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Bradley Johnson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

6 Hallmark Products Greeted With Controversy

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Bradley Johnson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1910, the Hallmark greeting card company—named after the “hallmark” term used by goldsmiths to indicate quality, and after the Hall family that started it—has been synonymous with warm wishes and platitudes for every conceivable occasion.

Unfortunately, some of their sentiments have not been as carefully thought out as others. Take a look at a few instances where Hallmark missed the mark entirely.


As a cardboard titan in the greeting-card industry, it’s not unusual for Hallmark to acquire smaller companies. (Or large ones: They own Crayola.) In 1998, Hallmark purchased the British-based Creative Publishing and took over their library of well-wishing birthday acknowledgements. Lost in the shuffle was a card Creative designed intended for pre-adolescent girls that read:

“You’re 13 today! If you had a rich boyfriend he’d give you diamonds and rubies. Well maybe next year you will—when you’ve bigger boobies!”

According to Fox 31 in Denver, a customer in the UK plucked the card off a shelf in 2012 and Tweeted its contents out. A “surprised and horrified” Hallmark offered an apology and recalled the remaining inventory.


Hallmark founder Joyce Clyde Hall had ambitions beyond holiday greetings: He felt his millions of mass-produced cards would be an effective way of introducing fine art to Americans. In 1959, Hallmark agreed to pay expressionist artist Salvador Dali $15,000 to produce 10 paintings they could use on Christmas cards. After Dali had finished, Hallmark believed only two would be of interest to the public at large: Dali’s abstract renditions of the Nativity and the Madonna. Both were released in 1960—and both caused significant public outcry for using the Christmas season to market weirdly ethereal illustrations of religious imagery. Hallmark recalled most of the cards; those that remained in circulation became collector’s items.



A Walgreen’s customer in Northridge, California was looking for Hanukkah gift paper in late 2014 when she spotted something unusual: Hallmark wrap that appeared to be decorated with swastikas. According to CNN, the woman alerted Walgreen’s, who contacted Hallmark. The company offered a public apology and said the pattern was taken from the company’s reference material archive and was intended to evoke an old Chinese vase design. “It was an oversight on our part to not notice the intersecting lines that could be seen as a swastika pattern,” Hallmark spokesperson Julie Elliott told the Kansas City Star.



Hallmark ran into some angry mothers in 1988 after issuing college graduation cards that appeared to conclude a finished education is best topped off by getting heavily intoxicated. A California chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) argued the company was promoting irresponsible behavior by marketing cards depicting a refrigerator full of beer and an egg that read:

“Don’t go to graduation without a good breakfast first.”

Hallmark pulled the cards and declared it would stop mentioning alcohol when designing graduation greetings. Some retail outlets took the cards down voluntarily.



Hallmark has cut out a sizable slice of market share in a variety of holiday goods, including ornaments. In 2013, the company offered an (intentionally) ugly Christmas sweater tree decoration that was emblazoned with the phrase “Don we now our fun apparel.” The wording substituted “fun” for “gay” as the line originally appears in “Deck the Halls.” According to CNN, Hallmark argued the change was due to the fact “gay” had “multiple meanings” today versus when the song was written in the 1800s. After the company was accused of fearing the word “gay,” it issued an apology via Twitter.


What could be more harmless than a Hallmark-issued poster of Charlie Brown’s adorable dog, Snoopy? Lots of things: In 1983, Hallmark endured criticism for a wall decoration that featured Charles Schulz’s creation indicating he’d much rather “party” than “study.” The item was customizable, with area high schools able to order copies with their name printed as part of Snoopy’s thought balloon. School boards and parent-teacher associations complained the artwork was dismissive of education. Schulz told the Associated Press that he didn’t recall ever seeing the concept for approval.

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John G. Mabanglo/Getty Images
The iMac Was Almost Called the MacMan
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John G. Mabanglo/Getty Images

After breaking out with its Macintosh line of personal computers in the 1980s, Apple was in a slump. Sales had flagged as Microsoft's Windows operating system made waves. In 1998, the company was set to unveil a product that it hoped would reinvigorate its brand.

And they almost blew it.

According to Ken Segall, the advertising genius behind their "Think Different" campaign, Apple founder Steve Jobs was expecting the iMac to reverse the company's ailing fortunes. Where older Macs had been boxy, beige, and bland, the iMac came in an assortment of colors and had a transparent chassis that showed off its circuitry. The problem, as Segall writes in his new book, Insanely Simple, was that Jobs didn't want to call it the iMac. He wanted to call it the MacMan.

"While that frightening name is banging around in your head, I'd like you to think for a moment about the art of product naming," Segall writes. "Because of all the things in this world that cry out for simplicity, product naming probably contains the most glaring examples of right and wrong. From some companies, you see names like 'iPhone.' From others you see names like ‘Casio G'zOne Commando' or the ‘Sony DVP SR200P/B' DVD player."

According to Segall, Jobs liked the fact that MacMan was slightly reminiscent of Sony's Walkman branding concept for its line of cassette players. (Later, Sony had a Discman, Pressman, and Talkman.) But Segall, who named products for a living, feared the name would take away from Apple's identity as being original. It was also gender-biased, and alienating an entire demographic of consumers was never a good thing.

Instead, Segall suggested "iMac," with the "i" for internet, because the unit was designed to connect easily to the web. Jobs "hated" the idea, along with other suggestions, even though Segall felt the iMac could provide a foundation to name other devices, just as Sony's Walkman had. Segall kept suggesting it, and Jobs eventually had it printed on a prototype model to see how it would look. After encouragement from his staff, he dropped MacMan. With this key contribution, Segall made sure no one would be lining up to buy a PhoneMan 10 years later. 

[h/t FastCoDesign]

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Warner Bros./iStock
The Bizarre Reason Burger King Wants to Keep It Out of Russia
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Warner Bros./iStock

For decades, Burger King and McDonald’s have been engaged in one of the most competitive corporate rivalries in fast food history. In the 1980s, the two actually went to court over accusations about Burger King's sourcing and preparation of meats. In 2016, a BK restaurant in Queens, New York, was draped in sheets and made to look like the ghost of McDonald’s.

The sniping continues, but this time McDonald’s isn’t really involved. According to The Hollywood Reporter and coming our way via Eater, the Russian branch of Burger King has filed a complaint with the country’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) over the recent horror blockbuster It. The reason? They claim the movie’s evil clown, Pennywise, is so reminiscent of Ronald McDonald that the release will constitute an unfair advertising opportunity for their competitor.

While this sounds like either a prank or publicity stunt hatched by Burger King’s marketing arm, the FAS confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the burger chain did indeed request the movie be banned. That doesn’t mean it’s not a marketing ploy—there must be economic advantages to comparing a chief competitor’s mascot to a child-murdering clown—but it does offer some substance to the claim. The FAS told the outlet that it “can’t be concerned” with a fictional character in a movie that has nothing to do with hamburgers, but hasn’t made any final decision.

Owing to the recent scary-clown hysteria, McDonald’s has actually dialed down Ronald’s appearances in public over the past two years, which does raise suspicion over what he’s been doing with his downtime. It: Chapter Two is scheduled to infuriate Burger King even more when it’s released in 2019.

[h/t Eater]  


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