Get Hooked on Collecting:
A Qualitative Exploration of the Relationship
Between the Hallmark Brand and Hallmark Collectors
It is estimated that one in every three Americans collect something (Pearce
1995). There are collectors of fine art, antiques, toys, stamps, cookbooks,
postcards, Christmas ornaments, and even celebrity autographs. The
possibilities are endless, as indicated by the more than 260 collectors' clubs
in existence in the U.S. (Unity Marketing 1997)
Collecting has been identified as a "common, intensely involving form of
consumption" (Belk, Wallendorf, Sherry, Holbrook and Roberts 1988). In the
context of consumer behavior, consumption is defined as a means of acquiring,
using and discarding products. But many items, even consumer durables such as
Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup are acquired for possession and collection, rather
than consumption (Belk 1982). Collecting then becomes a rather unique form of
consumer behavior because its primary focus is on the acquiring aspect and to a
certain extent the usage feature, but a collection is seldom, if ever discarded.
As defined by Belk (1982), collectors engage in acquiring, possessing and
collecting an interrelated set of differentiated objects.
The act of collecting is an ancient one. Literature suggests that even
Tutankhamen collected walking sticks, staves, whips, mineral specimens, and toys
(Rigby and Rigby 1944). But collecting has become more widespread in the 20th
century than ever before, primarily due to the "broadened conceptualization of
things that are collectible" (Belk, Wallendorf, Sherry and Holbrook 1991,
p.185). A collectible differs from what is deemed an antique. It is generally
considered that for an item to be categorized as an antique, the object must be
at least 100 years old and had some intrinsic value at the time it was produced,
such as Chippendale furniture or fine works of art (Crispell 1988). This is not
true of a collectible. A collectible basically has been mass produced in the
20th century and most often cost less than $200 at the time of production.
Collectibles are often considered "old trivia" that recall the past of 15 to 20
years earlier (Crispell 1988, p.40). Items such as Barbie Dolls, McDonald's
Happy Meal toys, and baseball cards are just a few examples of current common
In addition, more and more companies are developing collectible items, mass
producing identical objects in series or sets, and providing authentication at
the time of purchasing. It's a form of prepacked collecting. Franklin Mint, a
manufacturer of mass produced collectibles, recently partnered with several
corporate marketers to create collectible products of some of the top commercial
brands. The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company, Planters Peanuts,
LifeSavers, Ralston Purina, McDonald's, Harley Davidson and Campbell's Soup
Company are just a few of the corporations that have agreed to tie their
products to collectible dolls, plates, sculptures, and Christmas ornaments (Loro
1995). Brands such as Hallmark Cards have developed their own line of
collectibles, creating more than 250 Christmas ornaments per year under the
Keepsake Ornament umbrella. These mass-merchandising efforts have extended the
brand by making it collectible. And the companies are using marketing
strategies to attract new collectors and increase purchase frequency among
current collectors; two classic strategies for building a brand's business
Researchers have only recently begun to explore collecting as a consumer
behavior phenomenon (Belk et al. 1988; Belk et al. 1991; Pearce 1995; Belk
1995). However, little research has been done to date that explores the allure
of collecting brands and whether certain manufacturers or brands attempt to
create or influence collecting behavior among consumers. According to
publications targeted to collectors, it is clear that some collectible
manufacturers perpetuate collecting behavior via marketing materials,
advertisements, and collectors' clubs. One manufacturer that stands out in this
regard is Hallmark. Hallmark manufactures its own line of collectibles, whereas
most companies simply license the logo to various manufacturers such as the
Franklin Mint or Bradford Exchange. Secondly, Hallmark has what is thought to
be the largest collector's club in the U.S. with more than 275,000 members. And
finally, Hallmark has created various events and communication tactics
exclusively for collectors. For these reasons, it seemed appropriate to start
this exploration of the relationship between brands and collectors with
WHEN YOU CARE ENOUGH: HALLMARK OVERVIEW
Independent research suggests that "When You Care Enough to Send the Very
Best" is one of the most trusted and believed slogans in America because it
associates the product with the experience of Hallmark (Linda Fewell, Hallmark
public relations, personal communication, February 8, 1996). Not only has this
advertising slogan been in use for more than 50 years, it has become the
philosophy of the company as well. Hallmark founder, Joyce C. Hall (1979)
wrote, "while we thought we had only established a good advertising slogan, we
soon found out we had made a business commitment as well. The slogan constantly
puts pressure on us to make Hallmark cards 'the very best'" (p.211).
Hallmark positions itself as "the world's largest manufacturer of greeting
cards and other personal expression products" (Hallmark press release, July 1,
1995). Founded in 1910, Hallmark ranks 31st on Forbes list of the largest
privately held U.S. companies. Annual sales are $3.8 billion and the company is
the market leader in both greeting cards and Christmas ornaments.
