One day after Hallmark Channel’s decision to pull several ads from wedding planning brand Zola featuring a same-sex couple kissing sparked outrage, Hallmark’s CEO has apologized for what he called the “wrong decision,” and the company said it would work with Zola to start airing the spots once again.
On Thursday, in response to pressure from conservative group One Million Moms, the network pulled several ads from Zola featuring a same-sex couple kissing at their wedding, which had been airing since last week. Zola responded by saying it would no longer advertise on the network for the foreseeable future.
Hallmark’s decision sparked outrage on Saturday, as the hashtag #BoycottHallmark trended on Twitter and GLAAD called the network’s action “discriminatory,” urging other advertisers to reconsider their own involvement with the network.
Several celebrities spoke out against Hallmark over the weekend (“What are you thinking?” tweeted Ellen DeGeneres) and #BoycottHallmark trended on Twitter. GLAAD suggested that the network’s other advertisers should “question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups.”
On Sunday evening, Hallmark reversed course, with president and CEO of Hallmark Cards Mike Perry apologizing for what he called “the wrong decision,” and vowing to “be more inclusive and celebrate our differences.” The company said it will “be reaching out to Zola to reestablish our partnership and reinstate the commercials.”
Zola’s CMO said the company was “relieved” that Hallmark reversed its decision.
UPDATE: The wedding planning brand told Adweek on Monday morning that it hasn’t yet made a decision on whether it will advertise with the network again, but expects to start discussions in the coming days with Hallmark about a potential return.
In his statement, Perry said Hallmark Channel’s parent company, Crown Family Media Networks, “has been agonizing over this decision, as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives. Anything that detracts from this purpose is not who we are. We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”
Hallmark said in a press release that the company “is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion. … It is never Hallmark’s intention to be divisive or generate controversy. We are an inclusive company and have a track record to prove it.”
Going forward, Hallmark said it will be working with GLAAD to better represent the LGBTQ community across its portfolio. “Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences,” Perry said.
Mike Chi, CMO for Zola, told Adweek in a statement, “We were deeply troubled when Hallmark rejected our commercials for featuring a lesbian couple celebrating their marriage, and are relieved to see that decision was reversed. We are humbled by everyone who showed support not only for Zola, but for all the LGBTQ couples and families who express their love on their wedding day, and every day.”
On Dec. 2, Zola began airing six ads on the Hallmark Channel featuring various couples standing at the altar during their wedding, wondering if using Zola would have helped them get better gifts, and whether those presents would have arrived in a more timely manner. (Zola worked with agency Mekanism on the campaign.) Several of the ads spotlighted heterosexual couples and a same-sex female couple; one of them, below, focused solely on the lesbian couple.
One Million Moms, part of the conservative American Family Association, circulated a petition last week asking Hallmark to “please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples.” In response, Hallmark pulled four of those Zola ads Thursday.
Hallmark hopes its reversal will quell the controversy that erupted over the weekend and threatened to overshadow Hallmark Channel’s most lucrative time of the year: its Countdown to Christmas marathon.
As Adweek reported earlier this month, Countdown to Christmas, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has turned into an advertising and ratings bonanza for the network. The event’s ratings have more than doubled over the decade, propelling Hallmark to No. 1 among all cable networks in the fourth quarter among women 25-54 since 2016; last year, it was also on top among women 18-49. And ad revenue for the franchise has tripled over that same period.
The Zola controversy has been a black eye to a company that prides itself on avoiding controversy, with its family-friendly, brand-safe programming.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement that Hallmark’s reversal “sends an important message to LGBTQ people,” adding, “LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be, a part of advertisements and family programming, and that will never change.”