The December 1983 issue of Softalk magazine leans in heavily to the Christmas spirit, with a cover promising a ‘Holiday Gift Guide’. The cover art is warm and colorful, and prominently features a young child, showing that computers aren’t just an adult device but a gift suitable for all ages. At the same time, advertising a computer as a worthy Christmas present enforces the idea that they are at once a sophisticated gadget and something ubiquitous to American households.
Considering that Softalk is a magazine ‘for the IBM personal computer’ it would make sense to assume that most readers already own an IBM. Advertising IBMs in a magazine made specifically for people who already own IBMs does not seem like the wisest business strategy. The holiday ad doesn’t sell readers an IBM computer, but rather a long list of accessories to enhance their experience with their devices. ‘We have not tested all these products’, says the ad, ‘and we leave it to you to determine their suitability to your gift-giving needs.’ The ad lets the reader feel in charge of their decisions as it influences them to purchase more for their computer by using the country’s largest commercial holiday to drive sales. The classic depictions of Christmas- a brightly lit tree with presents underneath, a reindeer-driven sleigh- are interwoven with the presence of computers, implying that the technology is just as timeless as the holiday. The items listed range in price from under $10 to over $200, targeting readers shopping with a variety of budgets. The language is informal and friendly, a voice appealing to the consumer to keep on consuming.
The categories in the gift guide are varied; with titles like ‘Home’, ‘Business’, and ‘Education, there’s something for everyone no matter their background or what they use the computer for. The computer (and its accessories) is marketed as a device that has no limits, something that is an extension of the user. The ad starts with colorful drawings, then goes into the clean black and white rows of text that advertisers have been using in newspapers and magazines since long before the computer was around, making it easy for the holiday shopper to find exactly what they’re looking for. While the layout might seem stark to the modern viewer, its style would seem familiar and simple to navigate for the eyes of the 80’s.
Instead of photographs, the ad uses drawings, creating an image of Christmas that a larger audience can relate to- there is no description of class or financial status in the drawings, and the ad draws on the nostalgic feeling of the holidays to make anyone feel like they are the intended audience. By choosing not to represent one single version of Christmas, they are representing every version of Christmas.
All images from the December 1983 issue of Softalk Magazine