In 1973, Hallmark introduced the Keepsake line of Christmas ornaments.
The first offering included six decorated balls and 12 yarn figures as
Christmas decorations. Today, Hallmark manufactures over 250 ornaments per year
under the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament umbrella. The company takes credit for
setting the standard in the collectible-ornament industry due to the fact that
no ornament is available beyond its year of issue (Hallmark Fact Sheet 1995).
It introduces an entirely new line of ornaments each year, unlike their major
competitor Enesco, which reissues designs year after year.
The growth of ornament collecting has escalated since 1973, the year of
Hallmark's introduction into the marketplace, a fact that Hallmark takes credit
for (Hallmark Fact Sheet 1995). Today, more than 22 million households collect
Christmas ornaments and more than half of those households collect Hallmark
Keepsake Ornaments, according to Hallmark research (Linda Fewell, personal
communication, January 15, 1996). Because of this increased interest, the
company launched the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament Collector's Club in 1987, which
is now the largest collector's club in the nation. It is one of the few, if
not the only, club that is completely managed and maintained by the
manufacturing company. Most collector's clubs are volunteer organizations with
no company affiliation (Linda Fewell, personal communication, January 15, 1996).
Today, totally membership fees, event fees and event purchasing, the Hallmark
Collector's Club generates $117 million annually.
Club membership grew from 100,000 members to over 250,000 members in less
than one year. Today, membership is over 275,000 and Hallmark expects the total
to reach 300,000 before the end of 1997. According to Lynn Wylie, manager of
the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament Collector's Club, Hallmark "developed the
Collector's Club in appreciation of our ornament collectors. Collectors wanted
behind-the-scenes information about Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, how they're
made and about building their personal collections" (personal conversation,
September 16, 1995).
For a $20 fee, ornament collectors can become a member of the Hallmark
Keepsake Ornament Collector's Club and receive four ornaments as gifts. In
addition, members have the exclusive opportunity to purchase three additional
ornaments, that can be ordered direct from the company. Members also receive a
subscription to Collector's Courier, the club's quarterly newsletter and the
opportunity to attend Hallmark Keepsake Ornament EXPO's, a members only annual
In March, Club members are sent the Dream Book, Hallmark's brochure
introducing the ornament line for the current year. At that time, collectors
can pre-order ornaments through the local Hallmark store, and many do so,
ordering ornaments that have only been seen in print. In mid-July, Hallmark
hosts the Keepsake Ornament National Premiere at participating Hallmark stores
to introduce the new line. "The Premiere provides collectors with the first
opportunity to see, touch and purchase the more than 250 new Hallmark Keepsake
Ornaments. . ." (Dream Book 1996). At the Premiere, there are more
opportunities to purchase or win "exclusive Premiere ornaments," ornaments that
are only available at the premiere and often only available to Hallmark
Collector's Club members.
In the fall, Hallmark sponsors the EXPO, which tours at least ten U.S.
cities. For a registration fee of $10, members can attend "workshops and
demonstrations, see special presentations and videos, meet and mingle with other
collectors and receive special EXPO gifts" (EXPO Brochure 1995). In addition,
attendees can meet Hallmark Keepsake Ornament artists, have ornaments signed by
the artists, get a sneak peek at the line for next year, and purchase the
"exclusive" Keepsake Signature Collection - yet another ornament.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, two
national Collector's Conventions were held in 1991 at the company headquarters
in Kansas City, Missouri. Due to the overwhelming response and the demand for
more of the same, Hallmark kicked off the EXPO in 1994, traveling to eight
cities, and expanded to ten cities in 1996. Only 2,000 members are allowed to
register for each EXPO and for the past two years, each city has been a sell
out. This unique collecting environment was chosen to observe the interaction
between Hallmark and Hallmark collectors first-hand.
THE HALLMARK COLLECTOR'S EXPO '95: AN OVERVIEW
Participant observation and in-depth interviews were used to collect the
data at the Hallmark Expo in Secaucus, New Jersey - September 16, 1995.
Activities at the EXPO were videotaped and all interviews were audiotaped. In
addition, the marketing materials used by Hallmark to promote the event and
those materials provided at the EXPO were used in the analysis. A complete
press packet about Hallmark products and the EXPO was provided by the company
and telephone interviews with Hallmark marketing personnel were conducted
several months after the EXPO.
Pseudonyms are used throughout this account to preserve the anonymity of
informants, except in the following cases.
y Linda Fewell is a marketing media relations expert at Hallmark and supplied
all the marketing materials used for this study, and was interviewed on numerous
occasions. She serves as the spokesperson for Hallmark.
y Lynn Wylie is the Manager of the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament Collector's Club.
She serves as the expert on the club and Hallmark's activities surrounding the
promotion of the club. Wylie was only interviewed once, however she is quoted
extensively in Hallmark's promotional materials.
y Clara Johnson Scroggins is a collector as well as a consultant to Hallmark.
