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Seasoned Greetings: Evolution of the Card

July 11, 1999|LYNELL GEORGE

To butcher a rather high-profile ad campaign of not-so-yore, the looming question in the stationery industry could be whittled down to this: "When you care enough to send." Forget about "the very best."

In this age of the quick fix, faxes, e-mail and Internet instant messaging are edging into the traditional greeting card market. Sure, Emily Post would spin at the notion of these electronic transactions--or rather transgressions. But that's the point. This is the era of rule breaking, coloring outside the lines.

While some segment of this generation still likes the warmth and weight of a card with a well-rendered sentiment, the big puzzle for card makers has been figuring out how to capture an audience that believes its products are largely out of touch with modern society.

"The median age of a greeting card buyer is 50," says Steve Laserson, executive director of product management for American Greetings. The company, trying to break out of that traditional market, has just launched Intuitions, a new line targeting 22- to 45-year-olds.

"We were looking . . . to bring in younger people," says Ralph Shaffer, vice president of product concepts for American Greetings. "We did some fairly extensive research, and we began with the hypothesis that they are not going to want what their mother wanted."

It would be erroneous to say, however, that the industry has been at a standstill. But while the style, scope and content of greeting cards has changed, with few exceptions it hasn't changed enough to reflect modern times, where daily realities now include divorce, blended families and same-sex households. Unless you're attempting to be deeply ironic, the time-worn messages of Hallmark and American Greetings simply don't float.

Chelsea Iovino, gift buyer at Uncle Jer's in Los Feliz, has specific criteria for choosing what will resonate with her clientele--mostly youngish, mostly hippish, and mostly seen-it-all-ish. "When I look at a card line, I tend to be more interested in those that are one-of-a-kind," she explains. "I really stay away from mass card companies. I like funny but not corny--not something you'd see at the mall."

Gillian Simon, 28, co-founder of Quotable Cards in New York, started her business three years ago because "I went to find a card, and there was nothing out there that wasn't sappy." Her line, which can be found in the trend-sculpting Urban Outfitters, is typography- and design-driven on the outside with "super modern-looking" quotes from Whitman and Nietzsche.

It'd be safe to say that Intuitions may not go as far as other lines, yet. Cards that depict soft-focus photos of, say, boxing gloves, with an inscription reading "Are we fighting? Am I winning?" may be at the more tame end of the spectrum. Still, American Greetings is trying to shoot from the hip. "The young consumer has a busier lifestyle, so they want that short copy," says Laserson. "But they want that short copy to say something."

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