'Like winning a Grammy': What it's like to make Oprah's gift list

Ashley Nelson

In the early 1990s, Oprah Winfrey introduced the segment "Oprah's Favorite Things,” which included a wide array of items usually promoted as suggested holiday gifts. Frequently those items would become impossible to find due to the overwhelming demand after Oprah’s endorsement. People have even coined a term for what happens when something receives her stamp of approval: The Oprah Effect.

“I think Oprah, really, is the original influencer. She's been doing ‘Favorite Things’ for over 23 years,” Adam Glassman, O Magazine Creative Director, told Yahoo Finance’s YFi AM this week. “It all started really with a pair of pajamas that she loved, and she wanted the whole audience to have these pajamas. And it grew into what is known as ‘Favorite Things.’”

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 24: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage at Rogers Arena on June 24, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 24: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage at Rogers Arena on June 24, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images)

The segment expanded to her magazine after Winfrey ended her talk show; it’s now a holiday spread in O Magazine that includes dozens of items from both big names and small businesses across the country. This year, Oprah features 79 “perfect presents.” Oprah recommends bamboo pajamas, a soft pretzel gift set, the Flywheel bike, the Apple (AAPL) Watch Series 5, the Amazon (AMZN) Echo Dot Kids Edition, and many other gifts.

For Dawn Lancaster and her business, Carved Solutions, Oprah was the Midas touch. Carved Solutions — which offers a range of customized gifts from pet-themed soaps to personalized mugs — was first featured in O Magazine in December of 2008 for a feature on gifts under $50. Lancaster said the effects were almost instant.

Image: O Magazine
Image: O Magazine

“The thing that we found most valuable was as a small business, you cannot buy that kind of testimonial, that type of advertising,” Lancaster said. “Having her back you puts you on the map.”

Carved Solutions appeared on the “O List” several more times, and she partnered with Oprah to create a specially carved makeup compact for her year-end makeup winners of the year in 2009.

“I feel like the, the longer standing the magazine is, the more we all realize what a gift it is to find yourself gracing the pages of O,” Lancaster said. “It’s like winning a Grammy.”

Lancaster has seen the effects on not only her business, but the other businesses that make Oprah’s list.

“There are other companies who not only got put on the map, but their sales skyrocketed ... All of these things happen to them, and the neat thing is that Oprah's touch has a lasting effect,” Lancaster said. “People expect a certain quality of a product to make the list. And so if you've made the list and you have a consumer judging your products, or you have a retailer considering bringing it in and you're a young, smaller company, and you've had the touch of Oprah… oh my goodness, you have a whole different level of clout.”

Ashley is a production assistant for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @actuallynelson.

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