TINY STARS PROVIDE HUGE LEAP IN HOLIDAY ADS FOR SEARS

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In the Ad Review household, when our precious little offspring act up, the kids can be certain of what they will hear: "Stop that, sweetie pies, or Daddy will rip your throats out with the pliers."

This is usually quite effective-although not, obviously, because it is meant or understood as an actual threat. Our little bundles know Dad would never impose such a horrendous sanction, because:

1) Our strong family values do not countenance violence in any form, and

2) Dad can never find the pliers.

So, when occasionally the hyperbolic language is not met with instantaneous behavior modification, we must resort to a very real and far crueler threat, a subtle but terrifying form of psychological coercion:

A family videotape recording session.

"No, Daddy! No!" To the kids, the preservation of cherished family moments is deemed a form of child abuse. One second they can be their animated, delightful little selves, cheerfully sledding off of the new sofa using the cushions as the inclined plane and our sterling silver serving platter as a toboggan, but then Dad will emerge with a video camera and they will suddenly revert to a state of sullenness and monosyllabic expression like something out of "Village of the Damned."

We suspect this is an actual physiological response to the camera. The presence of the lens seems to spontaneously depress their NCG (Naturally Cute Gland)-an effect that is obvious when children show up in advertising, as well. We're not speaking of babies here. We're talking about ripened children asked to deliver lines. When the camera starts rolling, what comes out of their mouths is either unintelligible mush or unbearably unnatural "childlike" language shouted metronomically by the clueless kid actor.

Which is why (and, yes, as an early yuletide offering to one and all, we will now get to the point) the new Sears, Roebuck & Co. holiday campaign from Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, is a bona fide Christmas miracle. Four of the spots feature little kids, about 5 or 6 years old, and they are incredible.

Spontaneous. Animated. Natural. Ingenuous. Childlike. And utterly, hilariously, huggably adorable.

We could transcribe dialogue here, but there'd be no point. The words themselves don't begin to convey how charmingly these precocious little boys and girls go on about microwave ovens, answering machines, cordless phones and, yes, camcorders.

Their hand gestures and facial expressions pricelessly mimick those of adults. Yet there is no evidence that they were directed to do anything but speak sincerely, and with emotion, in their own words. The delightful results will all stop traffic in the family rooms of America for the next month, especially the little girl who lectures on the unequivocal human need for microwave ovens.

Assuming the expression of a fatigued adult at the end of the day, her shoulders slump and her eyelids droop in a perfectly rendered vision of emotional defeat. And, best of all, she doesn't so much as crack a smile.

Talk about treasured moments. Never mind that the campaign as a whole is quite ordinary. These four spots-featuring children much like the ones we build our holidays around, only way better on TV-give meaning and substance to the otherwise pompous tagline:

"Sears. Where wishes come home for the holidays."

Tell Bob Garfield what you think through the Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy E-Mail at EFPB35A.

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