Swan Song for Greeting Cards? Maybe Not

As Mother's Day nears, paper-card brands are preparing a charm assault

Ready, kids? With a mere 20 days left before Mother’s Day, soon dad'll buckle you into the Prius for the annual trip to the mall so you can pick out a nice card for mom.

Yeah, sure.

As all consumers know (kids especially), the Web provides myriad ways to say I love you—some of them heartfelt but all of them instant and free. For paper-card companies, the coming of rude little upstarts in the e-card and social-media realm has been anything but joyous news. "Our growth over the past year has been off the charts—up 300 percent," said Duncan Mitchell, founder of Someecards, whose tagline is "When you care enough to hit send"—a not-so-subtle jab at Hallmark's "When you care enough to send the very best."

And so, as the third-most-popular holiday for card-sending approaches, what are the pulp players doing to defend themselves against the digital onslaught? Answer: Fighting technology with technology. Aside from getting into the e-card biz themselves (which Hallmark and American Greetings have both done), the No. 1 and 2 paper-card brands have rolled out a variety of sense-stimulated technology that, for now at least, the Web cannot touch.

Hallmark offers cards—and, more recently, entire storybooks—that allow the sender to record his or her own voice through its proprietary Voice Save Technology. The recipient holds the card or book in his hands and listens to his loved one reading. "We think ink and paper will hold their own," Hallmark CMO Lisa Macpherson told us, "as long as we deliver innovative ideas and personalized greetings."

For its part, American Greetings just last month introduced a "Surprise Inside" card containing a tiny gift pouch, and a digitally activated "Ready, Set, Blow" birthday card in which LED candles flicker out when you blow on the paper. The cards constitute "a whole new multi-sensory experience," according to the company. Take that, Facebook.

But will it be enough? While Macpherson contends that "we have not shifted our strategy in any way due to e-cards," research from IBISWorld predicts that greeting-card companies will lose $7.16 billion by 2015, due in part to the growing use of "personal communications via the Internet."

Such predictions don’t appear to frighten Hallmark, however. In February, the brand began selling postage-paid envelopes. "You just address your card," said Macpherson, "and pop it in the mailbox."

To mom, of course.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.