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Chris Jones

Going Mad for Dad

16 June 2006

LAS VEGAS -- The tune is familiar, even if the words -- and time of year -- seem profoundly out of place.

"O plasma screen. O plasma screen. How lovely are your pixels," the man on a Sears television ad sings to the tune of "O Tannenbaum," a classic Christmas carol.

"My feet are up, my favorite chair," he drones. "It's all reruns, but I don't care. O plasma screen. O plasma screen. How lovely are your pixels."

Is this Christmas in June? Hardly.

But Sears and some other big retailers hope their summer ad campaigns (and accompanying sales) will soon transform Father's Day into a powerful shopping season in its own right.

"This year we've looked at (Father's Day) as an actual holiday," Sears, Roebuck and Co. spokeswoman Corinne Gudovic said Thursday. "We've tagged June as 'The Season for Dads' and we've taken a Christmaslike feel in translating some typical Christmas carols into Father's Day songs."

Sears' new ads also took a tongue-in-cheek approach to carols "Up on the Housetop" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

The latter used scenes from a backyard cookout with the lyrics, "We smoke you another brisket. But we don't touch tofu."

Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears began airing the ads three weeks before this Sunday's holiday.

In years past, its Father's Day ads ran for just one week, and those spots were largely product-focused, Gudovic said.

Americans are expected to spend $9 billion on Father's Day purchases this year, well above last year's $8.2 billion, a May telephone survey of nearly 7,400 consumers conducted by the National Retail Federation shows.

The average U.S. shopper plans to spend nearly $89, still well below the more than $122 average expenditure on Mother's Day one month ago. That holiday sparked an estimated $13.8 billion in retail-related motherly love.

Federation President Tracy Mullin said high gasoline prices and other economic concerns will not deter shoppers. That's because retailers have aggressively pursued customers using sales and other promotions.

Like Sears, whose dad-friendly products include Craftsman tools and Kenmore barbecue grills, The Home Depot is pushing hard for Father's Day gift buyers.

The Atlanta-based home improvement chain launched its TV ads last week depicting children and their fathers redeeming special "Dad, you rule" gift cards.

Tony Stewart's Home Depot-sponsored Chevrolet had a Father's Day paint scheme during its third-place finish at last weekend's NASCAR race in Pennsylvania.

And on Saturday, local Home Depot stores will host "Kids Workshop" events where children will make wooden toolboxes as gifts for dad.

Mervyns customers can take advantage of extra shopping hours, including midnight closing times.

Numerous items feature additional early morning and late-night markdowns, including some products that aren't meant for fathers.

"Yes, folks are buying items for dad," Leanne Furman, spokeswoman for the Hayward, Calif.-based chain, said Thursday. "But we have other folks (visiting the stores) who need new shorts for the summer, or have a wedding to go to and need a new skirt and pair of shoes."

Kohl's Department Stores, a Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer with three Southern Nevada stores, is also offering extended hours and 60 percent discounts on certain items today and Saturday.

Its dad-friendly items range from dress shirts and slacks to portable video players and two-person rope hammocks.

Despite stores' best efforts, the laissez faire attitude surrounding men and holidays may convince some shoppers to reign in their gift buying.

"If you forget Mother's Day, you're dead. If you forget Father's Day, you can get away with it," Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm, told The Associated Press.

Sears' Gudovic added: "We wanted to bring dads up to an equal playing field. He deserves just as much credit as mom does."