Losing My Taste for Harry & David

SHERRY CHIGER: When the holiday season rolled around, you could always count on receiving a Harry & David catalog featuring a luscious close-up of a fruit on the front cover. Sometimes it was a glamour shot of a pear luxuriating in its own golden sweetness; other times the pear might be joined by a few other edibles on a sled, garbed in Santa hats and boots.

Not anymore. The Gift Preview 2010 edition of the Harry & David catalog looks like any other food gifts catalog — leading recipients to conclude that Harry & David has become just like any other food gifts company.

The creative isn’t necessarily bad. It follows best practices, I guess: calls to action on the front cover, photos of happy folks opening their Harry & David gifts, callouts of customer testimonials. But it’s not as if the old-style catalogs disregarded the rules.

And even if they had, this still raises the question of whether best practices trump branding. The answer no doubt depends on how well the creative was performing. And sales at Harry & David have been falling since fiscal 2007.

But Harry & David was hardly the only company to take a hit during the past few years. Let’s say that the mailer was right to examine its creative. After all, if even the best creative never changes, it’s destined to become stale, and ultimately less effective. What Harry & David did, though, was give a still-attractive brand a complete facelift rather than an injection or two of Botox and a bit of nose slimming.

By substituting lovingly styled close-ups of individual fruits with smaller silhouettes of one gift box after another, Harry & David downplays what has long been its unique selling proposition: proprietary, top-quality produce, particularly its Royal Riviera pears. And if Harry & David is no longer about unique, carefully nurtured food offerings, what is its current USP? My nearest guess is quantity, given the number of gift boxes shown. I don’t find that particularly compelling, though, and it certainly doesn’t engender the same sort of loyalty as an emphasis on quality would.

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