She is considered by many to be the premier authority on Christmas ornaments and
her ornament collection is recognized as the largest in the world ("The Season"
1996). Scroggins is the author of six editions of the Hallmark Keepsake
Ornament Collector's Guide, and in 1993 collaborated with Hallmark to create
Keepsake Ornaments: A Collector's Guide 1973- 1993, a special publication
commemorating the 20th anniversary of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. She is a
columnist in Collector's Mart Magazine, as well as other collectors'
publications, and travels year-round on the collecting lecture circuit and
appears at the EXPO courtesy of Hallmark.
This study begins with a description of the EXPO setting, including a
layout of the EXPO exhibits and details of some of the exhibits. Following a
discussion of the selling strategies used by Hallmark regarding the EXPO,
profiles of two collectors are presented. Their stories lead to a discussion of
the relationship with Hallmark and how the company perpetuates the collecting
The EXPO Environment (The Setting)
Hallmark Collector's Club members lined the sidewalk in front of the
Meadowlands Sheraton for more than two blocks on Saturday, September 16. The
procession towards the entrance began just before 9:00 a.m. and was conducted in
a most orderly, congenial fashion. There was no jockeying for space, no cutting
in line, no complaining about the pace, no attempts to push ahead. It was quite
friendly, very neighborly, very community oriented. Once inside, the escalator
moved the collectors to the second floor where they entered "The World of
Hallmark." Linda Fewell would later comment, "Many people commented it was
almost like coming to Mecca" (personal conversation, September 6, 1996).
Twenty-one exhibits lined the hallway and filled the large ballroom of the
Sheraton Hotel. Hallmark ornaments were at every turn, and every exhibit was
designed to encourage collecting. This "Sweet Smorgasbord of Activities"
(described as such in the EXPO program), was laid out in such a way that
collectors could roam from booth to booth to view Hallmark ornaments in a
variety of displays. In fact, a visit to every booth was actively encouraged.
Each attendee was given a card to have stamped at each booth. Once the card was
full, the collector could be entered into the prize drawings which would be held
at the end of the day. The prizes were Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, of course.
(See Exhibit 1 for the EXPO layout.)
Although each exhibit advertised some aspect of the Hallmark Keepsake
line, some booths encouraged collecting more than others, building a stronger
relationship with the collector. The exhibits that seemed to reinforce the
collecting behavior will be discussed here. They are: Artists' Signing Studio,
EXPO Collectibles Shoppe, the EXPO Main Stage presentation and Clara's Corner.
Artists' Signing Studio
The Artists' Signing Studio was in the center of the room, the main
attraction it seemed or at least the focal point. The booth was circular and
for most of the day, collectors patiently waited in a long line in order to have
three Hallmark artists sign one ornament each. It was as if the artist was a
celebrity of sorts, and their signing an ornament somehow affected the value of
the piece, either emotionally or financially.
The artists sat underneath a sign displaying their signature. As the
collectors patiently waited their turn, they began to meticulously unwrap their
ornaments in preparation for their audience with the artist. The whole process
was similar to a communion line. As each collector approached the artist's
station, the ornament was carefully handed over for inscription. There was very
little, if any, conversation between the collector and the artist. It was a
reverent-type of behavior that was observed here. The collectors appeared to
feel honored to have this artist sign a piece from their collection. The
silence imposed by the collector seemed to indicate admiration and respect.
According to Hallmark, this booth was the most requested by the collectors.
Linda Fewell told me, "They love meeting the artists. One artist even
commented - 'they make me feel like Robert Redford'." Celebrity status indeed.
When the ornament was signed and returned, the collector would thank the
artist and move on to the next. Once all three artists had been visited, the
collectors would leave the circular line and huddle in an area to admire the
signature on each ornament and then, with painstaking care, return the ornament
to its original wrapping and container.
[--- Pict Graphic Goes Here ---]
EXPO Collectible Shoppe
This was the only exhibit at the EXPO where ornaments could be purchased.
A crowd surrounded the Collectible Shoppe throughout the day. This was the
place for collecting, all the items were exclusive to the EXPO. In addition to
pins and T-shirts designed with the EXPO logo, the other items for sale were
collectible ornaments as promoted in advance by Hallmark. These items were only
available to those attending the EXPO, an exclusivity that makes the purchase
more desirable (Belk 1995). In fact Hallmark only produces enough of these
ornaments so that every EXPO attendee can purchase one, in effect a limited
edition of 20,000. Four ornaments in all were available, ranging in price from
$5 to $60. There was no display of these ornaments, so basically collectors
were buying the items sight unseen.
I watched a woman exit the line with boxes stacked on top of one another.
