If You’ve Got An Ounce Of Feeling, Hallmark Has A Ton Of Sentiment

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THE HALLMARK FOLKS know who their customers will be. For instance, they know 83 percent of the card buyers are female, and 60 percent of those are over forty. The demography accounts for the manufacturing of sentiment freighted with flowers, adorable animals, and smoothrhyming messages. But despite the availability of this hard research, the creative teams and their superiors struggle with nearly metaphysical nuances in guiding their creations from printout to approval. Hallmark knows that by capitalizing on the customer’s inarticulateness, they are also allowing them to blame Hallmark for the card’s effect. George Parker, Hallmark’s corporate vice-president of the creative division, maintains: “They sign their names to something we write, and so if the receivers don’t respond well, the customers can say we did it, not them.” It’s obviously important for each concept to be as appealing as possible to as many as possible. “Nothing must be tricky. Apparently artless expression is the goal. … The team must be sensitive to the total intensity, the tonal balance of each card, and the line as a whole. The cards also have to match the marketplace realities.”

Living between high-toned aesthetics and the marketplace makes Daniel Drake, editorial director at Hallmark, acutely sensitive to the psychology of the customers. He’s detected that male buyers equate the amount they spend with the quality of the emotion. Carols appealing to them must accordingly be hot and intense, bespeaking expense. “Cooler messages are usually cheaper,” Drake says. “Cool means you’re spending less. Men don’t like that.” These insights lead planners to make sympathy cards small and cheap. They reason that people have a natural aversion to depression, illness, or death. Drake prescribes flat, spare prose for the sentiment and a simple, straightforward design. Thereby the cool “intensity” matches the sender’s subconscious reason for sending the card: to avoid the feeling evoked by a dreadful event. For happier sentiments the heart of greeting-card text is sixteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. “Find somebody who can write that,” Drake says, “and you can start a card business.”

At last the finished product comes down the folding chute— at a rate of up to a million cards per shift.

Whatever the form of sentiment or design, nothing beyond the innocently naughty is ever included. What Jeanette Lee terms “jarring trends” toward salacious and smutty cards will never find expression in Hallmark’s lines. “We leave that for other manufacturers,” says George Parker. So every model line is prophylactic when it makes its journey to the “approval room.”

This conference area is distinguished by a mural of a railroad train, the engine (metaphorically the “concept”) tugging along cars filled with planning captions: whimsical, tailored, and on through the thesaurus of trends. Here final strokes are applied so that the famous Hallmark “ticket” can be written. On this production-routing document will go the card’s size, price, paper, folds, such special effects as “flitter” (flecks of colored plastic) or “hot foil” (heat-embossed metallic paper) or “flocking” (suedelike nap glued to the paper). Here are specified feathers or lace or honeycomb or raised printing or acetate overlays or any other necessary handwork.

The journey is over, the train arrived. Yet some have not enjoyed the trip. In the bars of Kansas City a few fierce-eyed Hallmarkers past and present decry synthetic emotion and artificial sweetness. But they are a tiny minority. Mr. J. C.’s benevolent policies—learned, he said, from observing R. H. Macy’s operations—keep most of the employees happy, busy, and prosperous. The company’s personnel operations are a model for any industry. Hallmarkers stay for years—longevity is a virtue—and why not? Careful screening and evaluation has guided them to congenial tasks. They’re well paid. They have free life insurance, free medical and dental care, free parking. At 9:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. the beige machines in the corridors dispense free coffee, soup, and soft drinks to the lines of waiting workers. Hallmarkers share in profits, keep slim with company-sponsored sports, and eat well in a bounteous cafeteria called the Crown Room. Three nurses and a physician wait for calls from the acres of offices, and advisers can be summoned for everything from car pooling to financial planning.

Tributes to the company’s personnel dot the corporate landscape. There’s a collection of Emmy statuettes garnered by The Hallmark Hall of Fame , one of television’s most honored shows. J. C. Hall liked to advertise nationally—practically unheard of for a card maker—and to do it with as much taste and style as possible. Perhaps the most impressive jewel in Hallmark’s crown is the landscape itself, the eighty-five acres, formerly in a sorry state of urban decay, on which rests the international headquarters and the shopping and living complex called Crown Center.