Barbara Lippert’s Critique

fresh and unexpected? In this holiday spot from Sears, there is no Santa, no talk of sweaters for Mom. Instead, we get a middle-aged woman out in the woods, ogling a lumberjack’s ass.

Normally I would be horrified by such a crude and obvious objectification of the male butt, so it embarrasses me how much I love this spot.

A cross between Paul Bunyan and a pumped-up Puddy, Elaine’s old boyfriend on Sein feld, the towering woods man delivers his single line in an aptly wooden way. Ax in hand, he asks, “Is this dirty?” He repeats the line to the stunned woman until we get a fade-out to a suburban kitchen, where the same bewildered booty watcher has returned to planet earth. Sadly, she is in her bathrobe, standing over the dishwasher, and her husband is holding a toddler’s sippy cup and asking, “Is this dirty?”

Sears’ December holiday spots are the latest executions of a campaign introduced in the fall that overhauled its advertising with this comic format and unveiled the tag line, “Sears. Where else?” The spots not only offer unexpectedly edgy entertainment (could this be Sears-noir?), but also aggressively move merch, shifting from action to title-card checklist, with brand names and prices of the stuff shown.

This is a brilliant device. It does the heavy lifting of promoting the actual goods (even the financing terms and guarantees) and it does so effortlessly, without unhinging the humor. What’s more, the cut to the red title card, with its pleasing and clean checklist graphics (unlike Santa’s frilly ones), even adds to the comedic pacing.

It’s a smart and flexible format (devised by Y&R and now used by Sears’ five agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, which did the Thanks giving spots). And within that architecture, the spots are surprising on many levels: They don’t overpromise, they don’t use the usual question-answer-rimshot formula, and they are as quirkily written as they are well cast and acted.

They also flip the usual Christmas scenarios on their head. A chain jewelers’ ad now airing shows a woman sneaking a late-night look at her gift under the tree. It’s diamond earrings, so as she gets back into bed, she gives the “yes!” signal, including the forearm lift, as if this is a blood sport she plays with her husband and she’s won. By contrast, the Sears version is so honest and loopy that it’s hilarious.

The husband gives the wife a diamond necklace (TJ diamond heart pendant, $199). She wears it with a low-cut dress to a holiday party, where three men, with thick glasses and wedding bands and suspenders who look like the guys in accounting who run the football pool, all stand around staring down at her chest, telling her how great she looks.

“That’s really something!” one says. Next cut, the husband has bought her a black turtleneck to wear under the diamond.

The format also allows Sears to combine its hard and soft sides in one spot, as in the commercial that promotes a power drill and a dress shirt. Open on a man in his bachelor pad (vertical blinds, black leather couch), drilling away at his ceiling (speed-lock drill set, $99.99). He cleans up, changes into his good shirt (David Taylor, $9.99). The bell rings and his date arrives, smiley and wide-eyed with expectation. Until she gets a look at the 50 or so holes he’s drilled, all filled with mistletoe. In her split-second change of expression, we know that she will flee—she had no idea she was dating a serial driller.

There are many more. One of my other faves features a kid who’s mortified by his parents’ getting down in the kitchen and dancing to his music. (Mom might even be doing the Mashed Potato.) Then there’s the one with the Diane Arbus-like, almost freakish setup: In a house decorated with holly, pine cones and cat pictures (lovely details), three college boys, red headed trip lets, sit on a couch, opening gifts. They each get a flannel shirt from Mom, for which they offer three rapid-fire “Thanks, Moms!” in a row. They give their redheaded mother the George Foreman grill and another wrapped gift—it’s ground beef (“Ground chuck,” they correct her).

There’s no ground chuck here. Advertising alone may not turn the fortunes of Sears around, but with this Christmas ad campaign, the retailer offers satisfaction guaranteed.