Ellen DeGeneres appears during a commercial break at a taping of “The Ellen Show” in Burbank, Calif. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ellen DeGeneres appears during a commercial break at a taping of “The Ellen Show” in Burbank, Calif. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hallmark’s flip-flop on same-sex ads backfires

NEW YORK — The Hallmark Channel’s decision to pull, then reinstate a commercial that featured a same-sex couple kissing shows how controversy can generate more publicity than simply ignoring it.

The company also didn’t help matters by reversing its decision following the backlash.

“It’s hard to keep everyone happy, but flip-flopping doesn’t help,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of the marketing consultancy Metaforce. “These are difficult issues to navigate but when you’re going to make a call one way or another, make sure you understand the ramifications. You only want to pull the Band-Aid off once.”

The debacle ultimately made a winner out of Zola, the wedding-planning website whose ads a conservative advocacy group didn’t want shown on Hallmark.

“For Zola, this is Christmas times 100,” said Laura Ries, president of marketing firm Ries and Ries. “Nobody ever heard of Zola, and now everybody knows it and loves it.”

Paul Argenti, Dartmouth College professor of corporate communication, added that the debacle “shows you if you know who you are, what you’re doing and stand by your beliefs, you’ll be better off in the end.”

The Hallmark Channel, owned by Hallmark Cards Inc., is Crown Media Family Networks’ flagship cable channel. It is known for family-friendly programming, particularly made-for-TV Christmas-themed movies.

That reputation prompted Hallmark to pull four Zola ads with same-sex couples after getting a complaint from a conservative group with a stated mission to “fight against indecency.” Hallmark allowed two ads with opposite-sex couples from Zola, though Zola pulled those after the same-sex ads were nixed.

In one of the pulled ads, two brides stand at the altar and wonder aloud whether their wedding would be going more smoothly if they had used a wedding-planning site like Zola. The lighthearted ad ends with the two brides sharing a quick kiss on the altar.

In an interview over the weekend, Hallmark spokeswoman Molly Biwer said the company felt “it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy.”

Instead, Hallmark faced criticism on Twitter from celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres and William Shatner. “Isn’t it almost 2020? What are you thinking?” DeGeneres tweeted.

Hallmark was also mocked on “Saturday Night Live.” Netflix tweeted stills from a TV show and movie that it labeled “Titles Featuring Lesbians Joyfully Existing And Also It’s Christmas Can We Just Let People Love Who They Love.”

By Sunday, Hallmark had reversed its decision. In a statement, Hallmark Cards CEO Mike Perry said Crown Media was “agonizing” over the decision. “Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision,” he said.

That, in turn, prompted calls for a boycott of the Hallmark Channel by the group that made the original complaint, One Million Moms. It accused Hallmark of caving to the LGBTQ community and portrayed the reversal as a betrayal to conservatives.

Hallmark Cards, the Kansas City, Missouri, enterprise started in 1910, has moved quickly before to respond to any flare-ups, such as when it removed a gift wrap from circulation after one person complained of seeing a swastika in its pattern. In March, it cut ties with actress Lori Loughlin, one of the so-called “Christmas Queens” who star in its holiday movies, after her arrest in a college admissions scam put the family-friendly network and extended Hallmark brand in uncomfortable proximity to a national scandal.

The group behind the latest complaint, One Million Moms, is an offshoot of the conservative American Family Association. It has tried to implement many boycotts, including one in 2008 targeting Hallmark Cards when it started selling same-sex wedding cards. It has also tried to start boycotts against Target, “Toy Story 4” and other entities it deems to be LGBTQ friendly.

Adamson said Hallmark’s backlash was different from what exercise bike maker Peloton recently faced over its tone-deaf ad. That ad, widely mocked on social media, showed a man giving a reluctant wife a Peloton bike for Christmas. Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin quickly capitalized on the debacle, showing the same actress out with friends trying to get over a split.

“The Peloton was painful for the company, but not a reflection of management values,” Adamson said. “In Hallmark’s case, this decision was initially and now a reflection of what they stand for. You really want to not change that story. If you believe and stand for something, that should be your North Star.”

Bill Pearce, assistant dean at the University of Berkley’s business school, said Hallmark was ahead of the same-sex wedding issue when it introduced same-sex greeting cards in 2008, before gay marriage was legalized.

“Any goodwill engendered from the LGBTQ community is squandered and I don’t think they made any friends on the other side of the issue either,” Pearce said. “It’s a classic blunder by indecision.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

A firetruck sits in front of a home on Harvey Close in Red Deer Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to Red Deer fire

Red Deer firefighters responded to a blaze in the north part of… Continue reading

(Courtesy photo)
Red Deer rental prices drop slightly

Renting an apartment in Red Deer became slightly cheaper last month. Rentals.ca… Continue reading

Rylee Trippel was last seen Friday. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for missing teen

Police are looking for a teen who was last seen in the… Continue reading

The Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60,000 in 2020. (Photo courtesy Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Facebook)
Red Deer Outreach Centre’s Adopt a Family program raised $60K in 2020

The executive director of the Red Deer Outreach Centre says she is… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

RCMP say missing teen Hope Tivendale has been found. (File photo by Advocate staff)
No foul play suspected after burned body of homeless person found in North Vancouver

VANCOUVER — A burned body, believed to be of a homeless person,… Continue reading

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada has approved its rapid COVID-19 test

TORONTO — An Ottawa company says it’s received approval from Health Canada… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends decision to back, then oust, Sloan

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he was once willing to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault pauses as he speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Non-essential travel ban would violate Constitution but courts might allow it: expert

MONTREAL — Fear that Quebecers will catch a new variant of COVID-19… Continue reading

A woman walks outside the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in Canada has underscored the need for increased public funding for home care, advocates say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reveal need for home supports: advocates

VANCOUVER — The devastating toll of COVID-19 on long-term care residents in… Continue reading

A Chinese flag is illuminated by sunshine in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 22, 2016. China is threatening retaliation against Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned a new security law giving Beijing more control over Hong Kong.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Diplomats contact Canadian held for over 2 years in China

BEIJING — Canadian officials have met online with former diplomat Michael Kovrig,… Continue reading

Marc Gold (centre) stands with senators André Pratte (left) and Peter Harder before being sworn in during a ceremony in the Senate on Parliament Hill, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

OTTAWA — A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg ticket holder wins Friday night’s $60 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — A ticket holder from Winnipeg won Friday night’s whopping $60… Continue reading

Most Read