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calling card
by Barry Silverstein
June 15, 2009

Brands that don’t keep up with the times are subject to negative perceptions, eroding brand preference and, ultimately, a decline in brand equity. Particularly vulnerable are those brands operating in businesses that seem old and stodgy. Take traditional printed greeting cards, for example. While they maintain their popularity, printed cards are increasingly under attack by online greetings—“e-cards”—which can incorporate multimedia to competitive advantage.

You’d think that would have Hallmark worried. Hallmark is the brand most associated with traditional greeting cards. The company sells them through 43,000 retail locations in the US, 3,000 retail locations in Canada and countless locations in 100 other countries around the globe.

But Hallmark, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010, is an iconic brand that manages to keep up with the times.

Greeting cards are still the bulk of the company’s business. Hallmark produces 19,000 new and redesigned greeting cards and related products each year, including party goods, gift wrap and ornaments. Today Hallmark greeting cards incorporate everything from Disney characters to sound clips from popular movies, TV shows and songs. Hallmark also uses the Internet not only to provide e-cards, but also as a means of offering personalized, printed greeting cards that the company mails for consumers. Not bad for a little family business known as Hall Brothers that started by producing picture postcards in 1910.

But greeting cards alone do not account for a company with about US$ 4.5 billion in sales. Hallmark has found other profitable ways to leverage its brand name outside its core business.

A particularly successful brand spin-off has been the television show Hallmark Hall of Fame, which originated in 1951. It was the early days of television, when sponsored shows were commonplace. Hallmark Hall of Fame presented Shakespearean and other classic works in its first years, later moving into original dramas and literary adaptations. The show continues to air periodically. It has earned 79 Emmys to date.

One of the Emmy awards Hallmark received was for a greeting card commercial. (Only Hallmark commercials appear during Hallmark Hall of Fame.) The commercial depicted an elderly man taking reading lessons. At the end of the commercial, it is apparent that the reason for his effort was so he could read greeting cards from his grandchildren. Other Hallmark commercials present similarly poignant slices of life that relate to the importance of greeting cards.

According to Hallmark, Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations attract 10 to 20 million viewing households. Hallmark Chairman Donald J. Hall says, “It continues to work its magic on our image to a degree I cannot fully explain. I am not aware of any such vehicle, in or out of television, available to any other company, with such a positive impact.”

Hallmark Hall of Fame was just the first of many electronic media ventures for Hallmark. In the 1980s, the company bought Spanish-language television stations and the Univision Spanish-language network, then acquired a cable television network, but these businesses were sold in the 1990s. Ultimately, such forays laid the groundwork for the 2001 launch of the Hallmark Channel, a cable network that offers “family-friendly programming” and produces original movies. Hallmark Channel, currently viewed in 86 million US households, recently spun off Hallmark Movie Channel, which is the exclusive repository for Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations.

The Hallmark brand name is prominent in other media. It adorns Hallmark Magazine, a paid subscription publication that publishes recipes and projects. Hallmark Magazine has a rate base of 700,000 and averages nearly 4 million readers per issue.

The brand also achieves visibility through a chain of Hallmark Gold Crown retail stores in the US and Canada and Hallmark-branded shops in other countries. Hallmark Gold Crown stores are independently owned and operated under a licensing agreement with Hallmark. Crown Rewards, introduced in 1994, was the first consumer reward program in the greeting card industry, offering consumers points for purchasing merchandise at Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Crown Rewards has more than 12 million active members and is one of the largest and longest-running brand loyalty programs in the US.

Hallmark operates internationally through a division based in the United Kingdom. International subsidiaries include Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan and New Zealand. Hallmark cards are produced in 40 languages.

Hallmark’s chief brand rival is American Greetings, a company founded only a few years earlier than Hallmark. American Greetings owns another leading greeting cards brand, Gibson, and also markets cards under the Carlton Cards brand. American Greetings produces gift wrap and party goods, as does Hallmark. At about US$ 2 billion in sales, American Greetings is dwarfed by Hallmark. However, American Greetings is publicly owned, while Hallmark is a family-owned private company, so American Greetings could conceivably gain access to more capital.

Hallmark has also faced competition from smaller brands over the years; in fact, the company was sued in the 1980s by Blue Mountain Arts for copyright infringement and unfair competition. As a result, Hallmark was forced to discontinue Personal Touch, one of its greeting card lines.

Despite these continuing competitive challenges, Hallmark is one of those brands whose name is synonymous with its product category. Think greeting cards, and chances are you think Hallmark. That’s an accomplishment worthy of a “Congratulations” card.


Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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Hallmark - calling card
 When I was in an advertising agency I worked with Hallmark UK in the mid-Nineties. At the time we looked at the potential impact of the 'new media' age, obviously with concern that it would kill off greetings cards (bearing in mind the UK at that time sent the highest number of cards per capita). What we found, and as far as I'm aware has subsequently happened, was that the likes of email, SMS, MMS, actually threw in to sharp relief the benefit of sending a card i.e. it can be kept and is more sentimental whereas, generally speaking, a message sent in a 'new media' channel can disappear in to the ether. 
Crispin Reed, Managing Director, Brandhouse - June 15, 2009
 Hallmark is, indeed, one of the stalwart brands in America; just in the interest of accuracy, Hallmark Magazine fell victim to the economic crunch and was shuttered with the Feb/Mar issue. It's too bad - the pub had a vibrant offering with rising circulation numbers, but like numerous companies this year, expenses were trimmed and this enjoyable brand offshoot was pruned. 
Jennifer Nugent, Media Director, Muller Bressler Brown - June 15, 2009
 Trying times bring out the passion in people – that’s multiplied 4,000-fold at Hallmark’s headquarters in Kansas City. I’m new to the company, recently relocating from Los Angeles to join their Marketing Design Studio. In my fifth week here, I am floored daily by how much my colleagues pour themselves into their work. You’d never guess a company with a 100-year legacy would feel so much like a Dot Com startup. People here are preserving and promoting the greeting card category, while simultaneously taking giant leaps forward with digitally-enabled connecting. To a brand marketer like me, this is utopia – a place where being an artist and an entrepreneur are one and the same. Don’t be surprised to see this brand thrive for another 100 years. Not because they’re so well established, but precisely because they don’t act like they are. 
Daryl Forkell, Editorial Strategist, Hallmark, Inc. - June 19, 2009
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