RX for 1-800-PetMeds

Billing itself as “America’s Largest Pet Pharmacy,” the 1-800-PetMeds catalog is devoted to helping pet owners keep their Fidos and Fluffys healthy. But how is the title’s own creative health? The Pompano Beach, FL-based merchant came in ready for its shots. Critiquers Peter Larnish, president of Larnish and Associates, a Vienna, VA-based creative firm, and Carol Worthington-Levy, partner, creative services for San Raphael, CA-based consultancy Lenser, donned their scrubs and gave 1-800-PetMeds’ 32-page 2008 edition a thorough checkup. Is the catalog a candidate for best in show, or does it need a clip and dip — or, perhaps, major creative surgery? Read on to find out.


My first reaction is that this pet pharmacy is trying to jam too many messages onto the front cover. The result is a design jumble that translates into the dilemma: Where should my eye go first?

Sometimes a simple cover works best. First, and most important, the cover should clearly communicate exactly who is sending this catalog. The company’s name and logo should be the most prominent typographical element, positioned to grab my attention and then lead my eye through a carefully planned hierarchy of information.

The PetMeds cover theme overpowers the company name and logo. The “2008 Campaign for Healthier Pets” is a clever concept to use for this election year. But it should have integrated the logo directly into the campaign name to give the catalog more brand recognition. PetMeds is a national brand that advertises extensively on TV; it should use cross-channel branding more effectively.

To further simplify the cover, the catalog’s $5 off and free shipping offers could be stacked down the right side, magazine-cover style.

And here’s one suggestion regarding the animal cover “models.” While Basset Hounds are a nice breed, they tend to look rather sad. Happy and healthy is the message these cover animals should convey.

Overall, the back cover, which shows an appealing photo of an owner and pet, works better. It has a cleaner design that tracks naturally from the offer and savings to four hot products.

Since this catalog was envisioned as a campaign, it might have been fun to have customers send in pictures of themselves with their pets. This could easily be done as a contest online; it’s a great way to involve customers across multiple channels.

Using the wining photos along with testimonials would have given the entire campaign a more personal, interactive touch. It would also position PetMeds as a partner in pet care, rather than just a supplier.

What’s more, such a contest would give PetMeds a wider selection of pet photographs for the book. In the spirit of the campaign, I would again suggest using animals that look happy and healthy on all spreads, rather than some of the sad, sick pets that appear on some pages. This would help convey an upbeat tone, emphasizing the positive results customers would get from using these products.

PetMeds needs to strengthen the introductory spread. This critical real estate should do a better job of establishing the brand and framing its “2008 Campaign for Healthier Pets.” The campaign needs an explanation; it should be more than just a design device.

This spread should also establish just who and what PetMeds is. Elaborate on the company’s expertise, perhaps adding some copy about how the staff does extensive research and testing to ensure “the healthiest products for your pets.”

This could fill page 2, with page 3 moving on to product sell. As mailing costs keep rising, remember that every page needs to work extra hard to strengthen the brand and sell, Sell, SELL!

One way to reinforce the brand throughout the catalog would be to add short copy blocks with helpful information from PetMeds experts relating to each campaign category. It does have a “Campaign for healthier joints,” on one page — it could use shorter versions of this type of treatment throughout the book.

Overall, the PetMed guarantee is great, the offers are strong, and the product organization by category ties in well with the campaign theme. But the graphics look somewhat dated, the interior typefaces are too lightweight, and the silhouetting of both animals and people is poorly done.

The pale blue tone boxes detract from major selling points, fight other color combinations, and tend to make the messages appear weak — the very opposite of that healthy feel the campaign is trying to evoke!

For instance, the “Save $5” type is set in the same lightweight font as the quantity. The pale red type has no impact against the blue background. The page design should help customers see that offer!

Likewise, the testimonials are buried and should stand out more. The five small yellow stars used to flag customer comments have little drama, and seem to fade against the blue background.

On the plus side, the red, white and blue bunting used on page 29 has strong eye appeal. Smaller versions of this graphic element could have been used throughout the catalog to highlight top-priority offers and benefits.

I would recommend starting the copy for each block with the product name rather than placing the name near the end with the sizes and prices. It is confusing to ask customers to read a description before they know what the product is.

And a good rule of thumb is to always keep the item number and price near the description. No eye guessing that way. I also notice inconsistency in the use of leader lines throughout the catalog. Sometimes they are there, other times there are just large empty spaces.

Product positioning is crucial. Are the best sellers in the right position? Move recommended or top-rated products to more prominent spots.

PetMeds does nothing to play up its customer service. Given the many choices advertised for a particular ailment, if operators or staff are available for consultation, this would be an important benefit to highlight.

I would also send customers to the PetMeds Website for more products, daily specials, and online answers to common questions. Cross-channel promotion always strengthens brand identity and drives more sales.

