Hallmark's Attempt At Edgy Cards Backfires; Gets Axe After Controversy
With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on, businesses across America continue to find themselves taking desperate chances in hopes of salvaging what's left. Typically, when thinking about industries hit the hardest, our minds jump to bars, restaurants, retail stores, mom and pop shops, even movie theaters. But these aren't the only businesses suffering. Hundreds of other sectors have been affected just the same—one of which is the greeting card business.
According to studies performed by the University of Farmington, middle-aged American women will, on average, spend 4.7 months of their life choosing the perfect card, while the average American male will invest just under 6.5 minutes reading those same cards. These short but solace moments have served as small windows into the human soul; a way to express one's feelings towards another. But with COVID keeping loved ones apart, greeting card sales have plummeted.
The industry giant, Hallmark, is no exception to this downward trend. Earlier this year, they purchased the small startup card company, GRTNG (pronounce "Greeting), based out of Detroit, Michigan. GRTNG is known for its niche cards, edgy tone, and limited releases. With the purchase, Hallmark hoped to attract a new, younger, and revitalized customer base.
When asked about the purchase, Hallmark’s CEO, Mike Perry, stated,
"Millennials continue to destroy longstanding, American-made industries. Eroded values has forged a younger generation that's unable to apprehend the amount of thought that goes into choosing the perfect card. As they've become increasingly obsessed with their mobile devices, they've lost the sense of personal touch that older generations hold dear.
Before purchasing GRTNG, the executive team and I had a lot of conversations. While their crass humored cards were selling like hotcakes, our nuanced wit went right over the heads of youngin's, causing card sales to tank:
“For that reason, we’re proud to announce the purchase of GRTNG. With this purchase, we believe greeting cards will once again return to prominence. Together, we look forward to making the day of millions, one card at a time.”
The honeymoon wouldn't last long, though. What began as a highly anticipated merger, ended as a PR nightmare. It all started with GRTNG's first niche release in early May. The company aimed to increase Memorial Day sales with a Vietnam War based card:
Immediately, a flood of negative reactions filled Hallmark's complaint inbox. In the two weeks following the release, the company saw a 247% increase in complaints compared to the entire year of 2019. Still, Hallmark stood behind their new investment, stating, "We knew what we signed up for."
With the public demanding toned-down versions of the cards, GRTNG doubled-down, releasing a birthday card controversially aimed for September 11th birthdays:
In the face of unprecedented backlash, GRTNG still managed to drop back-to-back Hallmark best sellers. With confidence sky high, the company looked to parlay their momentum by targeting an audience that had averted the card industry for years: low-income families. Sticking with their signature approach, they released a COVID inspired birthday card:
When we asked GRTNG's head of design, Oren Aks, about his approach, he told us, "Honestly - We just kept rebranding previous Hallmark cards. It felt as though every card drop lit the internet on fire. Everything we touched seemed to turn to gold."
The stats back Oren's "feeling." After each release, GRTNG shot to the #1 trending topic on Twitter within minutes. Traffic to the site increased by 346%, while a 200% sales increase was also rumored.
But with the tidal waves GRTNG was making, it didn't take long for woke Twitter to take notice. GRTNG was effectively "canceled" for their insensitive, grimly humored cards on September 25th - a day after the low-income birthday drop.
Oren says he realized the resentment was real only after seeing protests pop up outside of his local Hallmark store. To help cool off their red hot image, GRTNG agreed to take a less polarizing approach. Sources close to company say that GRTNG had promised Hallmark's board of executives their next release would maintain the same level of humor, but in a way that the public would universally agree on:
"Not So Fast" Baby
Internal tensions between the two companies turned unbearable. Four of the six Hallmark board members demanded that the plug be pulled, but CEO Mike Perry eventually convinced them to hold off abandoning their investment.
With pressure mounting, GRTNG decided to swing for the fences. For the first time in the companies history, they would drop four cards in one day. Oren said, "By dropping four cards at once, we figured it would dilute the uproar...we were wrong."
For A Terminally Ill Loved One
For the Gambler Coping With an Improbable Death
We've decided to blur out the controversial Hanukkah card for the integrity of this site, although a quick Google search will show the unfiltered version.
Following the anti-semitic Hanukkah debacle, Mike Perry would no longer defend the actions of GRTNG, making the decision to shut down operations only a few days later. We requested a statement from Mr. Perry regarding the now failed purchase, but he didn't return any of our emails.
It remains unclear whether or not Hallmark plans to sell what's left of GRTNG or scrap it altogether. Greeting card economists still standby Hallmark's initial purchase of the company, saying that it was a "necessary risk" to evolve the card business. Unfortunately for Hallmark, this gamble hit double zero in life's game of roulette.