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Hallmark Pulled Four Ads That They ‘Deemed Controversial’ After ‘One Million Moms’ Had A Fit Over A Lesbian Kiss

Although the Hallmark Channel is technically an apolitical brand, it has a reputation for representing “traditional” (read: stereotypical, nuclear, cookie-cutter) family values. For this reason, it’s become wildly popular over the years with politically conservative viewers in suburban and rural parts of the US and Canada—in fact, most Hallmark movies are actually filmed in Canada and feature Canadian talent.  So, it may not come as a surprise that the network pulled four ads that they had “deemed controversial” from circulation last week. What was so controversial, you may ask?

The commercials were for Zola, a wedding planning site that helps couples organize their big day. Originally, Hallmark was set to run six Zola ads, all of which featured different couples celebrating their wedding day. The primary focus of the ads landed on one lesbian couple, while a few heterosexual pairs occupied the periphery. In some of the ads, the couples share a meaningful kiss . . . you know, like they would at an actual wedding.

But One Million Moms, a branch of the conservative American Family Association, started a petition that urged Hallmark to “please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples.” And they did.

The mission of the American Family Association is to “fight against indecency,” and according to their website, nearly 25,000 people had signed their petition within just a few days of its publication.

When Zola was notified that four of their six ads would be pulled, an ad buyer representing the company asked for an explanation.

“We are not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” a Hallmark account representative responded. He added, “The decision not to air overt public displays of affection in our sponsored advertisement, regardless of the participants, is in line with our current policy, which includes not featuring political advertisements, offensive language, R-rated movie content and many other categories.”

But Zola had previously advertised on Hallmark without any problems, and Mike Chi, the chief marketing officer of Zola, didn’t buy this explanation. He expressed frustration with the network, asserting that Zola would cancel its partnership with Hallmark.

“The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing,” he said. “Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed. All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark.”

The internet was also not pleased with Hallmark’s behavior. On Sunday, the hashtags #boycotthallmark and #BoycottHallmarkChannel were trending on Twitter, with more than 8,000 adamant tweets from LGBT families and allies—many of whom also identified as Hallmark viewers.

But after facing days of backlash for their decision not to air Zola’s ads, Hallmark has apologized—and the responses to their apology are also pretty polarized.

In an early statement, Molly Biwer, senior vice president for public affairs and communications at Hallmark, said that “the debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of [the] network, which is to provide entertainment value.” However, Mike Perry, the president and chief executive of Hallmark Cards, offered a more direct and compassionate follow-up.

“Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives,” he said. “Anything that detracts from this purpose is not who we are. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”

Hallmark even insisted that it would work with GLAAD, a national LGBTQ media advocacy organization, “to better represent the LGBTQ community across [their] portfolio of brands.”

But as the controversy initially unfolded, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis issued a statement that read, “The Hallmark Channel’s decision to remove LGBTQ families in such a blatant way is discriminatory and especially hypocritical coming from a network that claims to present family programming and also recently stated they are ‘open’ to LGBTQ holiday movies.” In spite of this assessment, Hallmark has reiterated its focus on learning how to better advocate for diversity in collaboration with GLAAD.

Hallmark also claimed that it plans on contacting Zola to “re-establish [their] partnership and reinstate the commercials.”

But before that happens, Chi said that he first needs to “understand concrete actions they are going to take.” A Zola representative confirmed that Hallmark has reached out to Zola to begin a conversation.

While many folks are praising Hallmark’s apology and attempts to mend the situation, Monica Cole, the director of One Million Moms, critiqued the network’s change of heart. “One Million Moms is extremely disappointed that the Hallmark Channel caved under pressure,” she said in a statement Monday. “This is an enormous mistake that will cause a majority of its viewership to turn the channel.”

Well, Monica, if progress means losing a few viewers, those viewers should probably get ready to just turn their TVs off.

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