And only 75 shopping days to go . . .

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The Independent Online
THE LEAVES may be still on the trees, but the shape of Christmas can already be discerned. This year our spindly artificial firs will be laden with mobile phones - trilling, purring, or even silently vibrating - multi-media personal computers, with video-quality images and CD sound and cuddly toys, pencil cases, T-shirts, indeed anything linked to the latest Walt Disney cartoon feature, The Lion King.

Underneath, amid the plastic pine needles, will be the autobiography of the chunky working-class hero and cricket legend, Ian Botham.

Above it all - the turkey, alcohol and hilarity - will float the jingly, singalong sounds of the pre-ordained Christmas hits.

You may not realise this. But you will. This is the Christmas already set out for 60 million Britons by the marketing industry, which is spending a fortune on the above items, having decided they will be Yuletide Big Ones.

The mobile phone is likely to be this year's Gameboy, repeating the Christmas 1992 success of the children's personal computer game as the universal present. The industry is expected to lay out about pounds 80m in its bid to attract more than 300,000 new users by Christmas. Nokia, Orange and Mercury One-2- One will all be on air advertising their wares, as will Samsung Electronics, which is launching a range of handsets it hopes will help to capture 20 per cent of the market. Its pounds 3m television advertising campaign, 'Sweet talking guy', pitched at 18- to 24-year-old men, breaks at the end of this month.

Mobile phones are no longer the strict preserve of irritating businessmen in restaurants or on trains, the manufacturers will be telling consumers, but an everyday essential.

According to Bill Barker, of the advertising agency J Walter Thompson, the dominance of phone advertising is the most striking aspect of an otherwise fragmented pre-Christmas television airtime market. 'Telecommunications is looking very big. A lot of people are talking about a telecom war.'

The Dixons Group expects mobile phones to be its number three best-seller this Christmas behind portable audio equipment and, in first place, multi-media personal computers. Colin Glass, managing director of PC World, Dixons' computer arm, forecasts that six out of every 10 PC sales this Christmas will be multi-media (a multi-media PC supposedly offers CD sound and video- quality clips on screen).

To mark the beginning in what is sure to be a revolution in schooling, Dorling Kindersley, publishers, launched last week a new 'edutainment' CD-Rom series which will provide video, animation, audio, sound effects, text and colour graphics. With the new generation of encyclopaedias, for example, a child can click on an item and hear it speak or see it move.

As with mobile phones, the growth will be in part driven by more accessible prices. A multi- media PC now weighs in at around pounds 1,200, compared with pounds 1,800 a year ago and around pounds 1,000 for a conventional PC. Furthermore, existing PC owners will be able to upgrade their equipment with a package costing only around pounds 250.

And like mobile phones, the target will again be the consumer rather than business. PCs are currently used by just 9 per cent of families with school-age children. Within three years, Mr Glass expects that figure to reach between 65 and 70 per cent.

'It's really concerned parents realising that for their children to have a decent career, they have to be PC-literate. It's a bit like the calculator five or 10 years ago.'

But electronics are not all. The soaring American success of Walt Disney's latest box office record breaker, The Lion King, certain to be repeated here, will see its images appearing on a range of commercial spin-offs, from cuddly toys and pencil cases to fast food and computer games. According to Helen Jones, associate editor of Marketing Week: 'It's going to be everywhere.'

The Lion King, a cartoon feature film crossing the scenes of The Jungle Book with the plot of Hamlet, premiered in Britain last Thursday. It has taken a record dollars 250m ( pounds 161m) at the US box-office.

The merchandising jamboree that is as integral a part of a film these days will ensure that the title, if nothing else, hangs around longer than the turkey left-overs.

W H Smith is also looking to Disney for its Christmas best- seller with the video release next month of Snow White, and it is counting on Dick Francis's latest novel, Wild Horses, to do well, along with Ian Botham's autobiography.

('Botham,' says a spokesman for the chain, 'will be this year's Alan Clark'.)

There are only 75 shopping days to go. Don't say you weren't warned.

Bugs versus Mickey,

(Photograph omitted)

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