Where Will Hallmark Place Its Mistletoe?
How Hallmark trusted its brand over Lori Loughlin, but trusted the public over a same-sex ad
It’s Hallmark’s 10th anniversary of “Countdown to Christmas” movies. I’m proud to say, I’ve been a dedicated viewer for all ten years. This year, they’ve been showcasing the year each movie first aired, which is a nice reminder to how old I am — just kidding, I do love seeing some oldies but goodies pop up.
Some older movies that don’t always air have been on this year. I’m hoping one of the very first Christmas movies for the countdown, The National Tree, gets some airtime because it’s one of my favorites and doesn’t always get shown with all of the new movies out there. I am sure some of this has to do with the fact that as soon as Lori Loughlin got entangled into the college bribery scandal, Hallmark discontinued any brand association with her. She was written out of When Calls the Heart and none of her Christmas movies have aired since. This is remarkable since just last year she was one of the “faces” of Hallmark commercials promoting the season and both movie channels as well as a countdown to Christmas.
You can spend a lifetime building your brand and image but it only takes one little misstep to derail the progress.
What Loughlin and Hallmark prove is the importance of maintaining brand image and sticking to your core principles. Until the college admissions scandal, Loughlin had very little negative publicity and her image was a perfect fit for the Hallmark brand that targets women who are faith-based and value wholesome ideals. During previous countdowns, Loughlin is taped reminiscing on her childhood Christmas and “hunkering down-home for the holidays” revealing her favorite memories and traditions.
One minute you are the poster girl for wholesome and the next day you are the poster girl for deceit. While most of us do not live the high-profile life as Loughlin, we can learn a few key points of personal brand:
Stay true to core principles. Loughlin made a career of being viewed as down-to-earth and playing relatable characters; This is quite different from the high-maintenance, superficial woman who paid off a recruiter to get her daughters into college. Now, wanting well for your children could be a core value Loughlin possesses, but to steal and fake your way for the sake of public appearance is not a positive trait.
Admit wrongdoing immediately. Everyone makes mistakes. PR 101 tells us to admit when you mess up, take responsibility, and move forward to correct your wrongdoing. Maybe Loughlin needs a new publicist (or husband) but she did the exact opposite. Her own family was not a united front in messaging, she appears dishonest and fake in her handling and limited comments, and she is letting other people tell her story.
Stay positive and open. It is easy to go on the defensive and attack or to shut down completely during a crisis; however, there is something to be said for continuing to shine during your darkest moments, honestly and authentically.
Hallmark may have let Loughlin go quickly following the scandal but for their brand to remain intact, they had to stay true to their core principles. On the flip side, they were a part of Martha Stewart’s comeback following her scandal. While the relationship was short-lived and didn’t exceed expectations, Hallmark did give Stewart a second chance after she gained some humility along the way and learned from her time behind bars.
Loughlin appears to want to jump straight to her comeback, forgetting about the admittance of wrongdoing, remorse, and a plan for the future. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree either — her daughter has shown even less class throughout the crisis, and adding extra tarnish to both brand images. As most narcissistic and self-centered individuals, Olivia Jade can’t stay off of social media and only cares about herself during this time — she comes across as entitled and lives up to the persona many people think of rich, Hollywood elites and not wanting them to get away with taking academic spots from rightfully earned students who didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy to cheat their way into school.
As if the Loughlin controversy wasn’t enough for the cheerful Christmas brand, Zola featured a same-sex wedding advertisement to air on Hallmark. Hallmark pulled the ad because it didn’t live up to its brand guides. It seems as though this wouldn’t be on point for the brand, yet Zola same-sex ads have run before on the channel. Hallmark received pressure to remove the ads as some found it offensive. Not realizing how many of its viewers would be against this, Hallmark followed public opinion of what they perceived as their target audience. When #BoycottHallmarkChannel started to trend on social media, they realized the public was not on their side and reversed course.
So, what is the difference between Lori Loughlin, Martha Stewart, and Zola?
Legal vs. social issues. Loughlin is still entangled in her legal battle with no clear results. Stewart came to Hallmark after she served her time and was earning her redemption. Zola is a social issue and more of a public opinion battle than legal.
Numbers matter. Ratings speak volumes in the media industry and determine the fate of many programs. It’s one reason Stewart’s show failed. Social media numbers and public opinion also matter in influencing how a company makes decisions. Did Hallmark reverse its decision because it was on-brand for them or because they picked the wrong side of public opinion and realized they were alienating a viewership they didn’t know existed? Moreover, is Aunt Becky not as popular as we thought?! Petitions exist to bring her back to Hallmark but it struggles to get 200 or even 2,000 signatures compared to the 26,000 for Zola.
Paying vs. getting paid. Loughlin was an employee and extension of Hallmark brand values. They paid her to be a face and expose good faith and values that were associated with the brand. Stewart also was given a contract for her show but when numbers failed, it was canceled. Zola was an advertiser — paying Hallmark to feature its brand on the channel. Getting paid to promote a product for a 30 or 60-second spot is less brand identity than multiple movies, a series, or a show.
Hallmark will have a chance to solidify its brand identity and image. If a same-sex Christmas movie premieres in the future, the network will cross over to paying to expose those values to its audience. Remember 25 days of Christmas on ABC Family? They gave up on family completely, ditched it from the brand and title, and incorporated same-sex plots and themes across the board. 25 Days of Christmas viewership fell and they never came close to Hallmark’s Christmas viewership — not even when Elf premiered. It will be interesting to see where the mistletoe gets placed.