How 2 Brothers Built a Greeting Cards Colossus and a Brand Synonymous With Mother’s Day

Hall siblings’ 'mark of quality' gave the company its name: Hallmark

Hallmark has just over a 51% share of America's $4.6 billion greeting cards business.
Raquel Beauchamp

This is the time of year to observe a curious springtime phenomenon. (And no, it’s not just the equinox sun crossing the celestial equator.) Head over to any pharmacy or big box store and you can watch it: Scores of adults standing in the greeting card aisle, reading every Mother’s Day card on the rack until they find the right one.

If you’ve done this yourself (or plan to), you’ve got plenty of company. Not only are Americans expected to drop $23.6 billion on Mother’s Day this year (this according to the National Retail Federation), but nearly 78 percent of that money will be spent on cards.

The paper: Heavyweight card stock adds to the tactile experience, helps command a price around $8, and also lends itself to Mom holding onto the card as a keepsake. The designs: The raised die cuts and other stick-on props—which Hallmark calls “dimensional papercraft”—stress artisanship in addition to sentiment. The envelope: While Hallmark began offering envelopes in 1915, today’s Signature series envelopes feature colors and linings that match the cards’ motifs.
Raquel Beauchamp

Generally speaking, that means Hallmark cards. Not only does the Kansas City-based greeting card colossus have just over a 51 percent share of America’s $4.6 billion card business, per IBISWorld data, Mother’s Day is among its bread-and-butter occasions. Hallmark estimates that moms receive 118 billion cards on Mother’s Day. As the company’s marketing vp Lindsey Roy said, “It’s a big deal for us.”

What’s more, the vast majority of those Mother’s Day cards are paper ones, the e-card threat having largely fizzled. Heavy stock cards are still regarded “as one of the most meaningful ways to connect,” Roy said. “It’s the tangibility factor. You can reread it, save it. It’s really a keepsake.”

Though the sentiment behind Hallmark’s Mother’s Day cards has stayed the same for decades, the means of expressing it changes with the times, both in art and language. “We try to make sure our cards reflect our culture,” marketing vp Lindsey Roy said. Having a large staff of in-house writers and designers, she added, allows the brand to “have a pulse on what you want to say meaningfully.”
Courtesy of Hallmark

There are those who take a cynical view of Hallmark, calling it the “General Motors of emotion,” a company that cranks out sentiments that Americans are incapable of articulating themselves. Some go so far as to claim that Mother’s Day is a “Hallmark Holiday”—created for the express purpose of selling cards (and flowers, of course).

Unlike ecards, paper Mother’s Day cards can be put aside as keepsakes. Hallmark has doubled down on that wager with its new Signature series that features layered die cuts and other props that give the cards a tactile, three-dimensional quality. Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City employs a small army of artists who create these designs in-house.
Hall: Courtesy of Hallmark: Card: Raquel Beauchamp

But Hallmark seems no more responsible for inarticulateness than restaurants are for people who can’t cook. What’s more, Hallmark didn’t invent Mother’s Day. It was a Virginia woman named Anna Jarvis who wished to honor her own mother, a Civil War nurse, in 1908. Jarvis lobbied hard for her holiday until Woodrow Wilson gave it the presidential nod in 1914.

At the time, greeting cards as we know them didn’t even exist yet. Then in 1915, a young man named Joyce Clyde Hall (who’d been selling postcards in Kansas City since 1910) partnered with his brother Rollie and started making folding cards that fit into envelopes. (Americans, Hall realized, wanted greater privacy in their correspondence.) By 1928, the Hall Brothers’ “mark of quality” became the company’s new name: Hallmark.

The Hallmark brand has since been associated with everything from Disney characters to Crayola, which it’s owned since 1984. But that name will somehow always be synonymous with cards—Mother’s Day cards in particular. And why? Other holidays, Roy ventured, involve giving cards to multiple people. But Mother’s Day, of course, fetes only mom. “It’s about recognizing one of the single most important people that anyone has in his life,” she said.

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.