From Martha to Kraft: Dobrow Surfs for Thanksgiving Tips

Media Reviews for Media People: Holiday Entertaining Websites

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If all goes as planned, late Thursday afternoon will find me four cushions deep on my parents' family-room couch, with cardiac-related pain shooting up and down my right arm. Distended with gravy, my torso will override my central nervous system and order a full network shutdown. When I emerge from the nap/diabetic coma, I will eat pie.
The folks at Martha Stewart understand that huge chunks of words intimidate web visitors, and have presented recipes in an easily digestible, graphics-intensive manner.
The folks at Martha Stewart understand that huge chunks of words intimidate web visitors, and have presented recipes in an easily digestible, graphics-intensive manner.

Yeah, Thanksgiving rules, especially if you do it Dobrow-style. Which is to say: without frills. Here's why my mom's Thanksgiving extravaganza kicks the stuffing (hoy-o!) out of yours: She understands that the holiday's true essence is not appreciation of the little gifts that life has tossed our way. Rather, it is carbohydrates and the urgent, merciless inhalation thereof.

As a result, mom has dispensed with trifles like centerpieces, activities and holiday-themed decorations. Don't get me wrong -- she sets a functional Turkey Day table, in that I never have difficulty locating my napkin or an implement to aid in the mouthward relocation of yams. But the other stuff? Sacrificed at the altar of dinner. Just keep your hands away from your neighbor's churning jaws, and you'll make out fine.

Our family may be in the minority. People sure love them some well-appointed home-entertainin' at this time of year and generally pull out all the stops -- drink coasters, even -- to make their shindigs memorable. Since I wouldn't know where to start as either a host or a guest, I decided to devote today's exercise to ferreting out the holiday-entertaining websites that offer the most practical guidance. Then I'll go back to screaming "not it!" whenever an occasion demands a host.

What surprises me is the wide range of entities that offer holiday-entertaining tips online. In addition to the individuals/companies that specialize in such matters, you've also got web portals, cable channels and marketers themselves. Heck, even a few newspapers have gotten in on the holiday-entertaining action. Way to monetize those archives!

The home-hearth-crafts stalwarts lap the online competition, with Martha Stewart getting the nod over Katie Brown, David Tutera and the rest. Unlike any number of food and decorating experts, the Martha Stewart folks understand that huge chunks of words intimidate web visitors. The holiday-entertaining area may include the expected recipes (327 variations on cranberry sauce) and decoration concepts (darling miniature Native Americans, whittled from hotel-size bars of soap... okay, not really), but they're presented in an easily digestible, graphics-intensive manner.

The how-to videos, whether of Martha going all stabby-carvey on a just-out-of-the-oven bird or of a GPS-fueled scavenger hunt for presents (sponsored by Best Buy), are uniformly clever and useful. Even without video accompaniment, I might take a shot at some of the projects detailed in the "gift ideas" section; I can likely handle the "bath fizzies" without incurring any acid burns. Certain Martha Stewart Omnimedia ventures come across as too cute by a half, but the holiday-entertaining section of MarthaStewart.com isn't one of them.

The two newspaper sites, one engineered by the San Francisco Chronicle and the other by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, obviously can't offer the volume of ideas and ingenuity that a tchotchke magnate like Martha Stewart can. Nonetheless, they ably compile holiday-entertaining-related stories from their archives -- advice from local caterers, places to find cheap caviar, stuff like that. Some of the pieces don't exactly sing, whether due to age (sfgate.com's home-entertaining area links to a story about hangovers from Christmas Day in 2003) or obviousness (AJC.com's piece on enjoying a debt-free holiday season needs go no further than "don't spend what you don't have, you impulsive debt monkey"). That said, both papers' webmasters deserve props for having repurposed old material in a way that not only makes sense editorially, but also might generate a few advertising dollars.
Kudos to Kraft for accomplishing the nigh-impossible: making a brand website legitimately compelling.
Kudos to Kraft for accomplishing the nigh-impossible: making a brand website legitimately compelling.

HGTV's holiday-entertaining page suffers from a similar problem -- not enough A-grade material -- but boasts the smartest, clearest organizational framework. The network must have tons of video at its disposal; I wonder why it doesn't feature more of it online. Too, those beasts demand that visitors choose between "gilded glamour" and "contemporary flair" in my Christmas decorations. Why can't I have both? Why, God, why?

The portals are a mixed bag. One of the most prominent sites, AOL Home's Entertaining, seemingly hasn't been updated since before Halloween. On the other hand, it tantalizes with its "Inside Eli Manning's Condo" expose. Can you imagine a house tour led by Easy Eli? I can: "Uh, this is the TV. And this over here, this is the fridge, which is where I put my sodas when I'm not drinking them." Video, please. I like what Yahoo's Shine serves up -- Thanksgiving party ideas, under-$50 holiday party accessories -- even if I still think the site as a whole spreads itself too thin.

Finally, kudos to Kraft for accomplishing the nigh-impossible: making a brand website legitimately compelling. I only stumbled upon Kraft's holiday entertaining guide by dint of Google, but I wound up sticking around longer than I did on any of the sites except Martha's. Why? Lotsa video (most of it recipe-oriented) and plenty of quirky bits not featured anywhere else, like "Wine and Cheese Math."

Sure, the site plugs Kraft brands at every juncture, as it should. But so long as the information remains workable, nobody will care whether a recipe or party idea mentions "Planters" or "peanuts." Other mega-marketers could learn a thing or two here.
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