She immediately moved to an area of empty floor space and began to methodically
open the largest box. When approached, she graciously agree to show me her
Marie carefully unwrapped the individual pieces all wrapped in bubble
plastic for protection. She looked like a child on Christmas morning and was
very methodical about the unveiling, and as time passed, other collectors
gathered around to view the ornaments for the first time. Marie had purchased
all four ornaments. "I know I shouldn't have," she said, " but this is the only
place you can get them, so they will be very collectible."
The large box contained "Christmas Eve Bake-Off", a signature piece that
some artists had already signed. She carefully slid the large Styrofoam
protection out of the box and very gently lifted the lid. Her manner of care and
inspection was almost as if she were handling a newborn infant. Those around
her oohed and aahed their approval.
I bought this type of ornament last year at the EXPO in
Baltimore and had it signed by the artists. It's really a collector's
item now. I saw a signed one at an ornament show in Pennsylvania not
long ago and they were asking $300. I probably should sell mine, but
it's part of my memories of EXPO and I want to keep it.
Marie had brought other ornaments for the artists to sign and for extra
help, had brought her sister along in order to get three additional signatures.
In addition, she had purchased a special ornament just for this occasion.
I try to get things that will excite me. And I didn't see
anything this year that excited me to have signed, except for this one
(referring to a Santa ornament). And this is the best kind to have
signed, because it is the first in a series. Last year, I bought the
Beatles and had it signed, which I thought was a good deal.
So, Marie had not only added pieces to her collection, she had indeed added
both personal and financial value to the pieces by getting them signed by the
artists. Besides, she now had an entire new line of collectibles, those from
EXPO Mainstage Presentation
A ballroom adjacent to the main exhibit hall was set up theatre style and
every two hours, the room would fill up with Hallmark collectors. As the lights
dimmed, Hallmark Ornament television commercials filled the video screen and
monitors. There were ten advertisements in all, both past and present. They
were in typical Hallmark style, full of emotion and creating a link between
Hallmark and family traditions. The audience responded to their favorites with
applause and when the lights came up, many were wiping tears from their eyes.
As the lights came up on stage, and actress portraying Mrs. Claus appeared
standing next to a stove, a picture perfect replica of the EXPO Signature
Ornament Marie had unveiled just minutes before. Mrs. Claus greeted the
audience with familiarity and the same sense of community that had been observed
EXPO reminds me of Christmas in so many ways. Just as Christmas
brings family and loved ones together to share in the love and warmth
of the holiday, EXPO has brought us together too. Friends, and fellow
collectors are here today to share the joy of collecting. Keepsake
Ornaments really do bring happiness to the holidays.
Clara Johnson Scroggins followed the welcome. From the uproarious
applause, it was obvious that many of those in attendance knew Clara. While she
spoke, slides of the ornaments about which she talked were shown on a screen
behind her to applause and oohs and aahs from the collectors. They were
enthralled with what Clara had to say. What follows are excerpts of her
When Hallmark introduced their line of ornaments in 1973,
they did so with only a line that consisted of 12 yarn ornaments and 6
decorated glass balls. Those really made a big change in our lives.
But what's important to me is how the ornaments now reflect
the changes in our lives, our cultures, and our lifestyles today.
Before 1973, ornaments were not dated, American decorations were just
decorations and it offered us very little individuality in decorating
our trees. But today, they've changed and we can celebrate very
special occasions, events, and people in our lives.
In 1996, Hallmark is launching an ornament which I
personally selected. And I selected this piece because I believe it
epitomizes what Christmas is all about more than any other. This
ornament is going to be called, The Clara Johnson Scroggins Collector'
s Choice. I don't have it to show you today, but I'm willing to
guarantee you're going to love it as much as I do.
As an authority and a fellow collector, Clara's endorsement is a stamp of
approval for other collectors. In addition, Hallmark has created another series
of collectibles - The Clara Johnson Scroggins Collector's Choice.
When Clara wasn't on stage presenting highlights of the Hallmark line and
recommending that everyone buy certain ornaments, she was at Clara's Corner,
signing autographs. She is not only considered an expert in the field, but a
celebrity as well.
Clara sat in a large overstuffed chair by a fake fireplace in the back
corner of the exhibit area. It was designed to look like a living room,
Christmas tree and all. She greeted everyone as if they were old friends and
many asked to have pictures taken with her. Others had her sign her book, or
the Signature piece - even though she was not an artist. But just as with the
artists signing, there was a type of reverence here. Many of the collectors
kneeled down beside her as she autographed whatever or to have their picture
taken. And again, there was little conversation exchanged between the collector
and Clara. It seemed as though the collector was in awe of her - she is the
ultimate ornament collector.
Several interviews were done with collectors at the EXPO. Two are profiled
here as a means of learning more about their collecting behavior.
It was a tragedy that started Clara Johnson Scroggins collecting ornaments.
