The phrase Cancel Culture elicits strong reactions ranging from good to worse when used in today’s socially connected world. In reality it is just another form of boycotting, a practice that is central to the fabric of America since the 1700’s. These tactics have evolved over the years, but when Americans want something done, they vote with their wallet. Companies have pivoted and changed policies for generations to make peace with public outcry, but why does cancel culture feel so different?

Boycotts have traditionally spread by word and usually start as grassroots movements but in our digital age each voice is essentially a loudspeaker due to social media and the noise can be overwhelming. Reaction from the American people can be swift and the consequences for business could cost millions. Throughout 2020 cancel culture has adhered more strictly to party lines as calls for boycotts turn into a symbol for political parties. Restaurant and retail companies have a tight rope to walk as they balance topical marketing campaigns and try to avoid tipping to either side. This can be further compounded as individuals employed by these companies voice their personal opinions which become a reflection of the corporation as a whole. Companies have to be aware of how their actions & opinions affect consumers and possibly drive them to shop somewhere else.

What makes cancel culture controversial is that the fervor become viral so quickly on platforms like social media. For instance, in 2019 Home Depot was “canceled” due to donations made by one of their founders to President Donald Trumps’ reelection campaign and support for their competitor Lowe’s began to grow. It was true that one of Home Depot’s founders had donated to President Trump’s campaign, but another founder had donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and both men have retired from the company and no longer participate in operations. We have seen similar boycotts occur at the employee level as recently as last week when a Hobby Lobby display had been rearranged to call for customers to vote for a particular candidate. It is unclear whether a customer or employee did this, but it is unlikely the display was arranged by an executive. Regardless, Hobby Lobby has been “canceled” and joins a long list of companies like McDonald’s Corporation, Chick-fil-A Inc., NIKE Inc., and Goya.

Large companies can survive these boycotts, but they still cause lost revenue, employee termination, and a PR nightmare. Cancel culture on local businesses can spell the end as their reputation may never recover. As we draw closer to the November election, the divisive nature of party politics will only grow stronger and individuals will find new ways to advertise their political choice. Companies in 2020 have found themselves in an equally perilous state where being political or apolitical can impact sales. This however also connects with consumer choice, where a person may desire more than just a product but to support a cause.

Each American voice has greater reach than those in the 1700’s and while a social media post can move the needle, we truly enact change by voting both at the ballot box and with our wallets.