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Hallmark’s Asian Valentine

What happens when Valentine’s Day goes global?

February 14, 2001

What happens when Valentine's Day goes global?

The Kansas City-based company known as Hallmark is the brainchild of Joyce C. Hall, who started producing cards from samples he stored under his bed in 1910. From those modest beginnings, it grew into a $3.5 billion corporation.

Now, over 90 years later, Hallmark is now looking to expand its Asian operations as part of its global strategy.

Already, the Kansas City-based firm owns several companies in Asia: It acquired a company in Japan in 1994, founded creative organizations in Hong Kong and Singapore in 1998 — and in Shanghai in 1999.

Hallmark representatives like to point out that Asia is an “area of emphasis” for the company’s future. For example, Hong Kong and Singapore offices have been upgraded to investment centers from distribution centers.

In the United States alone, 67% of Valentine’s Day activities consist of giving Valentine’s Day greeting cards. In 2002, according to Hallmark, Americans spent more than $937.5 million on Valentine’s Day cards alone.

But while the market in the United States is huge — it is a $7.5 billion industry — the potential for Hallmark’s 1,330 different Valentine’s Day cards in Asia is even bigger.

Based on the sales of Hallmark cards, it appears that the number of consumer romantics in China, Japan and Korea is rising.

This is not surprising, considering Hallmark cards have proven to be a great way to overcome some of the emotional restrictions still imposed on some Asian societies.

The problem in Eastern societies is that cultural norms and romance often run into a dilemma: how do you tell a girl that you fancy her, without putting yourself in a position in which you could “lose face?”

For example, in China, because of cultural norms, men would never be mistaken for Shakespeare’s Romeo. Romance, of the Western variety, is simply not a Chinese man’s style.

So, how would they overcome this dilemma? Hallmark to the rescue! To sidestep possible pitfalls of cultural impropriety, the Chinese Don Juan goes and buys his sweetie a Hallmark card for Valentine’s Day.

In that way, he can express his emotions through a pre-written message, rather than with uncomfortable sweet-talk in person.

In Japan and Korea, the rules are somewhat different. There, men generally tend to be less inhibited about their emotions — and romantic interests.

To assess just how emotional Japanese men can be, watch the occasional Japanese or Korean business news. There have been many instances where a top Japanese or Korean CEO has apologized — in tears, in front of his nation’s TV cameras — for the weak performance or bankruptcy of his company.

In Japan and Korea, it is the women that are more reserved, emotionally. In order for them to display affection in a suitable manner, some women will send out Valentines to the object of their affection.

But, Hallmark cards do not need to be translated into the different Asian languages to enable lovers to exchange tender words.

Since most of the Asian Hallmark cards are produced within those countries, it seems only natural the cards would be in the local languages. To include all their customers around the world, Hallmark prints cards in 30 different languages.

They have already printed cards in Mandarin and Japanese — with plans to extend to various Indian languages, such as Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil. Yet, it now seems that this was not entirely necessary.

Actually the hip thing to do is to offer an English-language cards to your Chinese or Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend — even when they speak little to no English.

Contrary to Hallmark’s expectations, it turns out that to impress their dates, Asian lovers prefer the English cards to the Asian ones. Upon learning of this cultural preference, Hallmark reacted quickly.

Even though Chinese and Japanese descendants of Romeo and Juliet are now able to buy greeting cards in their native language, Hallmark has made sure the supply of English greeting cards is plentiful.

Thus, their customers can display both their hip cosmopolitan flair, while also sending their sweetie that all-important message of love.