Brands are making a better effort to align their businesses with social and cultural movements. They have a platform and voice that isn’t used often enough, likely for fear of alienating consumers that control their bottom lines.
People support brands that share common values, beliefs and attitudes on important issues facing society. A great product or service will always be important, but customers today are more critical of companies and their political and social stances.
Greeting card and terrible holiday movie company Hallmark learned that the hard way this month. They weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.
Hallmark ran a same-sex marriage commercial for wedding-planning site Zola. Conservative house moms saw the ad and paused their Christmas movies to file online petitions voicing their discontent with LGBT ads airing on their favorite, primarily white and heterosexual television network. Hallmark responded immediately by pulling the wedding ads, then later reversed its decision to ban same-sex commercials because gay rights supporters were rightfully not happy about it. The flip flopping was a horrible look.
Hallmark’s first misstep was a complete lack of awareness toward their target audience, which is primarily conservative viewers with more traditional family values. They had the right intentions with the ad. Same sex marriage should be a basic human right. It’s 2019 and should be a non-issue. But in an attempt to be more progressive, they took a risk and ran these ads to support a cause that clearly conflicts with the values of their viewers.
Their second mistake was pulling the ad without issuing any kind of statement or reasoning for their decision. Social media can make or break a brand, and Hallmark clearly panicked under pressure and made a premature decision to remove the ads. The better option would’ve been to let them air and explain why they chose to air them in the first place. Stick to your guns. Hallmark squandered an opportunity to gain the respect of LGBT supporters while remaining a little sympathetic to their conservative viewership. The ads were always going to offend part of their viewer base, but pulling them just made matters worse.
In full damage control at this point, Hallmark backtracked on their decision to pull the gay wedding ads and fully reinstated them to remain more “inclusive” according to their CEO. How brave.
Hallmark ultimately hurt the very group they set out to support with this ad campaign. I remain confused by the company’s crisis communications approach, but I want to thank them for providing us with another classic case study on how not to react when the internet overreacts.