Tuesday, May 26, 2009
With its ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ advertising campaign, Hallmark Cards, Inc., hoped to convince consumers to insist on buying only Hallmark greeting cards and to check the brand insignia on the backs of cards they received. ‘‘This campaign hinges on the concept that there is only one thing consumers need to know: it’s Hallmark, cards that say what they think and feel, the brand they trust,’’ said Brad Van Auken, the company’s director of brand management and marketing. The television spots for the campaign featured a young married couple either exchanging greeting cards between them or picking out cards to give to others. The woman attempts to teach her husband the best techniques to discreetly check whether or not the cards he receives are from Hallmark. The campaign played on the company’s long-running slogan, ‘‘When you care enough to send the very best.’’ Hallmark, the dominant greeting card company in the United States, had a wholesome image and was known for its emphasis on excellence. The company had a long history of successful marketing endeavors, including the award-winning ‘‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’’ series of television programs. Hallmark and its two major competitors, Gibson Greetings, Inc. and American Greetings Corporation, branched out in 1997 by marketing their merchandise via the Internet and offering related products, such as cards that consumers could print at home on their computers. The ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ commercials won an Effie Award and were popular among consumers, especially with women, who were the primary target market. The campaign was launched in 1996 and ran through 1997. As in previous years, Hallmark’s sales accounted for nearly half of the $7 billion in revenues generated by the greeting card industry in 1997.
The Hallmark company was established in 1910, when a penniless teenager named Joyce C. Hall arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, and began marketing his two shoeboxes full of picture postcards through a mail-order business. The business grew rapidly and was soon producing greeting cards, ornamental gift wrap, party decorations, and jigsaw puzzles. In 1984 the company acquired Binney & Smith, which manufactured Crayola products, Magic Markers, and Liquitex art supplies. By 1997 Hallmark Cards was a global firm employing more than 20,000 people, including hundreds of artists, designers, writers, editors, and photographers. In addition to the Hallmark brand, the company made Ambassador Cards, Shoebox Greetings, and several other lines. Hallmark products were sold at a chain of stores owned by the company but also at drug stores and other retail outlets. Since consumers wanted the convenience of finding Hallmark products wherever they shopped, the company launched a new line of cards, Expressions from Hallmark, in 1996. Unlike some other Hallmark brands, the Expressions line was available in supermarkets and other mass-merchandise stores. By encouraging consumers to check the insignia on the back of cards, the ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign helped call attention to the fact that Expressions was a Hallmark line.
Some of the company’s advertisements were tailored to promote specific products, such as Ambassador Cards. Others, like the ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign, were intended to generate awareness of Hallmark products in general. In 1951 the company had begun a long-term sponsorship of the popular and critically acclaimed ‘‘Hallmark Hall of Fame,’’ a series of television programs for family viewing. In 1997 alone Hallmark sponsored 87 films and miniseries for television, including Gulliver’s Travels and Larry McMurtry’s Streets of Laredo. In 1996 the company spent $23 million to publicize the Hallmark Hall of Fame and $102 million on advertising designed to draw consumers into Hallmark Gold Crown stores, which carried greeting cards and specialty items. The print and broadcast ads promised, ‘‘You’ll Feel Better Inside.’’ A Hallmark survey in the spring of 1997 showed a 93 percent approval rating for the programs and an 86 percent approval rating for the company’s advertising.
The ‘‘Hallmark Hall of Fame’’ broadcasts won numerous
Emmy Awards, and the Hallmark commercials that
accompanied the programs were recognized for their
tastefulness and creativity. Joyce Hall’s motto, ‘‘Good
taste is good business,’’ had helped the company establish
a wholesome image. The company’s slogan since 1944,
‘‘When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best,’’ was a
reference to Hall’s memoirs When You Care Enough. For
many years the slogan was incorporated into the company’s advertising. Consumers age 50 and over tended to be particularly fond of Hallmark’s sentimental, familyoriented advertising. In 1997 the company’s Internet site included a Nice-O-Meter, an interactive survey that allowed visitors to measure how nice they were.
