100 Years Of "Gift Dressing"

What do World War One and Christmas have in common? Gift wrapping was invented back in 1917, but back then it was called " gift dressing", which actually makes a whole bunch of sense. Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc., a brand that is still a major player in the gift market as well as a niche player in television content and distribution (the Hallmark Channel), takes credit for launching the American trend as an attractive alternative to using brown packaging paper or newspapers as wrapping, which was a common practice back in the The Day. Using newspaper was also common practice for me when I was in college, much to my mother's disapproval.

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Hallmark and other retailers at the time already sold green, red, and white tissue paper, and some of this paper even sported wreath and holly designs, but in 1917 the company ran out of tissue paper right before Christmas Day. As a result, the marketing-minded older brother of Hallmark founder Joyce Hall had the idea of selling colored envelope liners for a dime each. They sold out.

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The company then began manufacturing and selling its own gift wrap products, which represented Hallmark's first brand extension beyond the highly successful greeting card line. The 1930's and the Great Depression saw ribbon on store shelves for the first time and later on bows. Hallmark began offering gift wrapping workshops in the 1950's and 60's as the trend became a tradition, and they even produced instructional videos. Traditional holiday colors made room for bright non-traditional holiday colors in the 1960's. Gift bags were added as recently as 1987 and then shortly after that, a pocket was added for the card, which was getting lost in the bag itself. There is a subtle genius in all of this simple marketing, isn't there? Since e-cards basically stink overall (nothing says you don't care quite like an e-card can), we here at KnowNow! Marketing wonder what will be next?

Discussion: What do you think the future holds for gift wrapping and for brands like Hallmark? How much of a threat has the Internet posed to the traditional greeting card market over the past several years? What can Hallmark and others do to remain relevant to a new generation of gift givers?