In 1915, Joyce C. Hall, a traveling salesman for an illustrated postcard company, opened a business publishing greeting cards in Kansas City, Mo. His brothers Rollie and William joined the venture soon after that.
In 1917, the company added gift wrap to its line of greeting cards. In 1923, the business was incorporated as Hall Brothers Co.
Branding a greeting card
J.C. Hall moved his company into national advertising with an ad in 1928 in Ladies' Home Journal prepared by Henri, Hurst & McDonald, Chicago. In 1938, Hall Brothers took its advertising to radio with "Tony Wons' Radio Scrapbook" on WMAQ in Chicago. The move into broadcasting led to TV and national acclaim nearly 20 years later.
In 1944, Hall Brothers (the company did not adopt the corporate name Hallmark Cards until 1954) approached Foote, Cone & Belding to handle its national advertising account. J.C. Hall emphasized the importance of excellence, so when Hall Brothers Sales & Advertising Manager Ed Goodman suggested the slogan, "When you care enough to send the very best," it was favorably received, appearing for the first time on the reverse of the company's cards that year.
In 1948, Hall Brothers introduced "Hallmark Playhouse," a 30-minute dramatic anthology hosted by British novelist James Hilton and sponsored by the card marketer, on the CBS radio network. In 1953, the program was renamed "Hallmark Hall of Fame" and Lionel Barrymore became its host. (The radio show continued until 1955.) The following year, the card marketer developed its crown and signature logo.
In 1951, Hall Brothers moved into TV sponsorship with "Hallmark Presents Sarah Churchill." In January 1952, the company followed up with "Hall of Fame Theater," but the name soon was changed to "Hallmark Hall of Fame."
Substantive TV programming
In 1951, the company sponsored the first opera written for TV, Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl & the Night Visitors," on Christmas Eve. The program made history again two years later in a repeat telecast as the first sponsored program in color, broadcast only two days after the Federal Communications Commission approved NBC's new color process.
Hall Brothers went on to sponsor "Hamlet" in April 1953, the first Shakespearean drama to be presented on TV. It was also the first TV special-that is, a two-hour entertainment program pre-empting regular fare and advertising in prime time.
After 1955, the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" programs were broadcast as 90-minute specials up to six times per year. By the beginning of the 21st century, "Hallmark Hall of Fame" had become the longest-running dramatic series on TV.
FCB was Hallmark's lead ad agency for 37 years, and the agency maintained a production division dedicated entirely to Hallmark into the 1970s. Hallmark's trademark slogan and soft-sell approach continued to be the backbone of its advertising into the early '80s.
Account in play
J.C. Hall died at age 91 in 1982, and Donald J. Hall succeeded his father as chairman-CEO. In February 1982, after a three-month competition with three others shops, Hallmark named Young & Rubicam its new agency. In the agency's first TV spot for Hallmark, as a husband unhappily packs for an unexpected business trip, his wife slips a Hallmark card into his suitcase. Unpacking in a distant city, he finds the card and the discovery brings a smile to his face.
The relationship between Hallmark and Y&R, however, was a brief one. When the agency accepted the $20 million AT&T Communications long-distance telephone account in 1984, Hallmark pulled its business, then billing $40 million annually. Despite the fact that Hallmark provided a product and AT&T a service, the greeting card giant perceived a conflict of interest in the agency handling both accounts. Hallmark moved its account to Ogilvy & Mather, one of the finalists from the competition held two years earlier.
In 1988, Hallmark once again put its account up for review, with Leo Burnett Co. winning the assignment.
Burnett's brand building
In 1996, Hallmark increased its ad budget to $50 million and Burnett introduced a brand-building campaign to persuade consumers to "sneak a peek." TV spots encouraged card shoppers to make sure they were buying one with the Hallmark brand name and logo on the back.
In "Report Card," a mother finds a thank-you card from the teacher in her son's book bag. The boy had stayed inside with an ailing friend who could not go out to play at recess. In "Dad's House," a divorced mother buys a Christmas card for her son to take with him when he goes to stay at his father's house on Christmas Eve.
The 1991 spot "Dance Card" showed four preteen boys having lunch in the school cafeteria, discussing the most effective way to invite a girl to a school dance. When a female classmate interrupts their discussion to thank one boy for a Hallmark card and accept his invitation to the dance, the others reconsider their ideas.
In 1996, the marketer formed the Hallmark Entertainment Network to produce TV programming for international cable distribution. Two years later, Hallmark Entertainment partnered with Jim Henson Co. to launch the Kermit Channel, an international pay-TV channel featuring family entertainment.
In 1999, a partnership of Jim Henson Co., Hallmark Entertainment, Liberty Media Corp. and the National Interfaith Cable Coalition launched Faith & Values Network, which a year later was renamed Odyssey Network. In 2001, Odyssey became the Hallmark Channel, a family-entertainment channel with original programming developed exclusively for the channel by Hallmark Entertainment, producer of the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" shows,
In 2002, Hallmark announced it had consolidated net revenue of $4 billion for 2001. It also announced it would be a sponsor of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and the U.S. Olympic teams in 2002 and 2004. That year, it launched a $30 million Hallmark Cards branding effort from Burnett with a new tag, "They'll never forget you remembered," replacing the "Cards work" theme set in 2001.
In 2003, the marketer launched Hallmark magazine for women in a venture with Time Inc.