As a child of the 70s, there was no greater marketing tool than the thick, shiny JC Penney catalog.
This book of joy was the source of most of my back to school shopping, but the real excitement came at Christmas time. Starting in October, I circled, dog-earned, and initialed dozens of traditional and more unexpected gifts. This catalog convinced me that I needed maracas, a snow cone maker, a tea set, a drum set, and a microscope. Despite circling them violently in the catalog, I didn’t receive any of them. Santa did read our lists, so I did get these three gems that were beautiful in the catalog, but a little less exciting in real life:
Baby Alive–I didn’t have a lot of dolls as a child, but after seeing a beautiful catalog girl lovingly feeding her Baby Alive, I wanted one. When Christmas arrived, I was thrilled to have my own. She came with powdered baby food packets that I mixed with water (just like a real mom!) to feed to my baby. What followed was attempting to change her diaper. The slimy food was supposed to pass through Baby Alive to the tiny diaper that came in the box.
Anatomically, Baby Alive had a tube that ran through her hard plastic body, and the expectation that gravity would be enough to take care of business. Alas, the prepackaged sludge did not pass through easily. Instead, my Baby Alive had a constant case of constipation that could only be remedied by turning her upside down and running water through her…uh…digestive system and shaking her violently. Not the tender moment I had envisioned.
Easy Bake Oven–I wanted this in the worst way. I could bake and decorate tiny, perfect cakes by myself, just like the girls on the commercial! I imagined serving my treats at tea parties with my friends wearing fancy dresses. What I learned the hard way was that a light bulb doesn’t cook like an oven, to say the least.
In my cakes, batter bubbled over one side of the pan searing onto the bulb, while the other side of the cake remained cold, gooey, and gross. I used the three mini-mixes the first day, but all three landed in the garbage. I tried a few Jiffy cake mixes, but these made an even bigger mess deep inside the blazing hot orange plastic that didn’t come apart and was impossible to clean. Everyone I knew had an Easy Bake Oven, and no one I knew could make it work. Yet the this useless hunk of plastic has endured, modernized, and is now sold for $44.95(!!).
I can’t explain this next gift by anything other than marketing, and the fact that I was a strange child. Somehow JC Penney convinced me I wanted the creepiest gift I would ever beg for and eventually receive: a ventriloquist doll.
If there was ever proof that marketing works, it is this horrifying gift. Emmet Kelly Junior was at the top of my list, and I was thrilled to open him on Christmas morning. I sat him on my lap and made a feeble attempt to throw my voice. I soon realized that neither Emmet nor I had anything to say to each other. I’m sure he was in the back of my closet, giving me nightmares, by January that year.
Without the luxury of the magical JC Penney catalog, we adults fall back on gift cards and detailed lists to finish our Christmas shopping. This year, please consider giving my books, Unprotected and Unattached, as gifts! Support small business by purchasing at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing, or take advantage of Cyber Monday and find them on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.