Tone Deaf Hallmark and their Same Sex Marriage Ad Disaster

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.


Gillette’s New Campaign Repositions Brand for the Future

P&G and Grey Advertising took a massive leap this week with a brand that has kept their advertising relatively safe and predictable given its target audience and male-dominated consumer base. For 30 years, Gillette’s “The Best a Man Can Get” was a great tagline for selling razors, but the hyper-masculine brand needed to adapt and reposition their brand for the foreseeable future.

This week Gillette launched a new campaign with the tagline, “The Best a Man Can Be.” A YouTube video associated with the campaign has been highly controversial to some and a welcome sight for others. The video addresses issues surrounding toxic masculinity and encourages men to change the status quo when it comes to bullying, sexism and other normalized and unacceptable male behavior.

I applaud Gillette and P&G for making such a bold move, clearly knowing this ad would be highly polarizing. Advertising should change with society. Consumers want to see brands stand for something, any issue that aligns with their own beliefs and values. The backlash surrounding this video is exactly why the world needed to see it. Advertising has become too safe, and companies have been reluctant to align their brands with issues that could affect their bottom line. Along with Gillette, brands like Nike with Colin Kaepernick and Pepsi with Kendall Jenner (kidding) are pushing boundaries and setting the bar high for cause campaigns in 2019.

The Gillette ad is not virtue baiting and is not an attack on males and their morals. Fragile, emasculated men might be a little triggered as evidenced by the nearly 900k dislikes on YouTube,  but if anything the ad achieved its goal of starting a conversation that’s been long overdue. Men CAN do better, and it doesn’t take an ad to remind us of that. The #MeToo movement created a cultural shift in society over the past few years. Advertisers are adapting to a new world where products and services take a back seat to the issues surrounding brands and the consumers with a personal connection to them.

With this new campaign, Gillette is positioning their brand for a future where masculinity and the ‘ideal male’ will take on an entirely different look. If a brand wants to use their clout and online influence to spark real change, let’s give them an opportunity to do it tastefully and creatively. Gillette got it right, and I hope other brands follow suit.

Droga5 and the After Hours Athlete

David Droga is the creative chairman at Droga5, an independent ad agency based out of Manhattan.

I was familiar with the agency from reading some advertising books over the years, but I never really took the time to learn about the incredible work Droga and his team have done for brands like Microsoft, Kraft, UNICEF, PUMA and many others.

One campaign I’m very fond of was launched back in 2010 to promote Puma’s clothing line. Additional components of the campaign have been launched in 2011 and 2012, and it’s been amazing to see how one single idea can transform a brand overnight.

To appeal to a younger audience and take a different path from competitors like Adidas and Nike, Droga5 came up with a campaign centered around the after-hours athlete.

This was targeted toward people that see a game in everything in life. The pool players, bowlers, darts players, and ping pong enthusiasts that take life seriously, but not too seriously. The campaign included a revamped digital presence, outdoor ads, retail and an entirely new line of products that revolved around this new brand identity.

If you have some time, check out the Puma Social video on

The Importance of Brand Building

Brand recognition is what every client strives for. The difference is that advertising, public relations and marketing build their client’s brands in different ways.

A brand is more than just a logo or trademark used to distinguish companies from competition. It’s become a reminder of what a particular organization stands for, it’s mission. It’s not a physical distinction between brands, services and companies, but a psychological differentiation of the beliefs, attitudes, goals and aspirations of each individual product or service.

Advertising is typically a paid form of communication used to create brand awareness among audiences that represent a specific target market. The creative side of advertising always intrigues me, and I will intentionally view television spots to analyze ads and familiarize myself with the creative process. Good advertising is never readily apparent. It’s an emotional feeling that comes over you, a nostalgic experience that is more covert than overt.

As I stressed in a previous posting, all of these functions should be integrated to improve the overall effectiveness of communication objectives. In the end, the main goal of any communications objectives should be to get your brand in a consumer’s consideration set (also known as the ‘evoked set’). This is the top five brands that a consumer considers when planning a purchase or getting involved in other ways.

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