Hallmark CEO Apologizes After Removing Zola's Same-Sex Commercials: "This Was the Wrong Decision"

Zola Wedding Commercial - H 2019

"All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark," Zola's chief marketing officer Mike Chi said in a statement.

Hallmark Cards Inc. president and CEO Mike Perry on Sunday apologized to wedding planner website Zola after the Hallmark Channel removed four commercials that featured a same-sex wedding. 

"The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we've seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused," Perry said in a statement. "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. ... Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences."

The removal of the commercials followed petitions by conservative groups including One Million Moms and Lifesite that asked the network to not run films or commercials that featured the LGBTQ community. While cutting ads that featured same-sex weddings, the network continued to air two other Zola ads that did not.

GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis applauded the reinstatement, saying in a statement: "The Hallmark Channel’s decision to correct its mistake sends an important message to LGBTQ people and represents a major loss for fringe organizations, like One Million Moms, whose sole purpose is to hurt families like mine. LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be a part of advertisements and family programming and that will never change. GLAAD exists to hold brands like The Hallmark Channel accountable when they make discriminatory decisions and to proactively ensure families of all kinds are represented in fair and accurate ways."

Added GLAAD in a tweet: "You spoke out and @hallmarkchannel listened. LGBTQ people deserve to see ourselves represented on all TV networks. Thank you to everyone who raised your voices."

In its statement, posted Sunday on its corporate website, Hallmark added that it "is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion — both in our workplace as well as the products and experiences we create. 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."

Hallmark's statement cited its greeting cards and commercials featuring and aimed at the LGBTQ population and its recognition as one of the Human Rights Campaigns Best Places to Work and as one of Forbes America’s Best Employers for Diversity. It also spotlighted programming like August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Colm Tóibín's The Blackwater Lightship, "both of which highlight the importance of tolerance and understanding."

Zola's campaign began airing Dec. 2 on the Hallmark Channel. Each commercial featured a couple at the altar, questioning whether guests would have arrived on time or purchased better wedding gifts had they begun their wedding planning process with Zola. Most of the ads featured a same-sex couple as well as heterosexual couples. One of the six ads solely featured a lesbian couple (seen below).

The initial complaint to Hallmark from One Million Moms, a socially conservative group created by the American Family Association, stated, "Please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples, and please do not add LGBT movies to the Hallmark Channel. Such content goes against Christian and conservative values that are important to your primary audience. You will lose viewers if you cave to the LBGT agenda."

The group later updated its website after saying it had communicated with Bill Abbott, CEO of Hallmark parent Crown Media Family Networks, who confirmed to One Million Moms that the commercials were pulled from the network. "He reported the advertisement aired in error, but he was informed about it after hearing from concerned 1MM supporters," the updated statement read. "The call to our office gave us the opportunity to also confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family friendly network. Praise the Lord!"

Mike Chi, Zola's chief marketing officer, had told THR on Saturday that "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. 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."

A day before Perry's apology, a Hallmark spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter, "Crown Media Family Networks made the decision to pull the commercials. The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value."

GLAAD's Ellis gave the following statement to THR in response to the incident at the time: "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."

She continued, "As so many other TV and cable networks showcase, LGBTQ families are part of family programming. Advertisers on The Hallmark Channel should see this news and question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups, which solely exist to harm LGBTQ families."

Dec .14, 4:25 p.m. Updated with statement from Hallmark.
Dec. 14, 6:32 p.m. Updated with statement from GLAAD.