The Medium Is the Massage Chair: SkyMall Is Making a Comeback

Reports of the quirky catalog’s death were, fortunately for travelers, greatly exaggerated.

This is a story about loss and redemption. It is a story about strength in the face of adversity. It is a story about the American dream, and freedom, and the human condition. Mostly, though, it is a story about inflatable neck pillows.
Earlier this year, SkyMall—the much-loved and much-mocked catalog of cultural curiosities—filed for bankruptcy. The rise of Kindles and iPads and in-flight wifi, not to mention of eBay and Amazon, had proven too much, it seemed, for a brand that had built its reputation on bro-ssieres and Massage Mice. Obituaries were written; regrets were had; emergency orders of Garden Yetis were placed. The nation, as a whole, grieved. And, perhaps in tribute to the efficiencies that were the fundamental promise of the SkyMall experience, we skipped the denial and the anger and the bargaining and went straight for the depression and acceptance. We mourned, together, with the force of a thousand Solafeet Foot Tanners. We coped, as best we could, with our loss.
It turns out, though, that we shouldn't have skipped over the “denial” part of things so quickly. Because SkyMall was not dead—not then, and, fortunately for consumers, not now. SkyMall would not go gently. #BringBackSkyMall, the brand's Twitter feed hashtagged its tweets—a stream of which have been steadily flowing, news of the bankruptcy notwithstanding, since January.
SkyMall appended that hashtag to its observation that "even Homer J. Simpson shops at SkyMall":
… and to its geeky observation of May the 4th:
On May the 5th, however, SkyMall bypassed the existential crisis to do what it does best: sell things.
And then, over the Memorial Day weekend, the tweets changed in tone. #BringBackSkyMall (and its less-imperative sister hashtag, #SkyMallReturns) gave way to something more definitive, more celebratory: #SkyMallWillBeBack. The brand—gaining strength, it seemed, by the day—reminded the world of its homepage, and its YouTube page. It posted solemn reflections about Memorial Day. It added another, franker hashtag to the mix: #EveryoneLovesSkyMall.
It behaved, in other words, like any #brand would: It took every opportunity to remind the world of its continued existence.
And then, this afternoon, the tone of SkyMall’s tweets became even more victorious: @SkyMall, the brand announced via manual retweet, “is back.” SkyMall, like some inflatable phoenix whose wings double as beer koozies, is rising from the ashes.
The salvation came courtesy, in this case, of C&A Marketing, a New Jersey-based distributor and retailer that specializes in brand revamps. (The firm recently became the authorized licensee for Polaroid’s instant digital imaging products; it also purchased Ritz Camera & Image out of bankruptcy.) C&A bought SkyMall at auction, for $1.9 million and with notably little fanfare, in April. Its plan for its latest acquisition is bold, but simple: to take the American public's latent love of SkyMall and convert it, through an alchemy worthy of the NitroBrew beer converter, into profits. “There’s a lot to do with a well-recognized brand that has a certain DNA, a certain expectation and a certain promise,” C&A’s executive vice president, Chaim Pikarski, told NJ Biz. “It’s just that the delivery and the catalogues were a little stale and outdated, both in terms of people having other forms of entertainment and the changing of the times.”
What will that mean for the catalog that helped introduce the world to the hot dog toaster? A greater digital presence, likely, with an increased emphasis on mobile retail. (Might as well clear space in your phone’s home screen to make room for a SkyMall app.) But the rebirth of SkyMall means something bigger and more hopeful, too: It’s a validation of invention and innovation and dreaming big. It’s a reminder that “down” isn’t necessarily “out.” And it’s proof that beloved institutions, like nap pods for cats and also life itself, will find a way.