Just before Christmas in 1972, her husband died suddenly from a cerebral
hemorrhage. Instead of attending holiday parties, she was planning a funeral.
She related the following:
To keep me active and busy, a very good friend decided that I
had to go shopping with her the day after Christmas. Our first stop
was a jewelry store where my friend had some jewelry repaired. Waiting
for her, I glanced in the case and there was a beautiful sterling
silver cross that was a Christmas ornament. Being a real Christmas
person and seeing this cross, I realized how vulnerable I was. Here I
thought I had my life in control and suddenly, here I was - young and
widowed. I bought that cross because it connected me and God and my
husband in my own little way. When I got home and read the romance
card with the cross, it said it was a second edition. I wanted the
first. That was the beginning.
Today, Clara's collection totals more than 250,000 ornaments and is
estimated to be worth more than $2 million. What began as her hobby is now her
career. She is considered the premier authority on Christmas ornaments, and is
the author of collector's guides for Hallmark as well as a columnist for several
collector's publications. Each year she publishes a list of her favorite
Hallmark Ornaments and in 1996 Hallmark introduces an ornament which she
personally selected, the Clara Johnson Scroggins Collector's Choice.
Clara admits to having a "lust" for collecting ornaments. She looks for
series or special lines of ornaments, but is emphatic that she buys only what
she likes. She adds approximately 2,000 ornaments to her collection each year.
Although she does display her ornaments during the holidays, she insists that
the ornaments are more than just decorations.
Today's ornaments are different. We can celebrate very
special occasions, events and people in our lives. Each ornament
captures a special moment or feeling. Ornaments reflect the changes
in our lives, our cultures, our lifestyles. Ornaments can give us a
ticket back to our childhood or provide a chance to capture things
that we missed during childhood. That's why I collect Barbie
ornaments now. I was too old for Barbie when she came out. My
ornaments are like a scrapbook of memories. I can see so much of my
life in them.
Although this conversation was during our interview session, I was struck
as how much Clara sounded like a spokesperson for Hallmark. It was as if she
were continuing her speech from the EXPO. Furthermore, this type of language
"scrapbook of memories" is very similar to the language Hallmark uses in
promotional materials such as the Dream Book and newsletters.
The two most important things to Clara is her family and her collection.
In fact, she often refers to her grandchildren as a collection and to her
ornament collection as her children.
When my last grandchild was born, my final addition to my
collection of grandchildren, we celebrated his first Christmas with
his very own seven-foot Christmas tree- covered top to bottom with
ornaments proclaiming 'First Christmas 1991.'
My ornaments are truly like my children. My favorite ornament
is every ornament I have, there's not a one that I would want to do
without. You may think that some are prettier than others, but when
you have a line or collection or series, there's not one in that
series anybody wants to be without or we wouldn't be out there
She also talks of collectors as being her "second family". So there is this
extension of the collection and even other collectors as part of her family, as
part of herself. Clara explains why collecting means so much to her, almost in a
I am passing down family heirlooms that I am enjoying today,
that present generations of my family are enjoying. And I hope that
as time passes, these ornaments will get passed on from generation to
generation with the special aura that we've enjoyed, loved and used
them. These keepsakes are going to go down in the family for
generations to come, showing our cultures, our lifestyles, and making
history. They'll say, 'my great-great grandmother lived in those days
and she left us these ornaments.'
In a way, the collection immortalizes Clara. Belk et al. (1991) suggests that
collections are a type of autobiography, and as such passing the collection on
immortalizes the collector.
Luann "fell into" collecting. She claims people began giving her ornaments
for her birthday, which is in December. Today, she boasts a collection of 2,000
ornaments, which she has cataloged in the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament Treasury
Binder, available only to members.
Luann appeared to be in her 40's, works part-time in a deli and has three
children and one grandchild. She attended EXPO with her aunt, Nora, who may be
slightly older, late 40s. They both love Christmas, love ornaments, and enjoy
collecting together. The entire event becomes a family affair. It begins when
the Hallmark dream book arrives in March.
We get the book and look through it and discuss it. We get on
the phone generally and say look at page 32 and yea, did you see the
one on page.. ? We go back and forth about what we like, what we
don't. I mean this isn't a spur of the moment thing. We study this
book and we make a list of 'really like', ' really want', ' gotta
have'. And then we wait for the premiere and we go together and buy
the gotta haves.
Depending on her financial situation at the time, she buys the "gotta
haves" first and the remainder she either puts on layaway at the store or buys
them at a later time, when she has the money. Overall, Luann adds about 30 - 40
ornaments to her collection per year. She does buy other brands of ornaments,
but 98 percent of her collection is Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.
I like Hallmark. Hallmark is like fireplaces, a cup of tea and
sit around with scrapbooks and that kind of nostalgia. It's pull up a
chair, have a bite to eat and -even if it's peanut butter and jelly,
we'll sit around the table and talk.
