Don We Now Our…Fun Apparel? – Hallmark’s Crisis Management Mess

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    The retailer needs Hallmark’s crisis management after changing classic song lyrics for the 2013 Keepsake ornament

    With every holiday season comes a new set of crises, and it looks like we’re seeing our first major Christmas-related reputation hit.

    Hallmark is taking a ton of heat online due to the ornament shown below, part of its 2013 Keepsake collection:


    Pretty much everybody will recognize most of that as a line from “Deck the Halls,” but where did “FUN” come in? Of course, the original line is, “Don we know our gay apparel,” but apparently Hallmark found that distasteful.

    Here’s Hallmark’s explanation, as reported by the Huffington Post’s Curtis Wong:

    When the lyrics to “Deck the Halls” were translated from Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s, the word “gay” meant festive or merry. Today it has multiple meanings … the trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: “fun.”

    First off, this reeks of spin. Second, we have a news flash for you Hallmark – “gay” still means festive or merry, even if it also means homosexual. And, considering the song has been a part of mainstream Christmas culture for nearly 100 years, we really don’t think there was any sort of confusion about which meaning the lyric entails.

    One look at Hallmark’s Facebook page and you can see a steady stream of customers who agree, blasting the brand and declaring their intention to take their holiday shopping dollars elsewhere.

    From a crisis management standpoint, the safe move would have been to…ready for it? Pick one of the other million holiday songs that has no lyrics with dual meanings and create an ornament around that!

    Not exactly rocket science, right?

    Instead, Hallmark has created a real mess for itself. Does it continue to risk alienating customers and potential boycotts, hoping things blow over before it loses out on a noticeable chunk of cash, or does it pull thousands of ornaments from store shelves across the country and hurt the bottom line that way?

    Before you make any type of move, ask, “What could go wrong here?” Hallmark obviously didn’t, and now it has to face the consequences.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]