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Rise of the Karen: Marketing Misadventures

We live in a cancel culture that is now synonymous with the rise of the “Karen”. If you Google “Karen” you’ll get a definition along the lines of: Karen is a pejorative term for someone perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.

Before this highly specific name, we would have labeled such people as bad customers and thrown their opinion in our virtual dumpster [maybe]. But, knowing we now live in a cancel culture fueled by these angry customers, it’s important to be mindful of who your target audience is and to who you are serving your message. Now, you can’t possibly please everyone, if that were possible, we wouldn’t have so many volatile reactions to online marketing campaigns. To illustrate this point, here are some costly and embarrassing mistakes popular brands made via social media and email that incited rage and backlash:

Adidas: Their scheduled congratulations email delivering after the 2013 Boston Marathon with subject line, ‘Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!’ This was the year of the Boston Marathon bombing. Poor timing for what was intended to be a light-hearted subject line.

American Apparel: On July 4, 2020, what was intended to, we think, be a social post with firework smoke for the US holiday, was a Photoshopped version of the 1986 NASA Challenger explosion. What?!

Cinnabon: Repurposing their May 4th social post image of Carrie Fisher, shortly after her death, the brand noted her buns, in reference to a hairstyle she publicly shared her hatred of and also could be misconstrued as having sexist undertones.

All of the above could very well be honest mistakes in judgement with no actual malintent. You can’t assume your customers and the internet will be so rational or forgiving. That said, you will piss some people off now and then. We did just that a week back when our blog used ‘bitching‘ in the title. It got attention, and that’s exactly what we wanted. Did we mind losing two or three online followers? Not really. That’s because we intend our brand to be a little tongue in cheek, we are not targeting a conservative audience by nature.

As you think of your brand position online and how you will react to the individuals who send you hate mail and complaints, it’s worth determining your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost). You can do this with a super easy equation: (Cost of Sales + Cost of Marketing) / Number of New Customers Acquired.

Hubspot pulled together a helpful list of average CACs across popular industries:

  • Travel: $7
  • Retail: $10
  • Consumer Goods: $22
  • Manufacturing: $83
  • Transportation: $98
  • Marketing Agency: $141
  • Financial: $175
  • Technology (Hardware): $182
  • Real Estate: $213
  • Banking/Insurance: $303
  • Telecom: $315
  • Technology (Software): $395

It always costs more to bring in a new customer than it does to retain the old. So, as you determine your brand’s tone and messaging, you must decide how you will react to a “Karen” when one comes your way. Will you jump on the apology bandwagon or will you let this customer turn their back on your brand? There is no right or wrong answer, it’s all about sticking with your brand messaging, backing it up and knowing that you may lose a follower here and there when you drop a curse word. Damn! At the same time, you should be mindful of avoiding brand damaging posts like those above. They may stick to your brand tone, but could also cause more headache for your company than it’s probably worth. Of course, you be the judge. If you happen to post a super racy headline, let us know how it goes. We love the hear about the wins and the horror stories.

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