The Hallmark Channel pulled four TV ads featuring brides kissing each other on Thursday after a targeted campaign by a conservative group.
Asked to explain why the ads had been rejected, an employee of Hallmark’s parent company said the channel did not accept ads “that are deemed controversial,” according to an email exchange shared with The New York Times. A spokesman for Hallmark said the women’s “public displays of affection” violated the channel’s policies, but he declined to comment on why a nearly identical ad featuring a bride and groom kissing was not rejected.
The series of six ads, for the wedding planning website Zola, first appeared on the Hallmark Channel on Dec. 2. The ads, which feature several configurations of couples, all offer variations on the same concept: While standing at the altar, couples ponder whether guests would have arrived on time and bought them better gifts if only they had created a custom wedding website with Zola.
In some of the ads, the couples kiss at the altar and in the aisle, surrounded by friends. Most of the ads feature a same-sex female couple along with heterosexual couples. One of the six ads focuses on only the lesbian couple.
Early this week, One Million Moms, a division of the conservative American Family Association that defines its mission as the “fight against indecency,” published a petition urging Hallmark to “please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples.”
A statement on the organization’s website announcing the campaign quotes an unnamed commenter on a Hallmark Channel message board: “Why would you show a lesbian wedding commercial on the Hallmark Channel? Hallmark movies are family friendly, and you ruined it with the commercial.”
As of Friday evening, nearly 25,000 people had signed a petition to make Hallmark reconsider the commercials, according to the site.
On Twitter, people upset with Hallmark’s decision to pull the same-sex ads began their own offensive against the cable network.
Trending on Sunday were the hashtags #boycotthallmark and #BoycottHallmarkChannel, with more than 8,000 tweets mostly from users identifying themselves as L.G.B.T. families, allies and Hallmark viewers.
One of the tweets featured the word “Homophobic” using the same font and crown design the network uses in its branding.
On Thursday, Zola was notified that four of the six ads would be pulled. In the email exchange, an ad buyer representing Zola asks for an explanation of the decision.
“We are not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” an account representative for Hallmark responded.
The Hallmark Channel spokesman suggested on Friday afternoon that the issue was the couple’s kissing. “The decision not to air overt public displays of affection in our sponsored advertisement, regardless of the participants, is in line with our current policy, which includes not featuring political advertisements, offensive language, R-rated movie content and many other categories,” he said.
Only four of the ads were rejected as controversial, however, according to the email exchange with Zola and several of the company’s representatives. In one of the two ads that were permitted to continue to air, a bride and groom kiss passionately at the altar.
On Friday evening, Crown Media Family Networks, the channel’s parent company, said in a statement that it had 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,” it said.
Mike Chi, the chief marketing officer of Zola, said he was taken aback by Hallmark’s decision to pull the ads. Zola has run ads featuring same-sex couples on the Hallmark channel previously, he said, without hiccups. He said he was not convinced that the issue was the kiss.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Tensions over the ads coincided with a potential shift at the Hallmark Channel. This month Bill Abbott, Crown Media’s chief executive, announced that he was “open” to airing Christmas movies that feature L.G.B.T.Q. families, according to The Advocate.
Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.