In 1997 the market for greeting cards, stationery, and other correspondence products was increasing steadily. Hallmark’s research showed that 29 percent of consumers were writing more than they had previously, 46 percent of grandmothers said they received correspondence from their grandchildren, and 58 percent of mothers said their children wrote them thank you notes. A poll in Adweek said nearly a third of the people in the United States planned to correspond more frequently than they had in the past. Consumers liked to give cards that expressed the feelings that they did not have the courage to say aloud. ‘‘If the message in a card rings true, people identify with it and see themselves in it,’’ said Ellen McKeever, manager of the Shoebox Greetings division of Hallmark. ‘‘If a character on a card reminds people of someone the know, or if they just like the character or find it funny, they will choose that card.’’ The perception was that the exchange of cards made people feel good and enhanced their relationships. The ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign played up these feelings by emphasizing that sending a Hallmark greeting was the ultimate demonstration of caring. The company had conducted extensive research to determine what its customers, who were 90 percent women, wanted in greeting cards. ‘‘From all the information we’ve collected directly from greeting card purchasers, three things are abundantly clear,’’ said Mark J. Schwab, the company’s vice president of strategy and marketing. ‘‘First, consumers want to find great products that are a good value . . . Second, the time-pressed consumer longs for a convenience-based greeting card offering from Hallmark, a company she knows and trusts . . . . Third, we have to make it crystal clear to the consumer that the card shop is simply the best place to shop for our category of products, an exciting, vibrant site from which to reinforce Hallmark brand equity.’’ The ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign encouraged consumers to have such faith in the Hallmark brand that they would not bother looking at anything else.
Hallmark was the dominant greeting card company in the United States, with a market share that averaged about 42 percent, according to USA Today ’s Ad Track. American Greetings Corporation came in second with 35 percent, and Gibson Greetings, Inc., was third. In 1996 American Greetings had entered a small but expanding market—interactive entertainment for girls—by developing books and video games that featured several of the company’s popular characters, including Strawberry Shortcake, the Holly Hobbie Blue Girl, and the Popples. In 1997 the company worked with Avery Dennison Corp. to produce a line of greeting cards for inkjet printers. Television commercials and ads in women’s magazines were planned to target women 25 to 54 years old who had children less than 18 years old. American Greetings was involved in various other marketing endeavors during 1997, including advertising on the Internet site of Hearst HomeArts, which featured several magazines published by the Hearst Corporation. The World Wide Web offered vast opportunities for selling greeting cards, candy, and related merchandise, a market estimated to be more than $219 million in 1998. In December 1997 American Greetings tapped into the world of electronic commerce by promoting its cards, flowers, chocolates, and gifts via America Online at a site that had previously been known as AOL’s Card-o-Matic store. American Greetings invested $3 million initially, committed to the arrangement for three years, and agreed to pay millions more in the future. The venture, which had been announced in October, was launched at about the same time that Hallmark began an on-line marketing partnership with the company operating Yahoo!, an Internet search engine. Although some of Hallmark’s on-line cards were free, American Greetings charged for all its cards.
American Greetings was also one of 65 businesses that began marketing merchandise through Compu-Serve’s Electronic Mall on the World Wide Web in March. In addition, the company collaborated with SmarTalk TeleServices in an on-line promotion before Mother’s Day, from April 22 through May 11. Customers who purchased American Greetings merchandise were awarded free telephone time, and customers could follow a link to SmarTalk’s site on the Internet. American Greetings products were also featured at the redesigned Internet site of a third company that offered telephone services, MCI Communications Corp. Meanwhile, Gibson Greetings invested $6 million for an equity in Greet Street, an Internet site where the company could market its cards. Gibson also made an agreement with Firefly, a software company, to market cards through Firefly products. By the end of the year Gibson was preparing to launch its first television advertising campaign to promote its popular bean bag toys. The company had lost $28.6 million in 1994 but had made a profit of $900,000 in the first half of 1995. In that year Gibson wanted to sell either its greeting card business or its Cleo, Inc., gift wrap division. Although American Greetings expressed interest in merging with the greeting card division, Gibson would not agree to the arrangement because of possible antitrust complications.