Christmas is an important holiday to Luann and her family. She claims it
is a "warm fuzzy family thing," and admits that her sentimental feelings about
Christmas lead to her "compulsion" to collect ornaments as well as the
meticulous manner in which she displays her ornaments during the holiday.
It's not that is has to be a Hallmark holiday tree, it's just
that I like it to look that way. I mean, I even went and bought the
pearls with the wires on it so that when you hang the pearls, the
little beads around the tree, the loops hang the right way. They
don't just naturally droop, they are artistically placed. And the
tree has to be a Douglas fir, because that's the only thing that will
last. I'm compulsive, I know.
I start with the lights. My tree has about 700 lights. Then, I
get a laundry basket and take each ornament out. I pack them away so
that the heaviest ornaments are on the top so you can find the better
branches to put them on the tree. You got to start with weight
first. I know you think this is neurotic. But I have this little
ritual. I take the ornament out of the box and put it in my laundry
basket and then you look at the tree and you look at the ornament and
find the best possible place for that ornament and they you do the
same thing for the next one and the next one. It's not ... you can't
just plop the ornament up there. You have to find the spot where it
belongs. You gotta get the right spot for it. You know, if they spend
time making these ornaments and they're really nice ornaments, they
should be on something very nice.
Luann doesn't necessarily collect what is popular, she basically buys what
she likes. She purchased only one EXPO ornament, because the others simply
"didn't do it" for her. She likes items that are a little different.
We've always had ornaments on our tree that were a little
different, something different than little round balls. Anybody can
have those. I really like the ones that do something - moves, music,
something. And it's got to have a personality. If I don't like the
faces, I won't buy them. And when I look at some of that stuff in the
secondary market, I think I've got some really valuable stuff. But I
wouldn't sell my ornaments. That's not why I bought my ornaments. I
bought my ornaments because I liked them.
She mentions that her collection has been a great means of judging her
financial situation over the years. But she enjoys all the memories her
collection provides. She relates to the message from the mainstage production
claiming that memories factor into her love of collecting.
Everyone needs these things. It's just . . you open it up,
especially year after year, you open it up and I can tell you who gave
me each ornament. I can tell you when it was given to me. I can tell
you all the things that happened when I got that ornament. It's a to
uchstone. Each box is a memory. When the kids were little - the one
thing we could always do is string popcorn. We have an ornament now
with a mouse and a little string of popcorn and a needle. I mean
these ornaments are things that we've done. They are part of our
memories. Just like caroling and playing in the snow.
Luann's collection has become a reminder of the family times and of the
story of the acquisition of the ornaments (Belk et al. 1991). Therefore, the
ornaments become a cue for recalling and retelling stories. The collection
becomes a part of Luann's personal history.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH HALLMARK
The premise behind branding is to distinguish and differentiate products
among competitors. Brands are built by establishing added values or a brand
personality through user association, product attributes, and advertising (Jones
1986). And by developing added values and brand associations, companies can
build brand loyalty, which translates into the retention of a consumer over a
long period of time. Hallmark has expertly built that loyalty within their
collectors by reinforcing and perpetuating their collecting behavior.
In order to create and maintain brand loyalty, a company must build an
association between the brand and the consumer and in the process stay close to
the customer. The brand association becomes the link to the consumer's memory
of the brand. That link is strengthened when it is based on many positive
experiences or exposures to communications (Aaker, 1991). Hallmark's marketing
communications to collectors builds a strong brand association which in turn has
built brand loyalty, which keeps collectors collecting Hallmark Keepsake
Ornaments. According to Hallmark research, a non-collector buys 3 to 4 Hallmark
ornaments a year, whereas a Hallmark Collector's Club member purchases forty
Hallmark ornaments a year (Linda Fewell, personal conversation, January 15,
1996). All of the collectors interviewed buy predominantly Hallmark ornaments,
except for Clara - who adds 2,000 ornaments to her collection each year, about
10% of which are Hallmark. However, that means she purchases almost the entire
line of Hallmark ornaments each year. Luann and Marie both add approximately 30
to 40 Hallmark ornaments to their collection each year. This suggests that as
the interest in Hallmark ornaments increases, as does the communication from
Hallmark, the collector's purchasing increases as well. This is an ideal model
for establishing and maintaining brand loyalty.
Obviously, the Hallmark Collector's Club is an important tool in the brand
loyalty relationship between Hallmark and the collector. "It's important that
Hallmark reach out to those who view our products as important to their lives.
We're in a very emotional business. People are using our products to reach out
and build relationships with others. And that's what we try to do with our
customers as well" (Linda Fewell, personal conversation, January 15, 1996).
In the 1996 Dream Book, Lynn Wylie, Manager of the Keepsake Ornament
Collector's Club, writes, "The joy of collecting ornaments is a passion that can
last a lifetime. Each year when your Keepsake ornaments are lovingly placed on
the Christmas tree, memories of friends, family and special times come to life."
