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GREETINGS!

Once upon a time a person might stroll into the greeting card section of his or her favorite gift shop or supermarket, browse through a half-dozen or so faintly amusing or overly earnest possibilities and, without too much equivocation, choose a gem, or at least something that got the job done.

Usually the purchase was intended for a birthday, anniversary or another joyful event. Occasionally an acquaintance or relative had died or developed carpal tunnel syndrome and landed in the hospital, thus requiring a more sobering salutation.

Whether decorative or plain, inscribed with flowery eloquence or simple verse, the average greeting card used to convey a well-meaning, yet highly forgettable, message.

But this traditional model no longer dominates the landscape. Like high-definition television, the greeting card industry, which sells nearly seven billion cards annually, has gone high tech. Now cards not only must appeal to the eyes with colorful, intricate designs, but also test your hearing acuity. Flip one open and out come old standards like “Strangers in the Night,” classic sixties rock, or Country Western. Even rap or raunchy barnyard hoots can emerge. For a more personalized message, the sender can even record a few pithy words of his own for posterity.

And like the proverbial rabbit, cards keep multiplying. They can be animated, scented, recyclable, and digital; religious (for example, Happy Kwanzaa, Passover, Communion); Braille and large-print; textured (with or without LED lights) and, yes, edible. A card exists for every manner of taste and lifestyle, including health fanatics, beatniks and foodies.

The explosive growth of 3,000 greeting card publishers, dominated by Hallmark (which controls half the retail market), would not be possible if not for a steady stream of ideas targeted to special needs. Along with the friendly-just-thinking-of-you multitudes from yesteryear are new subgroups such as those who have experienced therapy/rehab, vasectomy, divorce, break-ups, the ex-fiance’s wedding and—I am not kidding—celebrants of Roller Coaster Day (whatever that is).

It’s not enough anymore to wish someone well as that person embarks on a cruise or reaches a career milestone such as retirement. Now the card bearer is expected to acknowledge routine achievements such as pre-school graduation or a first job.

No doubt within the next few decades, even more tenuously-grounded cards will emerge. Neighborhood retailers may morph into “big box” stores to accommodate the astounding number of categories.

I recently spent the greater part of a morning trolling for greeting cards at my local strip mall. (According to The Greeting Card, or GCA, households purchase approximately 30 cards a year and women account for 80 percent of those sales.) Considering that the average card now costs somewhere between $2 and $4 (but can go as high as $10), my consumer-thrifty conscience motivated me to plow through a few hundred cards before I found the ones that, according to the GCA, will make the recipient “feel loved and appreciated.”

And speaking of appreciation, the surfeit of cards makes the weeding process that much more important. Because, let’s face it–people can be judged by their card choice. For instance, if I send a card with Elvis crooning “Blue Suede Shoes,” am I communicating my love for nostalgia or for the over-the-hill crowd?

Thirty years ago I had a limited inventory to pick from. Cards flaunted innocuous things like flowers, butterflies and puppy dogs. I could be pretty sure the recipient would not have the foggiest notion whether I washed behind the ears or ate all my veggies. At the same time, I could applaud myself for actually remembering the birthday, anniversary, whatever. Now it’s not enough to send a card; you have to match its “flavor” to the recipient. And that’s like being in Baskin Robbins with a temperamental two-year-old.

The situation can only worsen. Consider this: Enough cards are purchased each year by U.S and U.K. residents to encircle the world 54 times. Probably at this very moment card designers are brainstorming new themes to drum up business. I dare say they will likely push the envelope on subjects. Got a transgendered colleague who just earned tenure at the local university? Wait five minutes and the right card may be as close as your nearest Costco!

Janice Arenofsky is a nonfiction and humor writer. She blogs at Humor for All/The Dysfunctional Family at humorbyarenofsky.blogspot.com Also see her humor page at www.janicearenofsky.com.