It's in the Cards

It's time to dust off your sense of humor, down a couple of Xanax, and park yourself in the middle of the greeting card aisle at the drugstore -- Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduation, Memorial Day, Summer Solstice, and my birthday are all around the corner, and that means a lot of people are expecting to get cards from you. What do you mean there aren't any Summer Solstice or Memorial Day cards? Don't the greeting card companies want to sell cards?Of course they do. In fact, they're worried because they're not selling enough. According to a recent article in Time the big greeting card companies are sending each other condolence cards ("Our sincerest wishes for a better third quarter") because they only sold a measly $7.5 billion worth of cards last year. Yes, that's billion. To put this in perspective, that's about 3,000,000,000 individual cards, which if placed end to end starting at Times Square still wouldn't be enough to make Carmen Electra stay with Dennis Rodman. (A side note to the greeting card manufacturers -- and most other companies for that matter: Quit whining, will you? Just because sales aren't increasing in double digits like they used to is no reason to nail your president to a cross, close factories, and kiss your stockholder's, uh, feet. Be more like your workers. They don't get double digit revenue increases every year. Face it, when January hits they're just damned glad they're still around. You should be too.)In order to combat a market that appears to be shrinking faster than Pamela Anderson's breasts, the greeting card companies have taken several strategies. The more traditional one has been to fabricate new and better holidays in the hope that we'll buy more cards. It's not enough that we send cards at Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter, now they want us to send them at Thanksgiving, Halloween, Secretary's Day and, any year now, Martin Luther King's birthday.The other stroke of genius hit when, in a flash of brilliance not seen since someone decided that The Mod Squad would make a good movie, the greeting card companies came to the realization that the number of card giving days in a year was a finite number. Three hundred sixty-five to be exact. Doubling up sounded like, well, overkill, in spite of the fact that the state of Virginia triples up each year when they celebrate (True Fact!) Lee-Jackson-King Day.So instead of having to resort to National Head Cheese Day (which would have conflicted with Icky Bachelor Uncle's Day) they decided to create cards for non-occasions. Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear would have been proud. Anyway, that's how the touchy-feely card lines got started. You know, the ones like "I'm sorry we argued last night", "I'd like to get to know you better", and "Did I remember to mention that I have active herpes?"These card lines are expanding faster than Linda Ronstadt at a Taco Bell opening. Hallmark now has a new "Warm Wishes" line. Gibson Greetings has gone so far as to say they're not in the greeting card business but in the "relationship business." Don't be surprised if the next batch of cards you see are so soft and fluffy they're printed on cotton candy. Personally, I can't wait until I can buy cards like "I'm glad we bonded while playing drums in the sweat lodge", "I'm sorry I haven't gotten in touch with you but I've been too busy getting in touch with my feelings", and "You hurt my dog's self-esteem when you got angry about stepping in his poop."The greeting card -- I mean, relationship -- companies claim electronic greeting cards are hurting their sales. As someone who's gotten a few, let me say that they have nothing to worry about. From the sender's end, electronic greeting cards are free, you don't have to stand in a drugstore and spend hours trying to find an envelope that matches the card, and there's no need for a stamp or a mailbox. On the receiving end, however -- what no one wants to admit -- is that after you've gotten your first three electronic greeting cards, well, they get pretty boring.In case you've never gotten one, or you still think online refers to hanging up the wash, it works likes this: You get an email telling you to go to a web site. Once there, you enter a password, wait forever for Java to load, wait forever again while some big graphics load, then sit back and listen to some drippy song play while pigs dance on the screen and you read a canned sentiment which is no better than what they could have bought from Hallmark, though at least if they did that they'd have been helping the country's economy.The real problem with electronic greeting cards is they're too cheap and easy, so people start sending them for no apparent reason other than they can, which effectively renders them meaningless. The truth is, if you can go online to send an electronic greeting card you could just as easily take an extra moment or two and send a sincere, heartfelt thought in an email, couldn't you? Sure it won't have bandwidth hogging, slow-loading, ultra-lo-fidelity sound and graphics, but you can't have everything, can you?Maybe it's me. After all, I've only bought one greeting card in the last 15 years. Instead, I make them myself. This way they're original, they show some effort on my part, and they're completely personalized. Let's ignore the fact that they don't cost me anything, they have the graphics of a 5-year-old, and they're on plain white paper, at least they don't have sentiments like "Birthdays are like leaves on the tree of life, a reminder that as you get older you'll whither and die". Hey, now there's an idea. Don't be surprised if you see that soon in the American Greetings "Death Wishes" line. Hell, they'll do anything to sell more greeting cards.

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