HALLMARK AUTHORS ANOTHER BRAND:EXPRESSIONS LINE HITS MASS MERCHANDISERS IN EARLY '97

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Hallmark Cards, as part of a new $152 million marketing plan to rebuild sales momentum, will introduce what the company calls its first new greeting-card brand in 36 years.

The new Expressions by Hallmark brand will be aimed solely at mass-merchandise outlets. It will roll into retailers like Wal-Mart Stores, Kmart Corp. and Target Stores early next year. Agency of record Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, picks up responsibilities for the new brand from the No. 1 greeting card marketer.

MOVE AGAINST RIVALS

Greeting card insiders say the move is designed to thwart competitors including No. 2 American Greetings and No. 3 Gibson Greetings, whose cards now tend to be carried alongside Hallmark at those mass merchandisers.

Hallmark will likely create a new pricing structure and volume discounts for mass merchandisers with Expressions by Hallmark. The new entry will mean Hallmark has distinct card brands at three price points: higher-price Hallmark Cards, sold primarily through Hallmark's specialty retail network; "trade brand" Ambassador, sold through some mass-merchandiser channels, supermarkets and drugstores; and Expressions by Hallmark.

Each brand will have separate designs but use Hallmark's existing licensing agreements. At the same time, the company is turning up the marketing heat on its general Hallmark brand. Hallmark said it will allocate $50 million in marketing spending toward its Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

Marketing spending will double in 1996 to $102 million for Hallmark's overall retail network including franchised specialty outlets, database efforts to past customers and event marketing.

Also, Hallmark will spend $23 million on its "Hallmark Hall of Fame" series of TV movies.

DISNEY TIES GROWING

Separately, Hallmark last week told employees that it has significantly expanded its licensing agreement with Walt Disney Co. Hallmark will produce greeting cards and party products for this summer's animated "Hunchback of Notre Dame"; introduce a Mickey Mouse-theme line of cards and party products later this year; and will likely get first crack at licensed cards for several more major films for Disney next year.

Neither company would comment on the deal.

Hallmark claims 42% of the estimated $10 billion greeting card market, but card sales through its retail outlets have softened in recent years, while sales of higher-price, independently published cards sold through specialty retailers and bookstores are soaring.

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