This graduation season, I’ve noticed a trend in increasingly elaborate celebrations that include more friends and family. Whether it’s a high school or college graduation, parents seem to be emphasizing these milestones more—and spending more on celebrations.
In an interview with Yolanda Casey, Program Leader of Retail Visual Merchandising at Hallmark Cards, Inc., my observations were reinforced. In her capacity as both executive and mom, Yolanda confirms:
"I do believe that people are having many, many more parties for high school graduation- it’s big. I do think people are buying more cards.
"At the Hallmark.com site, we’re now doing more things with Shutterfly. All the invitations I’ve received are personalized with photos. I probably have 11 invitations on my fridge right now. It’s on a bigger scale now, no longer just immediate family. Our invitation list is at 200 people for high school graduation. We’re having it at the family restaurant, a band for the kids.
"Everybody is doing something and it’s becoming a bigger deal. Parents are spending a lot of money—personalized gifts not only for your own kid but their friends also."
This theme of personalization should enter into the marketing strategy of any brand trying to reach the growing “graduation market.” From her vantage point at Hallmark, Yolanda sees:
"People are doing more personalized gifts now-a-days- consumers say, ‘I want a keepsake, or to personalize with photographs, video or audio.’"
Mom Cindy brings a college graduation perspective showing the evolution of the graduation celebration:
"When Michelle graduated Duke in 1998, she and her four closest friends arranged a dinner party. Adam graduated KU in 2003, and friends of ours tossed a casual BBQ—their son was graduating in the same class. For Brooke’s high school graduation four years ago, we had some immediate family and friends at The Kitchen, a hip restaurant in Boulder.
"My, how the times have changed. Now, people are coming from all over for Brooke’s college graduation from Claremont Pitzer. It’s a great reason for a family reunion. We are really happy (especially in this difficult employment situation for liberal arts graduates) that Brooke got two fellowships -- Fulbright and Teach for America -- so definitely wanted to celebrate!"
Cindy emphasizes the importance of personalization when she brought up party invitations, "Invitations are a minor formality now—not so classy when they are electronic, but definitely easier. I thought it would be fun to include photos of Brooke and her friends as toddlers."
When asked why graduations are becoming more important to families, Hallmark’s Yolanda speculates that the economic climate might play a role:
"I wonder if parents are making more of the graduation to say, ‘We’re so proud of you, even if you don’t have a job, we’re confident in you.’ The message is, 'We’re going to get through this, and we are going to celebrate. This is a big deal.'"
Regardless of the reasons for “upping the ante” at graduation celebrations, the marketing opportunity for brands is impressive—along with the graduation celebrations themselves, larger guest lists also mean more opportunities to sell graduation gifts, travel services and products and services that surround the event itself.
And take note that moms play the biggest role in planning college graduation celebrations. Marketing to Mom is crucial for getting on the party planning "guest list."