Singaporean influencer Wendy Cheng, also known as Xiaxue, has spoken up about brand partnerships with influencers and cancel culture following the recent online furore over Night Owl Cinematics co-founder Sylvia Chan. In a series of Instagram Stories, Cheng (pictured) said: "Whenever influencers are embroiled in any controversy, it is the brands that are winning." She explained that every time someone gets cancelled, companies "hop out left right centre" to say they are dropping the influencer.
What infuriates her is that consumers are encouraging the culture of clients dropping influencers as a "convenient out" whenever controversy happens. By doing so would bring about "triple publicity" for them, Cheng said. The first publicity comes with the paid advertisement followed by the chatter brands receive when views for the ad surge.
"Trust me when I say even though this publicity might be seen as negative, it really isn't going to impact the brand negatively at all," she said. Colgate recently terminated its partnership with Chan while MILO clarified that their partnership has ended and it is currently not working with Chan. Using these two brands as an example, Cheng said consumers will not necessarily change their toothpaste brand or stop drinking a malty beverage just because of what Chan said. At the end of the day, it is still brand awareness.
Cheng also has a gripe with brands terminating their relationship with the influencers and releasing a statement on the controversy. She argued that not only do brands get to promote their brand for free on media outlets who report the termination, they can also elevate their social standing and come across as a good company doing the right thing.
She also pointed out that people are generally unaware that most campaigns are on a one-off basis, explaining:
Meaning you pay me for a post, I do it, I get the money, you get our publicity. Donezo. Our relationship has ended. You don't get to jump out of the shadows and be like 'Surprise! I also terminate Xiaxue!'.
Cheng added that it is "triple advantage" for all companies to drop influencers like hot potatoes at the slightest sign of controversy. "The only thing they risk is not being able to work with the influencer again but who cares, influencers are a dime a dozen," she said.
While she does not mean that brands should stick with an influencer even when they do something wrong, Cheng said she finds it "mega annoying" because they are benefitting from kicking someone when they are down, which she labelled as a "d*ck move", while acting like the "saintly arbitrators" of what's acceptable influencer behaviour. "Stop acting like you just doing 'the right thing' when you are happy like a bird that you paid SG$1,000 and got SG$10,000 worth of publicity," she added.
Drawing from her own experience, Cheng brought up the example of a neon sign brand that released a statement about terminating her when she met with controversy last year. According to her, the brand sponsored a pink neon sign which was approximately SG$200 and she "went above and beyond", offering at least SG$6,000 in terms of ad value through Instagram Stories and a post. The brand subsequently saw an increase in followers.
A few months later, however, they issued a statement about terminating Cheng when she was embroiled in controversy and she felt backstabbed. "I bet if I asked you to pay the actual price for the post, you wouldn't even be able to afford it, and [yet] you backstab me," she explained.
(Read also: Interview: Xiaxue responds as netizens pressure brands to ‘reconsider’ engagement )
Nonetheless, Cheng explained that she understands brands have to resort to terminating their partnerships with influencers due to pressure from the top management as a result of being badgered by the mob. Last year, Cheng was thrust into the spotlight for comments made more than 10 years ago about migrant workers and her 2019 tweets about the transgender community. Netizens then reached out to brands that have worked with Cheng to "hold her accountable", including Dream Line Cruise, Benefit Cosmetics, Caltex Singapore, Giga Experience, and Brother Singapore, among others. Brands that responded to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE previously either said they were not in any partnerships with Cheng at that point in time or distanced themselves from her views.
From her experience, Cheng said she has come across PR professionals who would apologise profusely to her and send her their statements in advance so she does not get a nasty surprise when it gets published. "I'm touched because this shows they care about me as a human being, not just treating me like an inanimate billboard and kicking me to the curb the moment I stop being useful to them. They didn't want to stop working with me because we had a good relationship and they were forced to make a public statement. That's fine, I understand," she explained.
That said, Cheng still finds it unfair that companies that drop influencers get free publicity, adding that she is considering adding a clause in her contract that requires brands to pay her a fee if they terminate her after a controversy. "It's good publicity that you are riding off my back for, so I ought to be compensated for it," she added.
Meanwhile, shortly after the bullying allegations against NOC's Chan, the company recently broke its silence and claimed that the statements were ""a massive crusade" against the public image and reputation of NOC and its employees. In an Instagram post, it also claimed that the "present attacks" have been "carefully crafted and mounted" on the company and its employees.
It added that the excerpts published were "cherry-picked abstract communications between private individuals carefully showcased to paint a wholly negative picture". Instagram account sgcickenrice, which has been publishing screenshots and audio clips supporting the allegations against Chan, also received a lawyer's letter from NOC. Sgcickenrice has since received legal support from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
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NOC says bullying allegations about co-founder Sylvia Chan a 'crusade' against reputation
Colgate and MILO distance from NOC co-founder Sylvia Chan post bullying claims