Domino’s, the pizza chain, recently put on a tutorial on how to handle an attempt to cancel you in the current communications environment.
Political influencer Rick Wilson targeted Domino’s on Twitter, where he has over one million followers, with a tweet that criticized a positive response from the company to current White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Apparently, Wilson took issue with the fact the company’s tweet was positive in nature, and decided to frame the social media exchange as the pizza maker deciding to wade into the current political fray.
Wilson tweeted to Domino’s, “You just killed your brand,” in an obvious attempt to cancel Domino’s by creating guilt by association. Below his comment was an earlier tweet from the company to McEnany thanking her for complimenting them on their pizza.
Here’s the problem. The tweet exchange Wilson took issue with was from 2012, eight years before her current public role.
For its part, the Domino’s response was genius.
“Welp. It’s unfortunate that thanking a customer for a compliment back in 2012 would be viewed as political. Guess that’s 2020 for ya.”
Immediately, the Twitter tide turned against Wilson for his obvious attempt eight years after the fact to cancel a brand for an innocent exchange.
Domino’s is a Model for Effective Crisis and Issues Management
That Domino’s responded so effectively should not come as a surprise. The company ushered in the age of the social media crisis in 2009 when two of its employees posted video of themselves to YouTube tampering with food in one of the franchise chain’s kitchens. Quickly, Domino’s identified the employees and the store, and the company took swift and decisive action, while communicating candidly about the whole situation.
In 2017, animal rights groups tried to pressure Domino’s into adopting stringent restrictions on the company’s suppliers of meat and eggs that would have placed significant hardships on farmers.
At the time, company spokesperson Tim McIntyre summed up the company’s unapologetic refusal to cave in to activist demands. “Farmers know best,” he said.
And now this. Against the backdrop of “cancel culture,” as it’s become known, Domino’s is showing other companies and organizations how not to be cancelled.
The strategy is simple, but simple is not always easy to do. It’s three-pronged:
1) Decide not to be bullied.
2) Push back in self-defense.
3) Slow things down.
In a conflict-averse culture, it’s almost a default position on the part of many organizations and their communications teams to avoid conflict at any cost. The thinking is you should accept the premise of the criticism, acknowledge the merits of your critics and their criticism and apologize. You should make whatever changes your critics insist upon, even if the allegations have no basis, and that will make the situation go away.
That’s why on the basis of a single digital video with a few thousand views, a major company or brand can reactionarily change course quickly with no strategic decision-making involved. Corporate leaders make hasty decisions on an emotional basis out of fear of being cancelled. Anyone in the first year of business school would learn that this way of making decisions dramatically increases the risk of failure on several levels.
#1 – Stand up to bullies.
Basic human dynamics can be all you really need to know when someone tries to cancel you. In effect, when someone is out to cancel you, they use bully tactics. And the only way to deal bullies is to stand up for yourself without fear and with resolve. Domino’s has demonstrated time and again that this is an effective strategy.
#2 – Push-back is self-defense.
The second strategy is to push back. It’s one thing to stand up and not give your critics what they want, but that may not be enough. If someone tries to cancel you, you may need to act in a sort of communications self-defense.
When Domino’s responded to Wilson’s tweet, the company clearly surprised him with Domino’s lack of contrition, and by politely framing the issue in such a way as to expose Wilson’s cancellation attempt for what it was.
Domino’s knew that it couldn’t put out a bland statement about company values or policies in response. Otherwise, they would have accepted Wilson’s premise and legitimized his criticism, making matters worse for the company. And yet so many companies and organizations do this very thing when faced with cancellation attempts. Domino’s may have known they wouldn’t have silenced Wilson. They would have emboldened him and others like him.
So, instead, they reframed the issue accurately.
One characteristic of the Domino’s-Wilson Twitter exchange that worked in the company’s favor was that an inconsequential eight-year-old Twitter exchange was the basis.
#3 – Slow things down.
There is a third strategy that I alluded to earlier. Had the attempt to cancel Domino’s been based on something more current, even if it was as trivial as Wilson’s allegations, you can’t assume the public would see it for what it is. So, there is a third strategy to consider.
The worst thing you can do in any crisis situation where you are targeted for cancellation is to act too hastily and too emotionally. Chances are you have processes in place for when and how to make major decisions and major changes.
When someone attempts to cancel you, fall back on those processes. Time is built into the process for proper deliberation so that as an organization, you do the right things for the right reasons in the right time. This is not to say you should never change, or that you should never listen to your critics.
It is to say that in order to effectively handle a cancellation attempt, your third strategy is to be patient. Let matters settle to the point where you and your management team can see things more clearly and that you are following a proven process for analysis, and if need be, change.
Companies and brands are less likely to fail if they exercise disciplined patience in the face of cancellation attempts than they would if they too hastily give their critics what they demand in the heat of the moment.
What do you think? Do you ever worry that your organization could be targeted for cancellation through no fault of its own like Domino’s was? Get in touch. I’d love to chat.