Why American Greetings Had Questlove Spin Vinyl In A Room Full Of Typewriters At SXSW

The greeting card giant on giving the SXSW crowd a decidedly analog experience.

There’s a list of brands you expect to have a massive SXSW presence: Samsung, Spotify, Mophie, etc. Not on that list? American Greetings, best known as the logo you see on the back of the card your grandma sends you on your birthday.


That’s the easy perception, anyway, but it doesn’t match the reality of what American Greetings actually does, according to Alex Ho, the brand’s executive director of marketing. Turns out–despite living in a digital age where communication with our loved ones is as close as reaching into a pocket and instantly sending them a taco emoji or whatever–that the sales of greeting cards remains stable. And they took to SXSW to help explain why.

“Our business is as stable as ever, and we were wondering ‘Why is that?'” Ho says. “And the reason is that people are looking for ways to differentiate from today’s everyday digital communications. Texting is easy and quick, which is good for certain situations, but not for everything. The point we wanted to make overall is that analog communication and personalization really matter to people, and they’re complementary to digital–so we wanted to be complementary to digital.”

To that end, American Greetings turned a Sixth Street bar into an activation called Analog by American Greetings. The space, which was transformed after a two and a half day buildout, took almost all of the technology out–aside from a television over the bar playing a Super 8 film reel, visitors were greeted by typewriters, mailboxes where they could send letters they hand-wrote or typed to their friends, and a coloring wall for collaborative art. The room was packed with gimmicks, too–visitors could send an Instagram photo to a Polaroid-style printer for an immediate print-out, then get a message hand-lettered on it by an American Greetings artist, or they could film themselves in motion for a few dozen frames and get that printed out, for a flipbook-style animated GIF. Additionally, fiber artist Michael-Birch Pierce was on hand to live-stitch selfies for guests onto fabric.

But the gimmicks weren’t really what Ho was interested in. The event held a party Saturday night in which the brand convinced Questlove to spin vinyl–according to Analog’s press materials something he hadn’t done in more than a decade–in order to draw the parallel that makes the most sense to Ho. Specifically, American Greetings is looking to connect with the same sort of audience that loves handmade and artisanal objects, and physical artifacts like vinyl.

QuestlovePhoto: Dan Solomon

“Very early on in the conceptual phase, vinyl was a really early way to describe this, even internally,” Ho says. “Because vinyl has had a resurgence, and it hasn’t had a resurgence for nostalgic reasons, but because people have discovered that vinyl has a warmth and a quality that’s missing from digital music. Young people are discovering it for the first time, and it is a new technology for them. It’s a good metaphor for greeting cards. Greeting cards never left, and they continue to be special to people who grew up with them–but younger users, millennials, and young gen Y, are discovering greeting cards for the first time as well. So vinyl is such a good metaphor for how we see greeting cards, and that’s why we incorporated vinyl and Questlove into this event.”


About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club