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Christmas 'Creep' Foes Can't Buy Its Ever Earlier Start

November 17, 1986|MARTHA GROVES | Times Staff Writer

Tandy Chairman John V. Roach received "two or three letters" last year about the company's early Christmas TV ads, but this year's prompted no complaints. The ads were "more by accident than design," he said. A special $799 promotion on a computer was timed closely enough to the holidays so that the company opted for one commercial to save money. Roach added quickly that having the earliest Christmas ad "is not a record we're trying to set."

1985 Sellout

By speeding up its Santabear promotion this year, Dayton Hudson hopes to build on 1985's stellar success--more than 400,000 of the 15-inch-tall, bright-eyed bears sold out in three weeks at the company's 34 Midwest department stores, all before Thanksgiving. At $25, or $10 with a $50 purchase, the company expects to sell "in the area of 1 million" this year, a spokesman said.

On top of that, the retailer has developed 120 Santabear-related products, including a book to be sold through the company's B. Dalton Bookseller division, place mats, cookies and clothing. The creature even spawned an ABC children's special narrated by "Top Gun" star Kelly McGillis, to be aired Saturday. And the company formed marketing ventures with General Mills (maker of Cinnamon Toast Crunch), American Express, the Sears Discover card and Ice Capades.

The promotion has proved valuable on a couple of levels. As a "purchase-with-purchase" promotion, "it gave the customer . . . an incentive to buy more," said Pellegrene, senior vice president of marketing. Moreover, the bear developed "a mystique all its own," making it worthwhile to "enhance its personality" and market a host of other products on a national level.

'Dog-Eat-Bear'

Ever quick to pounce on a bright idea, imitators--including Bloomingdale's (Bloomie's Bear) and K mart (Our Christmas Bear)--also found themselves bullish on bears. At Target Stores, Dayton Hudson's discount unit, a Kris Krinkles dog was modeled after the rare, wrinkled Chinese Shar-pei. (With a bow to Dayton Hudson's department stores, Target's promotional material says the stores are "well armed to face the ordinarily dog-eat-dog competition of the holiday season. Or, in this case, dog-eat-bear.")

The Broadway too started scrambling late last year to create an animal to follow in Santabear's paw prints. Over the weekend, the chain capped days of teaser ads with full-blown promos for Jingle Bear. Several hundred thousand bears were ordered in "the largest single promotion we've ever done around Christmas," Wetzel said.

The promotion "allows the Broadway to improve its image a bit," he said. "We think it will add traffic to the store and fun to shopping."

Customers may buy the bear, complete with ski cap and mittens, for $25--or for half that price with a $50 purchase. The promotion, Wetzel noted, "coincides exactly with our normal Christmas launch; we're not trying to jump the gun on that."

Applying Pressure

Dayton Hudson, however, is applying some not-so-subtle pressure designed to instill an early Christmas spirit. Last month's ads observed: "To get a Santabear this Christmas, you don't have to be good. Just fast."

Church leaders are particular opponents of early commercialization, but Bishop Oliver B. Garver Jr., Los Angeles Episcopal suffragan bishop, despairs of holding back the Christmas retailing tide. "We're fighting a losing battle, but it's our feeling that you celebrate Christmas after Dec. 25, not before," he said, recalling a December visit some years ago to retail-minded Tokyo, which was all decked out in Christmas regalia despite its tiny Christian population.

Then there are the stores that would not even be here without the holiday. The Original Christmas Store, part of a Houston-based chain, will do business at its Beverly Hills location only until sometime in January after having opened in August. So far, there have been no takers for an enormous, one-of-a-kind animated display called Bambi and Friends, complete with waterfall and a $65,000 price tag.

Some Keep Tradition

To be sure, some merchants hold fast to tradition. Nordstrom, a Seattle-based retailer with seven Southland stores, runs an ad each Thanksgiving wishing customers a happy holiday and inviting them to see the stores' Christmas decorations the next day.

And, in some sectors, the trend of Christmas creep may be reversing.

I. Magnin, a 26-store specialty apparel chain, mailed its holiday catalogue three weeks later this year than last. "Our customer really wants us to look at Christmas as a very special part of the year and not dragged out for two to three months," said Elaine MacNeil, regional vice president. Decoration of I. Magnin stores is staggered but this year is running 10 days to two weeks later than last year. The Beverly Hills store has been decked out for several days, but the Palm Springs store will go undecorated until just before Thanksgiving, MacNeil said.

In mail order, sales are getting later, thanks to overnight delivery services and increasingly reliable information about what is available, noted Katie Muldoon of Muldoon Direct in New York, a direct-marketing agency that specializes in catalogue marketing. "People are buying closer to the time of need," she said.

Williams-Sonoma, a San Francisco-based gourmet cooking business, is repeating an offer that was successful last year. For an additional $5 fee, catalogue customers can have orders shipped overnight. Spokeswoman Anne Kupper said: "The late shopper really appreciates it."

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