Each collector discussed the meaning of their collection, most often in
term of memories, talking of scrapbooks and childhood and nostalgia. Luann
claimed that she could not off-hand account for every ornament in her
collection, but when she unwrapped them to trim the tree, she could recollect
how she came to possess each and every ornament.
Clara's collecting behavior began with her constructing memories around an
ornament that kept her husband close. She bought her first ornament because it
"connected" her with the memory of her husband. Today, Clara uses ornaments to
signify events in her life - the birth of a new grandchild - and to build a
personal history to pass on to her heirs.
Wylie talks of the "passion" which many collectors referred to in
discussions with me. Clara called it "lust"; another collector used the term
"passion." Luann referred to it as "compulsive" and yet another called it an
"addiction". The fact that collectors admit to being addicted indicates the
power of this activity. Addiction in any sense is by no means a positive
condition. It has been suggested that insecurity prompts the addicted
individual to seek reassurance through a repeated ritualized activity (Belk et
al. 1988). If this is the case with Hallmark, the collector receives plenty of
reassurance, not to mention opportunities to feed the addiction and legitimize
it by labeling themselves as a collector. Belk et al. (1988) further suggest
that the association with other collectors engenders the feeling that the
addiction is a positive thing. Therefore, the Collector's Club positively
reinforces the collecting behavior because Hallmark constantly boasts about the
large membership. The collector can feel secure among this community, where
more than 250,000 others behave the same way.
Hallmark promotes the exclusivity of items that only club members can
purchase. Even the EXPO is a "collector's only" event. In addition, the entire
line of Hallmark ornaments are available for only one year, basically making
them all limited editions. By restricting consumption, the personal distinction
of the collection and the collector is enhanced (Belk 1982). Often it is the
scarcity of the item that makes it desirable and also strengthens the loyalty
the consumer feels for the brand.
Hallmark consistently projects the image that "we do it all for you," from
the painstaking manufacturing process to quality control measures to creating
"unique and intricate ornaments that create a scrapbook of memories for the
collector" (Exhibit copy, September 16, 1996). This attitude makes the collector
feel special and in their own right, exclusive, just like the ornaments they
collect. This special feeling enhances the collector's feelings about Hallmark
and to an extent, their own self-image. Belk (1988) contends that collecting is
a means for expanding and improving a sense of self.
Furthermore, Hallmark continues to add collectible lines to their
ornaments. There is the series of ornaments that you obtain by joining the
Collector's Club and each year as that is renewed, new ornaments are provided.
There is a series of ornaments called "Club Editions" that only club members can
purchase through their local Hallmark store. The Premiere offers a special
series of ornaments available only the weekend of the event. And of course,
there is the series of collectible ornaments only available at the EXPO.
Furthermore, there are the "Collector's Series" that are offered each year in
the ornament line. Hallmark guarantees that certain new designs, developed
around a particular theme, will be offered for a minimum of three years. There
are often 2 to 5 series running at once. This type of marketing promotes brand
loyalty. And it is most effective in getting collectors "hooked," because
collectors enjoy the anticipation of new merchandise to collect and relish order
and completion (Belk et al. 1991).
"The Hallmark Experience"
Collectors and personnel from Hallmark all talked at some point about the
"Hallmark Experience". This "experience" is communicated to collectors via the
communications as well as product development. And in talking to collectors,
the language is quite similar.
Luann spoke of Hallmark as likable, warm, friendly, family-like,
comfortable to be with - all attributes that could easily describe a person or a
friend. She welcomes Hallmark into her home and treats the Christmas holiday as
a "Hallmark Holiday". One in which her home is transformed into the image of
the Hallmark advertisements, where families gather and traditions are
Clara also spoke of Hallmark in a reverent way, but more as a family member
than simply a friend. She claimed her ornaments were like her children and as
part of her family she takes great care and pride in displaying ornaments
throughout her home year round. However, during the holidays, she decorates
seven trees in addition to displaying her ornaments on mantels and wreaths
throughout her home.
Hallmark encourages the act of collecting and relates the act as part of
the tradition of celebrating Christmas. The Dream Book promotes the "Get
Hooked on Collecting" Starter Kit. For $7.95, a "first-time collector" can
obtain information about the "tradition" of collecting Keepsake and managing the
collection. Naturally, two ornaments are included to "get you hooked." The
following copy is also from the Dream Book:
Getting Started: Chances are you have one or two Hallmark
Keepsake Ornaments already. If you're wondering where to go from
there it's simple: Follow your heart. Selecting ornaments you love
is the best and most satisfying way to begin and continue your
A Collection That Grows in Value. While a Hallmark Keepsake
Ornament has the potential to increase in monetary value, it's almost
certain to increase in emotional value. A Keepsake Ornament
collection is a tribute to the joy of collecting memories of the
things and the people that you love.
