The Hallmark Channel Faces Backlash after Removing Ads

December 17, 2019

During December, the Hallmark Channel’s schedule is chock full of Christmas movies to keep the holiday spirit strong throughout the month. But last week the usually jolly TV network behaved more like Ebenezer Scrooge in the eyes of many fans and users on social media. The controversy began when Hallmark received a complaint from an advocacy group whose stated mission is to “fight against indecency.” The organization complained about four ads that featured same-sex couples from a wedding planning company called Zola. Hallmark agreed to to remove the ads but kept two Zola spots with opposite-sex couples, claiming “it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy.”

But the situation was far from over. Users on social media found out about Zola’s troubles after the wedding startup pulled its remaining ads from Hallmark in protest. Thousands upon thousands of users spoke out against the network’s decision, including celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres as well as major brands like Netflix. As a result, on Sunday Hallmark reversed its decision and agreed to reinstate the ads. By that point, though, the damage had already been done. Not only did Hallmark offend many people by removing the ads in the first place, the company then turned its back on the original group that it had sought to appease. The organization quickly called for a boycott of Hallmark, leading to even more controversy for the embattled brand.

“It’s hard to keep everyone happy, but flip-flopping doesn’t help,” said marketing consultant Allen Adamson. “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.” Due to its indecision, Hallmark angered a wide range of fans and potentially did permanent damage to its brand. Zola, on the other hand, appears to have a bright future ahead after receiving tons of free publicity. “For Zola, this is Christmas times 100,” said marketing expert Laura Ries. “Nobody ever heard of Zola, and now everybody knows it and loves it.”

Questions:

  1. How did Hallmark end up angering all parties during this controversy?
  2. Why do experts expect Zola to benefit from this controversy in the long run?

Source: Mae Anderson, “Hallmark’s Flip-Flop on Same-sex Ads Backfires,” Associated Press, December 17, 2019.

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