Card makers prepare for millennium bonanza

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The Independent Online
THEY RANGE from the tasteful to the tacky and, just like weddings and births (in some instances because of them), millennium greetings cards will be a huge seller this year and next.

Britain is a nation of card senders. For every man, woman and child in the country an average of 48 cards are sent each year. A total of 2.7 billion cards are sold annually, making the greeting-card industry worth pounds 1bn. Indeed, as a nation we send more greeting cards per person than any other on earth.

Greeting-card manufacturers, have produced their normal range of cards for the year, and expect to cash in twice at the end of the year by supplying us with "Happy New Millennium" cards, which we will buy and send by the million, along with the traditional Christmas cards.

And for the companies, the millennium boom will bring an added bonus in the form of a merchandising bonanza.

"We love cards in Britain," said Kerry Teakle, of Hallmark, the world's biggest producer of greeting cards. "I think it goes back to Victorian times and the notion of sending thank-you letters. People always used to write to one another then and I think cards are how that tradition continues today.

"Equally, I think it comes from the image of a stiff upper lip. People like cards because they can trust them with their emotions. They use them to put across how they feel but might not be confident enough to say themselves."

Valentine's day is a perfect example of how Britain uses cards to communicate instead of words. Last year, on Valentine's day alone, a total of 20m cards worth more than pounds 31m were sold. Christmas accounts for 30 per cent of all sales, while Easter is the second most popular time to send cards.

But does this reliance on cards mean we are becoming socially inept when it comes to telling people how we feel?

American psychologist and agony aunt Donna Dawson believes this is not the case. "The British prefer the slight distancing effect of words on a card. Being over-familiar is seen by the majority as a social gaffe," she said.

With the new millennium slowly dawning (313 days and counting), card manufacturers are launching their millennium ranges for the rest of this year, and they encompass a variety of tastes.

Woodmansterne pitches its selection at the more up-market end of the greeting-card market. It has launched a range of four sets of cards - Midnight, Anno Jubilis, Woodmansterne and Graffiti - so that "as the clock strikes twelve at midnight on New Year's Eve 1999, together we will pass through a gateway - a temporal port - not only to next year, but to a new decade, the 21st century, and the third millennium".

The pub doorway would be a more appropriate portal, judging by some of the cards available from other manufacturers.

Regent produces a decidedly up-beat selection, using holograms, pop-ups and a party theme for its end-of-the-century cards.

If you are going to send a millennium card to mark the New Year, you can choose from an enormous variety of messages - although almost all come with a pithy punchline.

Why not tell a loved one that the birthday card you are sending them is the last one they are ever getting - this millennium. Or how about letting mum or dad know they really are one in a millennium. After all, there were some great inventions of the 20th century - but they were the best by far.

Or if you're feeling romantic, come the final days of 1999, why not send your beloved a card with "2000 kisses for your millennium missus"?

And it doesn't end there. There are all-singing "Sound Experience" cards from Hanson White. Open up one of these and hear Big Ben chime among the cheers of party revellers.

Alternatively, you might go for the real party animal's card, on which is written: "Because I've got great friends like you, this New Year will be ace, so let's start the millennium as we mean to go on and get completely off our face" and which screams "Happy New Year" at you when it is opened.

Despite a fixation with puns that make most people groan, Britain leads the world in card design, said Warren Lomax, joint publisher of Progressive Greetings, a trade magazine for the card industry.

"We export our card designs to countries all over the world. And this year is going to be massive for all aspects of the industry, especially for calendars, which will become collectible," he said. "The millennium is going to give a huge boost to greeting-card sales, and I know many people are saying that it's going to be the biggest event in the industry's history."

Even though most people send a Christmas/New Year card all in one, companies are not worried. They expect most people will break with tradition and send two cards to each recipient this year.

How much profit the companies stand to make from this bonanza is unclear - no one knows how many cards will be sold - although, given that 30 per cent of sales are traditionally at Christmas, card makers could expect their annual sales to rise by that percentage.

Ms Teakle said: "I think a lot of people will send two cards at the end of this year, one for Christmas and one for the millennium. It's a one- off event that people will want to mark in a special way and sending a card is one way to do that."