It has to do with dropshippers in China.
The holidays are a time of haunting — old flames, family drama, memories of holidays past. And this year, it seems, there’s a new ghost in town, following shoppers wherever they click. It’s an ad with a picture of photoshopped socks, warning interlopers: IF YOU CAN READ THIS LEAVE ME ALONE I AM WATCHING HALLMARK MOVIES.
I first saw this ad while I was riding the train and reading a Daily Mail article about Huma Abedin “grabbing dinner in New York City” with Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife Georgina Chapman. It appeared at the bottom, in what is commonly known as the chum box, alongside ads for Ancestry.com and a facial product that is “so in demand” it has eluded the editors of Town & Country magazine.
In any case, I remember the ad because I actually clicked through to purchase the socks. (Lindsey, if you’re reading this, I got you novelty Hallmark socks for Christmas!) So overcome by the cuteness of my find, I rushed into work and told the Goods team, “Look at these socks that I bought for my friend!”
As it turns out, the ads for the socks had been following my colleagues all around the internet. My editor Meredith Haggerty — who could not believe I was such a sucker as to buy them — first saw the ad in a BuzzFeed post. My other editor Julia Rubin saw it on the website for a “hard news site, like a newspaper.” At first, fellow Goods reporter Chavie Lieber said she hadn’t come across the ad; the very next day, she saw it online while researching a story about wooden toys.
It seemed these socks were everywhere. From left foot and right, they rejected the advances of all who threatened made-for-TV joy.
On Twitter, a search for “Hallmark socks” delivered many vocal detractors. John Overholt, a curator of early modern manuscripts at Harvard, wondered why the sock ad had marked him as a target. “I don’t have cable, so I haven’t seen any Hallmark movies,” he told me over DM. “I am a big fan of high-quality socks, however, so if someone would like to target me with ads for luxurious over-the-calf men’s dress socks, they’d have a much better chance of success.”
Brock Hand, a 33-year-old father of two, said he thinks he saw the ad on either Gizmodo, the Outline, or the Cut. He does not watch Hallmark movies, but he does sometimes listen to a podcast that discusses them. Other than that, he doesn’t really have a theory for why he might be getting the ad. “I’ve browsed some shirt sites, like Teespring and Cotton Bureau, so maybe [that’s why]? It’s not based on IP address, as my wife has no idea what I was talking about.”
The main sock ad that appears in the chum box is paid for by a site called Fairy Season, which sells affordable clothes with pithy slogans, like this $6.99 muscle tee emblazoned with the phrase, “Killin’ My Liver at the River.” The site was launched in 2012 and is registered to an entity called Shen Zhen Shi Yi Jing Dian Zi Shang Wu You Xian Gong Si in Guangdong, China. The socks are for sale from other websites too, including PinkClassy (registered to “Redacted for Privacy” in Chengdu, China), Fechicin (registered to “Domains By Proxy, LLC,” in Scottsdale, Arizona), GearGap (registered to “Contact Privacy Inc.” in Toronto), and InspireUplift (no registration listed).
None of these websites returned requests for comment, but most are hosted on Shopify, a commonly used platform for dropship businesses. Dropshipping is a business model with very low startup costs; retailers process orders from clients and fulfill them directly through a wholesaler’s website. “The barriers to entry are really low,” said Chavie, who has written about dropshipping businesses before. “Anyone with $20 can start a biz on Shopify.”
The Hallmark socks are available from the Chinese wholesale marketplace Alibaba for about 80 cents per pair — a very low price compared to the $6 to $12 that the Shopify sites are charging. (I paid $10.28, with shipping.) This ridiculously high margin, minus the cost of a few chum box ads, makes for a pretty good business proposition.
That, of course, doesn’t answer the question of who thought to print these socks in the first place. According to Google Trends, the phrase “If You Can Read This Leave Me Alone I Am Watching Hallmark Movies” was first searched on December 1 of this year. Does it reference the 2015 Drake album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late? Or perhaps the classic upside-down shirt “If you can read this, put me back on my barstool”? Who knows! Like the much older “Keep Calm and Carry On,” it has mutated quickly into many variations, including “If You Can Read This I’m Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies,” “Do Not Disturb I’m Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies,” and “Turn On Hallmark And Bring Me Wine.”
Representatives for the Hallmark Channel did not respond to my request for comment. Maybe they don’t care about the copyright infringement, or maybe they’re all curled up on the couch in their own “If You Can Read This I’m Dropshipping” socks.