as like a valiant social stand. You know, so it really depends on the situation itself. If you or your brand really feel strongly about something, and it’s very important to your brand identity, then I guess stick to what you feel is core to your brand. If it isn’t something that’s core to you or your brand’s identity, then an apology and just stopping the action can go a long way.

[Culture Sway]: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. So, Errol, tell people where they can find you.

[Errol Vas]: Yeah, they can find me on my website, I’m also on LinkedIn. If they just search my name, they can connect with me, and yeah, I’m always down to chat about whatever, marketing-related, business-related. I’m very accessible through LinkedIn and my website.

[Culture Sway]: Fantastic. Well, Errol, thank you so much for coming on Culture Sway today, and best of luck with everything and the future, and let’s stay in touch. Let me know of any sort of more exciting campaigns that you may be working on in the future.

[Errol Vas]: Thank you so much, Antonia. It’s been a great experience. I’ve had a nice time speaking with you, so I really appreciate it.

[Culture Sway]: Fantastic, same as. Have a lovely weekend and take care for now. Bye.

[Errol Vas]: You as well, take care. Bye.