There’s a hashtag in the Kirkham household in Cherry Hill, N.J.: #PlacesLucyLosesHerMind. Rachel Kirkham is a mother of three children, including the hashtag’s namesake, 6-year-old Lucy, and she created it after several instances of parenting in the wild.
“There was the time that she was naked running through Nordstrom,” said Kirkham. “She’s also managed to wedge herself between two cars in a Costco parking lot.”
This year’s holiday photo session was another hashtag-worthy moment. As a bewildered photographer looked on, Lucy had a mini-tantrum when she didn’t get to stand where she wanted and Kirkham’s son shoved a stick up his nose. Finally, they got a photo with everyone looking at the camera.
When the time came to upload the resulting pictures to an online photo card site, Kirkham was elated to find one with an honest holiday sentiment: “This Card Has Zero Resemblance To Our Actual Lives.”
“I didn’t even look at any other card,” Kirkham said. “I’m sure my mother will lose her mind when she finally sees it.”
It’sholiday photo card season, otherwise known as the annual wrangling of children, pets, or bewildered partners into a photo suitable enough to share with friends and family. Americans are on track to spend more than $2 billion on online photo purchases this year, according to the research firm IBISWorld, with more purchases made during the holiday season than any other time of year.
And while there has long been a subset of families that use their holiday card as an excuse for a gag, a swath of online photo card sites have begun adopting a more honest approach, introducing subversive sentiments that reflect the realities of modern life.
In addition to its “Zero Resemblance” card, Tiny Prints offers a greeting boasting “Our Kids Are Cuter Than Yours. Better Luck in 2017.” Parents using Minted can send out images of their darling newborn with the accompanying phrase “Silent Night. Yeah Right.” (Some also acknowledge their role in inflicting “Seasonal Humiliation” on their pets or children.)
At Tiny Prints’ sister site, Shutterfly, cards are up front about the fact that senders are “A Little Stressed and a Lotta Blessed,” while one on the site Pingg recognizes the truth in our digital lives with “Looking Forward to Watching Your Life on FB, Instagram, & Twitter.”
Kim Nguyen, director of marketing at Tiny Prints, says the company introduced its line of “unique sentiments” this year. “All the inspiration really came from personal stories,” she said.
To help conceive the cards, Nguyen partnered with the team at the popular parenting blog Scary Mommy to make a series of videos parodying the pomp behind the holiday photo-taking process.
“While we all like to think a holiday photo is a spontaneous one taken on a snowy hilltop, it’s more like someone has to pee and your phone just died,” said Micaela Birmingham, an executive producer at Scary Mommy. She worked with Tiny Prints to develop the cards and their accompanying videos, which surprised both companies by garnering more than 7 million views on Facebook.
The genesis of the honest cards, she said, was knowing the reality behind the pictures. “We’ve all received perfect-looking cards and thought, that family is a hot mess and this person is really complaining all the time,” Birmingham said. “We thought, we should call that out. Because there’s a lot of judgement and stress and pressure on moms to be perfect.”
That authenticity is also increasingly reflected in the photos selected, says Mary Ellen Campisi, associate creative director for the Waltham-based online card maker Vistaprint, who has seen a spike in images featuring “pouting kids and a lot more outtakes from family photos shoots.”
Mariam Naficy is the founder and chief executive of Minted, an online marketplace that crowdsources its card designs. She was curious when she began noticing customers rallying around “honest, authentic to the point of being self-deprecating” photo cards two years ago. “But then they started selling,” she said, noting a “Wreck the Halls” card introduced last year was a surprise hit among parents of troublemaking toddlers.
“Look, we’re all being super honest on social and showing our lives with much more authenticity,” she said. “You can see the disheveled children and the messiness. Why not also be honest with our greeting cards?”
Moreover, she says our card choices can indicate cultural shifts. After the 2016 presidential election, Naficy saw a dip in cards offering up joy and cheer and surge in sales of cards wishing for hope and peace. Several customers requested to change their card orderspost-election and picked new designs that reflected a more “contemplative tone,” she said. The company honored their requests, recognizing that “some of their recipients are feeling celebratory and some are not.”
“The word ‘cheer’ is down 14 percent this year,” Naficy said, whereas “peace is very much in right now.”
Marketing such authenticity seems to have struck a chord with card makers, but customers should proceed with caution, said Lizzie Post, an etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.
“Holidays are a time when you genuinely want to be sincere,” Post said. “The snark card might be unforgivable in grandma’s eyes. You should really, really know your audience if you’re going to send them out.”
But customers like Kirkham seem to enjoy seeing their reality reflected in the cards’ more honest holiday messages.
Kirkham says she isn’t nervous about bucking tradition this year. Anyone who gets her card in the mail, she said, will also get the joke.