Hallmark Plugs Low-Priced Cards

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Hallmark Cards Inc., the nation's largest greeting cards marketer, will tap customers from its Gold Crown Consumer Rewards program to push sales of Warm Wishes, its new 99-cent line of casual cards that is being backed by a $50 million marketing campaign.


By mid-April, the Kansas City marketer will publicize Warm Wishes' debut in its second-quarter statement to more than 5 million eligible customers from a database of 12 million. This supports an effort that included the free distribution nationwide of 36 million Warm Wishes cards through widespread sampling.


Loyal Hallmark customers are being encouraged to try the new product. Members of its consumer rewards program get points for purchasing cards and other gift items. These points are then converted into certificates that can be used as cash to buy Hallmark products in the 5,000-strong Hallmark Gold Crown store network. In the past quarter, 5 million customers collected enough points to land on the marketer's mailing list.


The Warm Wishes offering includes 468 card designs that cover 222 non-occasions, 91 occasions and 155 birthday cards. An additional 572 seasonal cards will debut through the year. The messages are simple, short, modern and informal.


"Our basic challenges is to change the consumer's perception that all Hallmark cards are expensive," said Ellie Callison, company vice president-marketing and advertising. More than half of Hallmarks cost under $2 and less than a fourth retail for over $3, but this wasn't the way the consumer saw it, she admitted.


The new product was proof that the marketer did include affordable cards in its menu and "we wanted to give them very, very tangible proof of this and this is what Warm Wishes is all about," she added.


Hallmark in 1998 reported sales of $3.9 billion, up 5 percent from the previous year. Its share of the $7.5 billion greeting cards retail market during that period rose to 51 percent, a growth of 4 percent over 1997.


But the marketer aims for a bigger slice in a market that exchanges 7 billion greeting cards each year. To seek new business, the marketer has run a campaign comprising TV, radio, PR, and such in-store efforts as merchandising, colorful signage and recorded broadcasts that shill the Warm Wishes message.


TV spots by Hallmark lead agency and Chicago shop Leo Burnett bear the "Why not?" tag-line in light-hearted 30-second commercials which sum up Hallmark's attitude to sending cards for just about any occasion.


Preceding the ad blitz was a mamoth product giveaway. Two-card samplers in newspapers were sent to 10 million homes across 20 markets. Printed on the overwrap were addresses of retailers who stocked the Hallmark brand. Simultaneously, 20,000 stores handed out 24 million cards to visitors. Till April end, vans in eight major cities will drive through prime neutral locations and retail centers to distribute another 2 million samples.


Callison shrugged off worries over cannibalization in the Hallmark stable of cards by Warm Wishes' entry. The company's portfolio includes cards starting at 65 cents, and its two-year-old Out of the Blue line for spur-of-the-moment occasions still sells for 99 cents, she said.


"Research showed that when people bought less expensive Hallmark cards, they bought more expensive as well," Callison said.
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