Recently, Hallmark Channel USA (Hallmark's TV station) aired ads featuring same sex couples.
One Million Moms, an organization self-described as "a division of the American Family Association, was begun to give moms an impact with the decision-makers and let them know we are upset with the messages they are sending our children and the values (or lack of them) they are pushing," created a petition to remove the ad. The petition got around 26,000 signatures (I saw a number up to 30,000 at one point). Hallmark stopped airing the ads from that pressure. Then an uproar ensued on social media and beyond.
Why? I see two reasons:
- The socio-political impact of excluding a minority group
- The action of taking down ads about same sex marriages opposes brand values
The second reason is most likely the subconscious driver for the backlash. The Hallmark brand is about inclusion. It’s in their vision statement: "We will be the company that creates a more emotionally connected world by making a genuine difference in every life, every day."
Excluding a group of people based on their race, religion, sexual preference, or gender doesn’t represent an emotionally connected world. Inclusion does.
After a day or two of digital protests and celebrity pressure, the CEO issued a statement and put the adds back on the air, much to some people’s chagrin. In some forums, Hallmark viewers are threatening never to watch Hallmark TV again or buy their cards. Although Hallmark took a risk airing the ads on their network, I’m 110% positive that Hallmark will turn out ok from this. History tells us this is true.
For example, look at Nike.
Colin Kaepernick started kneeling at football games to protest racial injustice, specifically, police violence against people of color. He subsequently lost his job over the controversy because some fans didn't like how he used the NFL platform to communicate that view and they felt that kneeling was disrespectful to the flag and veterans (although Kaepernick got the idea to kneel from a veteran).
However, Nike had a different view. Nike saw this as an opportunity to make a statement and created an ad about it. This is the ad:
As a response, many conservatives who are opposed to players kneeling at football games burned their shoes and swore they would never buy from Nike again.
What happened? Nike’s revenue increased 31%. Why?
Let’s look at Nike’s brand. Nike’s vision statement is: “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
Every athlete. That sounds pretty inclusive to me. By not embracing all races, all genders, all points of view, Nike was ignoring its vision statement and not being true to its brand. Although it was a risk to be perceived as political, it was a win regarding the message's connection to the brand and values.
Now let’s look at Chick-Fil-A, a company who recently became inclusive.
Chick-Fil-A has been perceived as a notoriously anti-LGBTQ organization for years based on their contributions to anti-LGBTQ organizations and statements from their CEO. You could say that it didn’t hurt the brand because they were successful in parts of the country where that didn’t really matter to their customers. But it did. It not just limited, but in some cases prevented, their growth. They lost contracts at airports. Cities, like Boston, wouldn’t let them in. Heck, they only lasted 8 days in a mall outside of London and lost their lease because of their exclusionary views.
The irony is that their support of these anti-LGBTQ organizations is counter to their vision statement and a quote from the founder: “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.” You can’t be part of someone's life if you are donating to an organization that has established programs to silence and disparage the group of which that person is affiliated. That's a contradiction and a great reason to lose customers, specifically, LGBTQ customers.
Since they have switched their stand on the issue, and took action on it, they have grown.
What is the lesson here?
- If your brand is inclusive of all types of people based on your values and vision statement, be inclusive. Stay on brand. Excluding a group of people based on a petition or slighting a perceived audience is just wrong. Stay true to who your company is and its values.
- Exclusion doesn’t pay. Literally. Not only is it morally wrong, it is expensive and will result in missed opportunities. Ask Chick-Fil-A.