One of Hallmark’s strongest selling points was the popularity and widespread recognition of the brand. In a 1995 survey by UPS Equitrend, consumers preferred the Hallmark brand more than 18 times as often as its closest competitor. When asked to name a brand of greeting cards, 91 percent of consumers mentioned Hallmark, and 84 percent mentioned Hallmark first. The company had built its brand equity by insisting on excellence, continually pushing its creative staff to be innovative, developing new ways to help Hallmark outlets and other retailers market the company’s merchandise, and conducting research to determine consumer response to the company and its products. ‘‘The marketplace is changing, and consumers’ needs are always evolving, but excellence remains at the top of our priority list,’’ said Hallmark’s Van Auken. ‘‘Through our products, our advertising, our retail environments, and even our World Wide Web site, Hallmark creates experiences to strengthen the tremendous equity of the Hallmark brand. So the real good news is, we’re on the right track, and consumers see it.’’
In 1996 Hallmark had begun to employ a new, multifaceted marketing strategy that included launching the ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ advertising campaign to promote general awareness of the brand. Of the $175 million Hallmark spent each year for marketing, it budgeted $50 million for the ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign in 1996 and $44 million in 1997. The campaign, developed by the Leo Burnett USA advertising agency in Chicago, was intended to motivate consumers to act on their preference for the Hallmark brand when they purchased greeting cards and other personal expression products. The campaign centered on a consumer’s impulse to look at the back of a greeting card to see whether it was a Hallmark. ‘‘Sneaking a peek’’ was portrayed as a commonplace indulgence that required enviable adroitness. The broadcast commercials featured a young couple who verified that they ‘‘cared enough to send the very best’’ by glancing furtively at the backs of cards they received from each other. Celebrities appeared in some of the television commercials during 1997; one spot showed three women checking for the Hallmark insignia on the backs of Valentine’s Day cards they had received from singer Ray Charles. Another spot showed a baby in a bassinet looking at the ‘‘Hallmark’’ on a card. The commercials aired during popular prime-time television programs such as Friends, Frasier, Mad about You, and Home Improvement. The campaign also included advertisements in print media. These ads, which made the back covers of magazines such as Good Housekeeping and National Geographic look like the backs of Hallmark cards, ran in 115 publications in 1996 and 125 publications in 1997. Most of them featured a single line of text that was tailored for each magazine. Other ads on the backs of more than 100 magazines consisted of the Hallmark name only.
The ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign received an Effie Award in 1996 for effectiveness and creativity in advertising. Hallmark’s research from the spring of 1997 indicated that 86 percent of consumers felt positive about the company’s advertising. In October 1997 Hallmark’s brand equity was ranked fourth among 282 national brands in a study by Total Research Corporation. The study analyzed how well consumers recognized each brand and their perception of the quality associated with it. In another survey USA Today’s Ad Track reported that 31 percent of respondents liked the ‘‘Sneak a Peek’’ campaign, compared with a survey average of 22 percent. The campaign was particularly popular with its primary target market; 36 percent of women liked the ads. In contrast, 21 percent of men liked them. Only 4 percent of the respondents said they disliked the ads, compared with a survey average of 12 percent. Consumers age 65 or older liked the campaign best; 37 percent gave it the highest scores for popularity. The Hallmark ads were among only a few in the survey to receive high marks for both popularity and effectiveness.
The company maintained its dominance in the $7 billion greeting card industry with sales of $3.4 billion in 1997, $3.6 billion in 1996, and $3.4 billion in 1995. The market remained strong and was expected to expand because the average age of the population was increasing, and older people tended to send more greeting cards. Additional sales were expected as card companies customized more of their products for target markets.