Much like thousands of observers on social media, Zola chief marketing officer Mike Chi says he was "shocked" on Friday to learn that the Hallmark Channel had abruptly pulled four of the company's six advertisements. Three days later--even after Hallmark announced it reversed its decision--the wedding-registry startup's future working with Hallmark is still up in the air.

"They let us know over email that they did not want to air any ads that were 'controversial,'" Chi says of the network's initial removal of the spots, which included footage of two brides kissing. "We were surprised because we did not find these ads controversial."

The commercials, which featured a diversity of couples, including at least one same-sex pairing, had been airing since the end of November on about 100 cable and streaming networks, Chi says. It was not the first campaign the company has run featuring same-sex couples, he adds.

"This is our busiest season, and our only goal was to show couples getting married today that folks from lots of different backgrounds are coming to us," Chi says.

After receiving boycott threats from viewers and advertisers, Hallmark's parent company, Crown Media Family Networks, issued a statement from Hallmark president and CEO Mike Perry on Sunday evening reversing the decision to pull the ads. 

"The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we've seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused. Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision," Perry said.

Chi says his company had not heard anything from Hallmark as of Monday afternoon about reinstating the advertisements. He says Zola has no plans to air these or other advertisements on Hallmark until "we understand what the path forward is for them," and have "assurances that they are not going to censor ads on the basis of the type of people that are being shown."

New York City-based Zola was founded in 2013 by a group of veterans of Gilt Groupe, including Shan-Lyn Ma, who is Zola's chief executive. Since raising $100 million in 2018 (for a total of $140 million), the company has doubled in size to 200 employees. It counts more than one million couples as customers of its wedding registry, wedding planning, paper products, and other offerings. In 2020, the company plans to launch a honeymoon product, as it expands to other lines of business and tools to serve couples in and around the engagement "life stage."

Chi says the company won't shy away from the same kind of advertising it's been doing, which "shows lots of people celebrating their love." He continues: "We will keep finding fun ways to connect with the audience that's getting married today. Maybe that audience looks different than it did 20 or 40 years ago."

Published on: Dec 16, 2019