This Card Says It All, Everywhere

From Associated Press

Turns out love may actually be a universal language.

The world's largest greeting card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc., has for the first time analyzed individual cities' data for top-selling Valentines, and it yielded a surprising result.

They were all the same -- a result of the exhaustive research Hallmark carries out before any card goes on the shelf. It's a process of analyzing sales numbers and trend hunting in search of the perfect valentine.

Researchers at the Kansas City-based company expected the choices of customers to be as different as the cities they call home. But it turned out V330-5, one of the thousands of options Hallmark offered last Valentine's Day, was the top choice of card buyers in New York and Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Miami, and virtually every other city in the country.

"We thought it would be a different card in every city," spokeswoman Rachel Bolton said.

Jessica Ong, product manager for the company's Valentine's card line, said, "It speaks to the fact that people are more alike than they are different."

The card's face is a red foil, with "For the One I Love" across the top in black script, a large picture of a red rose in the center, and a thick black ribbon cutting through the middle. Inside, it simply states: "Each time I see you, hold you, think of you, here's what I do ... I fall deeply, madly, happily in love with you. Happy Valentine's Day."

The card's designer, Marcia Muelengracht, said she was not at all surprised that the card sold five times better than the average Valentine -- so well that it's being offered for a second year.

"I cut to the chase -- what I would want to give and what I would want to receive," Muelengracht said. "A guy wants to say he still loves her. A gal wants to know he still does. She wants to get goose bumps. He wants to think he'll get lucky."

It's never as simple as just artistic intuition, though. The National Retail Federation estimates 62% of Americans will buy valentines this year, making it the third-most popular holiday for greeting cards after Christmas and Father's Day.

For every Hallmark card that lands on a store shelf, the company has scoured sales figures, conducted research and studied trends to make sure it belongs there.

"They aren't just spit out of a machine," said Paul Barker, vice president of Hallmark's creative unit. "A lot of eyes look at it and a lot of care goes into it to make sure that we're saying the right thing and creating an artifact that consumers want to save."

At Hallmark Card's headquarters, the cubicles and offices of its 4,500 workers are as varied as the cards it offers. Crosses and Stars of David can be seen among the desks of those creating religious greetings. The building housing writers for the Shoebox brand has rejected joke ideas on the walls, and those on the Sinceramente staff have Spanish-language signs in their workspace.

Sometimes an artist or writer is asked to create general illustrations or messages for a designated occasion, sometimes they're given a specific card assignment, sometimes they collaborate to create a winning card.

The process of creating a card for Valentine's Day can begin as many as two years before it finds its way to a loved one's hands. An 80-person research staff's analysis of Hallmark's 2004 card sales was the initial impetus for this year's line. That combines with more than 100,000 annual customer interviews, focus groups and in-store observations to lay the framework for about 2,000 cards in Hallmark's core Valentine's Day line as well as an additional 2,500 offerings through sister brands offered at supermarkets, Wal-Mart stores and elsewhere.

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