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The Hallmark Controversy Exposed One Million Moms' Death Rattle

Hallmark op-ed

When anti-LGBTQ groups try to pressure corporate America into bigotry, it rarely goes their way.

Now that the dust has settled from the Hallmark snafu, we might now be able to finally celebrate the end of the influence of a hateful outside group on major brands!

Having worked for four of the nation's largest retailers, and with dozens of brands during my career in PR, there are always pressure groups at your doorstep, demanding that you add this or extract that. Most of the time these groups concerns are heard, acknowledged, but not acted upon. Sometimes the groups are beckoning for the better good. For example, at Toys "R" Us, we had many product safety organizations who occasionally called into question safety elements around some items on our shelves. Right or wrong, Toys "R" Us always put the safety of kids first and immediately pulled the products. It was the right thing to do -- protecting kids and their future was paramount. It also was the right thing for the company to do looking forward.

Occasionally, groups react because the company put itself in an awkward position. As part of its white campaign, Dove was rightfully forced to apologize after unthinkingly publishing a digital ad that showed a black woman turning into a white woman. This was blatantly tone-deaf, and the company deserved the backlash. Dove rushed in to rectify their mistake, and subsequently began including everybody in ensuing campaigns. Better to be over the top than out of the loop, because inserting every conceivable face and body type in their promotions truly represents reality, and how our culture looks, feels, and represents now and in the next decade.

When you appeal to the masses, or a wide swath of audience, your brand invariably is going to be put in a position where you offend, isolate, or call into question a part of your customer base. And when this happens one of the most important considerations to undertake when addressing a solution is how your response will affect the brand's reputation and future.

Hallmark is the latest example of what not to do, and then about-facing, what to do, when it comes to weighing the decision to respond to a pressure group. The company learned its own lesson quickly and ended up doing the right thing. And by ultimately addressing it properly, it may be a harbinger for future reactions to divisionary protest groups. We may finally have seen the demise of influence from the conservative right on major brands.

Hallmark briefly took a wrong turn, and thereby took center stage when they went in the wrong direction. The company catered to a conservative group that harkens to the dark forgone years of exclusionism. Hallmark abruptly pulled an ad that showed a simple kiss between two brides at a wedding. A scene that is more common than it's ever been, not just in commercials, but on programs, films, talk shows, etc. Then they smartly reversed itself, and agreed to put the ad back on the air, vowed to support diversity, and aimed to work with GLAAD to "better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands."

Hallmark was temporarily trapped into a metaphorical box of their get-well cards. They induced this disorder upon themselves by not doing the right thing to begin with. And, with lots of pressure from outside groups and ordinary people who represent reality and inclusion, and threatening boycotts via #BoycottHallmarkChannel, Hallmark got well. The elixir was the pressure by inclusive groups whose power now supercedes that of hate groups.

Hallmark is not a Christian brand or a right-wing brand. It's a family brand, and now, and especially in the next decade, more diverse types of families will exist -- contrary to the beliefs of any so-called One Million Moms or any other bigoted groups who only see white and straight.

(RELATED: One Million Moms Is the Secretive Antigay Group That Can't Stop Failing)

Hallmark claimed at first, they "didn't want to get in the middle," and based their decision on that flawed and outdated position. Well, there is no such thing as middle ground anymore. Removing the "offensive ad" put them squarely on one side, anything but the middle. And it was the wrong side, and it is a decision that the company would have regretted if they had stuck to it moving forward.

Hallmark would have left itself in the past, a verifiable Ozzie and Harriet network, unable to produce programming featuring different types of families. Ironically, diversification was a goal of the company, according to recent comments last week by its CEO. The company would have alienated a growing audience that is at once receptive to the feel-good and loving aspirations the Hallmark movies and the brand work to exude. Hallmark would have spent the next year, or two, or more, trying to explain itself out of "staying in the middle."

The brand would have been forced to produce and broadcast straight films for a totally straight, conservative viewership and consumers -- the lone demographic that would be left for them. Offering movies of straight weddings. Cry-worthy stories about white-straight love. Cards and gifts for straight nuptials, funerals, and baptisms. By reversing itself, Hallmark has spared us all of another rendition of the Christian Broadcast Network, which is exactly what the One Million Moms wanted, and were denied.

And the group's reaction not only spoke volumes, but probably had Hallmark breathing a huge sigh of relief. "The culture war, better yet the war for the soul of man, is definitely heating up," read their statement. "1MM will keep fighting because souls are at stake. This LGBTQ spirit is the same spirit we read about in the Bible that confronted Lot. It's relentless but the good news is we serve the God who is King of kings, Lord of lords, and will not be mocked. Hallmark, Zola, etc. and all that make up those companies will ALL bow to the Lord."

As we approach the 2020s, brands that cop to the right will inevitably be forced to shift the right way, toward diversity and inclusion. The recent move by Chick-fil-A, as it seeps into urban areas, is a perfect example. Some companies don't need a lesson on which way to go. Where would Nike be without Colin Kaepernick? Pantene without the Trans Chorus of L.A.? Olay without Ellen? Or FX without Pose?

Mmm, Pose, a heavily nominated Emmy and Golden Globe show. Maybe Pose is a lesson in what should be ahead for Hallmark, since that show really does represent a different, more inclusive, loving type of a modern family, and draws great ratings.

Once corporate America has rid itself of backward thinking leadership, as it is starting to now, then we will see a major shift with forward thinking decisions. Where being called out by a group or an organization, especially one that is exclusionary won't be so much of a threat, but as a dated attempt to make the brand go backward.

Groups who preach righteousness and love, and demand change by brands to see things their narrow way, are now being categorized by businesses as alienators that have nothing to do with the company's bottom line. In fact that bottom line is likely to shrink by cow-towing.

Hallmark's reversal will be a strong lesson moving forward for other brands not to bend-over, literally backwards, to groups like One Million Moms. These groups represent a bygone era when weddings, birthdays, and holidays were only celebrated by straight, white families. There is no room in our society for this way of thinking, and certainly not in the boardrooms of corporate America in 2020.

Hallmark quickly realized it was wrong. They understood the anger and the hurt the "staying in the middle" excuse caused, and they boldly and humbly admitted they were wrong, and admirably reversed what would have been a death-knell of a decision for the brand, and now is a strong lesson learned for other consumer companies.

"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," Zola's Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Chi, said in a statement. "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."

And every day moving forward into the next decade and generation.

JohnCasey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.