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Hallmark is getting flak for changing the lyrics of “Deck the Halls” on a holiday ornament. The company changed the lyrics to read “Don we now our FUN apparel,” omitting the word “gay” from the popular song.
Here & Now’s Robin Young talks to marketing professor Akshay Rao.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
Hallmark is apologizing for replacing the word gay with the word fun, thus creating the new line don we now our fun apparel on a little teeny sweater on a holiday ornament. Originally, Hallmark defended the switch, saying it didn't want to confuse people. Well, that prompted outrage from supporters of the gay community.
Our next guest says Hallmark should have learned a lesson from Target. Both companies are considered gay-friendly. Both sell same-sex marriage greeting cards. But a few years ago, Target supported an anti-gay gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota and had to put out that fire.
Akshay Rao is a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota. Professor, talk more about what you see as the problem here.
AKSHAY RAO: It is the surprise element that a corporation or an entity that you had considered to be your friend suddenly shows this other side that is inimical to your lifestyle, your preferences, your positions. That surprise element, that shock, in fact, creates the greater backlash, in that I suspect one of the reasons that Hallmark is facing what it's facing today. It has historically been thought of as a gay-friendly organization.
YOUNG: Hallmark wrote in its original statement that it created the holiday sweater ornament in the spirit of fun, and 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, which we thought could lead our intent open to misinterpretation.
RAO: Correct. And that sounds awfully defensive. And the rightness or wrongness of the issue is not particularly relevant anymore. There are three things that are interesting to me as an academic here. One, is it was predictable. It is predictable because it comes across as eschewing support for gay people. The second, is they are making an error by being defensive and by continuing to sell the ornament. I think they should immediately stop and say mea culpa, we've made a mistake. And this is going to stop right now because we think it's offensive or potentially offensive to an important segment in the marketplace.
YOUNG: Tell me about that. How important is that segment in the marketplace? Was Hallmark also realizing that they might be losing a huge consumer base that would love an ornament that had the word gay?
RAO: Exactly. So the tension is constantly, well, I might offend some people. But on the other hand, other people might say, yes, good for you, and I'm going to patronize you as a consequence of this action. Well, the empirical evidence is pretty clear. Lack of support for gay people is on the decline and it is going to become a non-issue in our culture pretty darn quickly. Now the third thing is how do they dig themselves out of this hole?
And my initial thought on that is they should avoid engaging on the issue. They should employ some other psychological principle such as humor to get themselves out of it. And one thing they could do is design an I'm sorry Hallmark card and move on.
And at the end of the day, they've done everything they need to do to defang the criticism. And then, you know, there are some important strategic considerations that will influence how they behave in the future, including finding out who the people are that they have offended, bringing them on board and forming a little privy council of people who can advise them on how to not make such predictable marketing errors in the future.
YOUNG: That's Akshay Rao, General Mills chair in marketing at the University of Minnesota. Professor Rao, thanks so much.
RAO: Thank you, Robin.
YOUNG: Of course, they might also have turned off the community that would not want their carol tampered with. Your thoughts. Our friend Renee Graham tweeted: They're right. Let's change it. Henceforth, I will sing don we now our LGBT apparel. Your thoughts at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.