The Sears Christmas Wish Book – When Catalogs were King

The Christmas holidays are always a special time, but for someone like myself who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, the weeks leading up to Christmas back then meant only one thing – the Sears Christmas catalog.

Ah, there was nothing like that initial rush of adrenalin and amazement as you flipped through that coveted directory of all things toys. You couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, your breathing was fast and shallow, your vision blurred and small beads of sweat began sprouting from your little furrowed brow. Then, shaking with pen in hand, you cracked off a list of only 112 or so items for good ole Santa to peruse. But you deserved it all; surely you were on the very top of St. Nick’s “nice” list!

Good times, good times.

It was target marketing at its finest, it was pure genius and little did I know that those marketing crosshairs were aimed directly between my eyes.

Did Richard Sears, Alvah Roebuck and Julius Rosenwald really have the foresight at the end of the 19th century to predict the social, cultural and economic impact that mail order catalogs would have on the future consumer? Or was it just the simple convergence of a man (Sears) with some merchandise to sell (watches) by the quickest means possible (telegraph operators) multiplied by natural, organic growth (from classified ads to fliers to 500-plus-page catalogs)?

More in step with today, is the printed catalog still valid in our age of Kindles, iPads, smart phones and Nooks?

For the time being, the ink-on-paper catalog appears to be working in concert with its online counterpart. The Neiman Marcus, Bass Pro Shops, Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma catalogs are proof of that.

Are their days numbered? Possibly, but what do you suppose would happen if Toys-R-Us decided to shoot beyond their 80-page “Biggest Big Book” toy catalog, produced a monster 400-page holiday “wish book”  and dropped it to almost every child-rich household right after Halloween?

Bedlam.

Anarchy.

I think kids would lose their collective minds and pester their parents to the Nth degree for every toy or game in the book – just like I did some 40-odd years ago.

Children still have the uncanny ability to influence and drive their parents’ purchases, especially at this time of year. And let’s be honest, wouldn’t you rather have your six or seven-year-old dog-earing a printed catalog rather than bookmarking some unknown, or unverified web page?

Those thoughts are all open for discussion, but in the meantime, let’s just take a trip down the Sears Christmas Wish Book memory lane.

Here are some selections from my copy of the 1971 catalog. Enjoy:

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Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

About Gary LoBue Jr

Gary, a multi-disciplined creative, has nearly 35 years of brand management, strategic advertising, and conceptual design experience at his disposal. Managing international projects from Paris to Bali for clients like Disney, Lennox International, and Hyatt Hotels has allowed him to garner unique cultural and historical perspectives on his craft. We bet you didn't know that: Gary never met a cheeseburger he didn't like. Gary raced in the 125cc motocross class for years. He is a certified nurseryman. He worked as a fishing guide between his college semesters. He believes he was born at the perfect time in the perfect place. Gary believes those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Gary loves history.
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