Clara, Marie and Luann all discussed how they purchased ornaments that they
like. And they all discussed the memories that were attached to the act of
collecting as well as the collection itself. Luann remarked that "every box is
a memory." Hallmark ties the collecting into something as traditional as
celebrating the holiday. In fact, they have promoted that part of the holiday
tradition is the collecting itself and the joy it provides the collector and
those that share viewing the ornaments. Lynn Wylie speaks about the importance
of the ornaments:
We find that ornaments are important to people because they
commemorate special events. The enjoyment comes, in part, from taking
the time to reminisce while trimming the tree and the house - to talk
about the history and the memories connected with each ornament as
it's unwrapped and hung.
Not only does Hallmark reinforce the act of collecting, in the Hallmark
Keepsake Ornament 1973 - 1993, they take credit for "introducing America to the
concept of collecting ornaments" (Scroggins 1993). And with a brand name like
"Keepsake" the meaning is obvious and the behavior is reinforced.
By legitimizing and perpetuating collecting, Hallmark encourages the
transformation of ordinary commodities into sacred icons (Belk, Wallendorf and
There is a magical quality about objects in a collection. Belk et al.
(1989) contend that collectors move the ordinary objects they collect to a state
that becomes non-ordinary, non-utilitarian and which makes it special in some
way, makes it sacred. This normally means that these objects stop serving
their former functions. Even those collected objects that retain their original
uses, are regarded as more than functional products, are treated with extreme
care and are often only employed ritually or on special ceremonial occasions.
As discussed by collectors in this study, although the ornaments are used for
decoration, there is much more involved. Recall that both collectors spoke
about their ornaments as "more than decorations".
Belk et al. (1989) propose several aspects of sacralization, two of which
are apparent among the Hallmark collectors studied.
1. Sacralization through ritual. An ordinary commodity becomes sacred by
rituals designed to transform the object symbolically (Belk et al. 1989). A
relatively undifferentiated object is individualized by the consumer through
this process, which is the basic foundation that Aaker (1991) defined as
branding. The consumer invests the "self" in the brand and builds a
relationship with the brand. The ritual is formed through the suggestion of
traditions that surround the holidays. Hallmark exploits the ritual by
promoting the act of collecting as part of the tradition. Furthermore, the care
and display of the ornaments themselves become ritualized, therefore
transforming the ornaments into something more sacred than simply decorations.
2. Sacralization through pilgrimage. This is described as a "journey away
from home to a consumption site where an experience of intense sacredness
occurs" (Belk et al. 1989, p. 15). This is what the EXPO is all about. It is
definitely a collecting consumption site and from observing the reverence paid
to Clara and the artists, the feeling of sacredness was there. An estimated
20,000 Hallmark collectors made the pilgrimage to the various EXPOs. Linda
Fewell remarked that many collectors felt as if it was Mecca, and to many, it
might have been. The pilgrimage also relates to the premieres held in the
Hallmark stores during July. Luann and Nora make their pilgrimage to pick out
their "gotta haves." Clara makes her pilgrimage to Hallmark every year to choose
her "best list."
The growth of collecting and the growth of collecting brands is what lead
to this exploratory study. The purpose of was to gain more insight into the
relationship a brand, such as Hallmark, has built with collectors. There was no
attempt, nor was it the intent, to provide generalizable conclusions regarding
the collectors of Hallmark ornaments, their collecting behavior or collecting
behavior in general. Hallmark admits that there are so many reasons that
people collect, that even with all the access they have to the collectors, they
have been unable to create a profile of THE Hallmark Keepsake Collector.
What this study has tried to do is explore the relationship a brand has
with a collector, a relationship that would seem to be much different than that
of simply a consumer. Hallmark is just one of many brands that promote and
perpetuate collecting. However, they are one of the few companies that have
direct access to their collectors, as well as devising ways to control the
environment in which the collecting occurs. This allows Hallmark to singularize
and often sacralize a commodity in such a way that it becomes differentiated in
the marketplace. For brands, that is always the ultimate challenge. Hallmark
has been able to transform their ornaments into a warm, emotional, personal
experience that enhances the purchasing of the product as well as its use.
By building brand associations and added values, Hallmark has effectively
used a marketing strategy that builds brand loyalty, a most difficult task in
today's marketplace. They have created and maintained the association of
emotion and feelings with the brand to encourage a most remarkable type of
consumer behavior. To study this behavior further, the next step would be to
study more Hallmark collectors and events. In addition, study other brands,
such as Coca-Cola, Hershey, Campbell's Soup, who are using similar marketing
strategies to encourage brand collecting. Further research could lead to a
broader understanding of the motivations behind collecting and what it means to
the brands who are entering this new and growing category.
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