The greeting card industry agrees that alternative cards are the fastest growing segment of the market today.
But exactly what percentage of the 7.4 billion greeting cards sold annually are alternative greetings remains unclear. The three leading card companies, however, are reporting double-digit growth in a segment that emerged more than a decade ago.
At Ambassador Cards, Kansas City, Mo., alternatives have been growing at a rate of 15% to 20% annually, said Ann Asel-Wagner, marketing strategist.
According to Sara Eames, marketing and public relations coordinator at American Greetings, Cleveland, alternative greetings represented 34% of nonseasonal sales in 1994, up from 27% in 1989.
Gibson Greetings, Cincinnati, enjoyed a 15% increase in alternative sales last year, said Tom Kapella, vice president of product development. The segment represents 12% of Gibson's sales, he said.
The term "alternative" also is defined rather loosely by industry executives.
"Alternative cards started out being defined as alternatives to the leading card publishers," said Maryann McDermott, executive vice president of the Greeting Card Association, Washington, a trade organization representing 1,500 card publishers.
McDermott said she uses the term nonoccasion cards instead.
"It's a trendy card, very in tune to what's happening today," explained Mindy Ellis, marketing media relations at Hallmark Cards, Kansas City, Mo. Last year American Greetings introduced several new lines, including That's Love, a romantic card line addressing communications differences in men and women.
New from the company this year will be An Angel's Touch, a line that targets the popularity of angels, and Elegant Treasured Antiques, a line of Victorian, retro designs by Laura Seddon.
Besides the Cats and Dogs alternative line introduced last year by Ambassador, the company introduced Made 'Em Laugh, Touch of Victorian and Angels Among Us. In June the company will roll out a 48-card Dilbert comic strip line.
Last year Gibson expanded its Good Laughs alternative line with another 200 stockkeeping units. New lines to be introduced next month include Spare Time, focusing on leisure time, and Work Place, cards for the office and co-workers.