Cutting Edge catalog critique

The Cutting Edge catalog sells “products for a healthy lifestyle.” But the mailer could use a checkup and makeover of its design, according to critiquers Glenda Shasho Jones, a New York-based catalog creative consultant, and Barb Thomas, partner/creative director of Deephaven, MN-based DW Advertising. Here’s what they had to say.

GLENDA SHASHO JONES

Yikes! This catalog needs a lot of help. The good news is that there is much that can be done to make the catalog more attractive, more interesting and much more productive.

Let’s start with the front cover, which is, unfortunately, truly unappealing. Five small and muddy product photos appear to be slapped on the cover without any apparent creative effort.

And with the poor-quality photography, it’s impossible to tell what the products are without studying the photographs or reading the copy. This is far too much work to ask of a catalog recipient going through her mail!

While the logo is front and center, the design is dated and delays immediate recognition of the catalog’s name. And “The Cutting Edge” does not seem to describe what’s inside; it’s misleading — it sounds like there should be some high-tech product assortment. At least the tagline, “Products for a Healthy Lifestyle,” is easy to read.

Besides designing a cover that stands out in the mail, catalogers must aim to create a cover that communicates its USP, or unique selling proposition. A good cover shows the promise or benefit to the customer, and why the business is uniquely suited to deliver that promise. Cutting edge and state-of-the-art do not come across here.

Then there’s brand identity or personality. What is the “feeling” the reader gets from this catalog? Is it super-friendly, helpful, wise or an authority? Is it a source of lots of product, or the selection of the best? None of this is conveyed on the Cutting Edge cover.

Inside, the cataloger needs to do a better job managing the copy. Organize and prioritize the many areas of copy, and the reader will be able to scan the spread and digest the main points.

The best way to organize is by first creating clear headlines and descriptive subheads. These would be followed by manageable copy blocks and then, if appropriate, bullet points. Within the copy blocks, bold type, underlining or italicized type can emphasize key words. Even color type and all caps can be used — carefully — to call attention.

Cutting Edge should incorporate visual aids into the copy. If the mailer’s critical health areas include light, water and air, as well as electromagnetic fields and geopathic stress, perhaps it could use small illustrations representing those areas in the catalog.

Editorial photography is another option: Using inexpensive stock photography showing nature as it relates to the products on the page (water, air, earth, etc.) could support the subject matter and warm up the catalog.

Product photography certainly needs to improve throughout the catalog. The customer will take the business more seriously with better photos. Plus, it will be easier to sell merchandise — especially the more expensive items that need a stronger selling job.

I would also suggest easier-to-read headlines (as in not reverse type) that are more connected with the column below, rather that the row at the top of the page. This would help the reader understand that there are three categories of product on a spread.

Subheads would further explain each category, and body copy that called out specific words for emphasis would help the reader digest the information faster.

Cutting Edge could highlight features better. Take a spread selling photography and magnetic products. While books on this spread are highlighted with light background tints, they are relatively inexpensive products.

No similar effort (here or throughout the catalog) is made to emphasize more expensive product, such as the $899 Kirlian Instant Camera on this spread. More attention to expensive or complicated merchandise would no doubt help product sales. Try call-outs, inset shots or microscopic shots for emphasis.

This cataloger has a distance to go, creatively. But simply using higher quality photography and applying organization and basic design guidelines would improve the Cutting Edge catalog dramatically.

BARB THOMAS

Catalog or technical manual? This was the first question that I asked when I received the Cutting Edge catalog to do this critique.

Wikipedia defines mail order catalog as “a publication containing a list of general merchandise from a company.” While the Cutting Edge catalog meets that broad descriptor, that is also where its similarity to most consumer catalogs ends.

Catalogs are a company’s retail store in print. A catalog needs to invite its customer into the store with a compelling front cover.

Once I’m inside the “store,” I should be courted through product offerings that arouse my wants and needs. Unfortunately, the Cutting Edge catalog did neither for me.

As a product of Sears Catalog training (1976 to 1993) and now owner of a creative catalog advertising agency (since 1996), I think that the Cutting Edge has strategically abandoned most every reliable consumer catalog advertising technique. I’m curious as to why the company approaches its catalog with such a clinical mindset.

The front cover interests me with the cataloger’s tagline, “Products for a Healthy Lifestyle,” but provides me no visual support of the benefit I might enjoy if I used its products. I yearned to see happy, active folks enjoying their healthy lifestyle on the front cover.

Instead, I was given five products and contact information. I’m not opposed to offering products on a front cover — it’s your best real estate for sales, next to the back cover — but with some design work, the catalog could have easily given me both!

Inside, the pages are so copy heavy, I felt like I was plowing through a textbook rather than settling into a shopping experience. Frankly, there was no design or flow to the book whatsoever. The product art was so small that for most products, I had no idea how large or small they actually were.

Case in point: Page 1 offers a Wellness Countertop Filter. The more than 500 words that intro this product pretty much convinced me that it might be a good thing to get my hands on.

But this is an expensive investment — $595 — that I will be putting on my kitchen countertop, yet the product art is 1“ × 1-1/2“. And while I can get the dimensions from the copy block, a photo of this product sitting on a kitchen countertop would have given me a much better idea of this product in my home.

The name of the catalog, Cutting Edge, promises something it fails to deliver creatively. I can get loads of information, but no sizzle and sell.

Give me some cutting edge design. Romance the products to make them appealing to me and my healthy lifestyle. I venture to guess that a high-demographic customer would respond more positively to this approach.

Here are our top-five suggestions for the Cutting Edge catalog:

  1. Develop a brand look and essence for Cutting Edge.

  2. Increase and improve the art. Consider feature-item design strategy. When I was with Sears Catalog, A/B split testing proved to our merchandise departments that spreads paginated with a feature item sold more overall than spreads without feature items.

  3. Decrease the copy. Direct customers to your Website if they want to learn more about products. Use the catalog to entice them, and make the catalog copy end-benefit driven rather than feature and specification driven.

  4. Create a design format and strategy that supports the brand image they would like to portray.

  5. Add healthy-lifestyle imagery throughout the catalog. If this is the lifestyle I aspire to, give me images and copy that inspire me.

  • The front cover is, unfortunately, truly unappealing. Five small and muddy product photos appear to be “slapped on” without any apparent creative effort. And with the poor-quality photography, it’s impossible to tell what the products are without studying the photographs or reading the copy.

  • While the logo is front and center, the design is dated and delays immediate recognition of the catalog’s name.

  • A good cover shows the promise or benefit to the customer and why the business is uniquely suited to deliver that promise. Cutting edge and state-of-the-art do not come across here.

— Glenda Shasho Jones

  • Inside, the cataloger needs to do a better job managing the copy. Organize and prioritize the many areas of copy, and the reader will be able to scan the spread and digest the main points.

  • It needs easier-to-read headlines (as in not reverse type) that are more connected with the column below, rather than the row at the top of the page.

  • Product photography certainly must improve throughout the catalog. The customer will take the business more seriously with better photos.

— Glenda Shasho Jones

  • The pages are so copy heavy, I felt like I was plowing through a textbook rather than settling into a shopping experience. Frankly, there was no design or flow to the book whatsoever. The product art was so small that for most products, I had no idea how large or small they actually were.

— Barb Thomas

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