Finally, I found the order form a bit confusing. There is little specific ordering information. Where do I send my order? Can I fax it? What are the return policies?

I saw that the Website had some ordering information that was not in the catalog, and vice versa. To ensure a consistent message, the Website should contain all the catalog information, including the toll-free number and various ways to order.

The PetMeds catalog provides a valuable service to a nicely targeted market. But it can do a better job of selling its products and mission. It just takes the same care that PetMeds already provides to its patients.


While the mailbox is full of pet catalogs, there is definitely room for a catalog like 1-800-PetMeds to provide pharmaceuticals direct to the consumer. These are medications historically purchased for top dollar at the veterinarian’s office, but they’re offered at great prices with free shipping from 1-800-PetMeds.

Pet health and prescriptions are serious stuff. But this 1-800-PetMeds catalog kicks off the catalog with some fun, using the election year to show off the idea of dog lovers vs. cat lovers. While it’s a stretch, it’s good to see the cataloger trying a new approach to take the customer off guard a bit.

The front cover shows its hand immediately, displaying pets and three of the most popular pet pharmaceuticals. It is highly likely that anyone with a well-cared-for pet would purchase one of these.

But the cover doesn’t provide the page number to easily locate those meds inside. If the company had included the page number, this would help consumers find their desired product more quickly — after which they would browse for more.

Another problem on this cover is the $5 off “note” hidden within a reversed-out message below the header. Studies have shown that reversing type out of a color will reduce comprehension up to 90%. So the offer would be more quickly noticed if it were dark type on light background. It could also be in a bolder font.

As for the second cover offer, the “free shipping” banner can be bolder, simpler and more positive by just saying “FREE Shipping on orders placed by 6/30/08. See page 2 for details.” Then on page 2, PetMeds could mention any offer limitations and exclusions. The deadline date is the most important part of that offer, since it compels the reader to act quickly.

I do recommend that PetMeds simplify its offers, keeping a common deadline date and a common bottom line. I also think that $39 is too low a limit for the free shipping offer — the company should be aiming closer to $50 or even more.

Looking at the back cover, this is the first thing people see, since this is where the prospect address is. Its job is to introduce the catalog to a prospect, and remind customers of their existing relationship and the benefits of purchasing from the company.

The back cover’s headline “More savings than ever before” is too benign to be useful — for either prospecting or for teasing in new customers. A headline on a cover like this would serve the mailer better if it positioned PetMeds more astutely. For example, the headline might say, “Save now on prescriptions and health solutions for your pet!”

Another choice might be even more obvious: “Why pay doctor’s office prices for your pet’s prescriptions? See inside for great deals on all your PetMed needs!”

As I mentioned regarding the front cover, the reversed-out type in the blue banner on the left hurts this effort. In part, it’s because we can’t take our eyes off the dog and its owner. Reader gravity tells us that people will not read backwards — from right to left — so if they see a picture, they won’t go left to read the copy.

A better solution would be to have the pet and owner upper left, the headline below that, and then a “Special savings and FREE shipping when you order by June 8, 2008! See page 2 for details.” This approach works harder to get the customer to open the catalog. This is the most important function of your covers — to get the reader inside!

The color quality of that photo needs some work. Just because an image looks fine on your desktop does not mean it will look good when printed. At least for covers, a quick matchprint from your printer or a high-res proofer would provide the guidance needed to refine and clean up the color. Dull color on a cover sends customers away.

One final touch that could make the back cover more compelling: A quote from the woman with the dog, saying something like “1-800-PetMeds makes it easy for me to provide a healthier life for my Daisy” (or, whatever the dog’s name might be). An emotional message like that tugs in the customers faster than any dollars-off offer!

We refer to the inside first spread of a catalog as the “red carpet” because that’s where we introduce a catalog to prospects, and re-introduce it to customers. PetMeds needs to sell more product on this spread; it also needs to simplify the offers presented.

The item for sale in the lower left of the spread really belongs on the right side, where it will be noticed. The way people read a catalog spread is consistent and has been tracked in studies: The right-hand page is where they land when they open the catalog. The lower-left corner is the “dead zone” of the spread because it is the least likely place people will go!

The right page should sell a variety of the strongest products that also represent the entire line. So the right side would undoubtedly have the PetMeds Wellness Kit, perhaps near the top of the page.

Then it might include a product for pain alleviation due to arthritis — typically strong sellers in this business — and either some healthy treats or a cat product such as a hairball remedy. It’s all about selling items from the core product line, but making them from different categories so the consumer can see variety.

While this is a small catalog, a table of contents with product categories is really needed and would pull people in more quickly. This could be on page 2 or 3.

Inside, the pages in this catalog are loosely designed, so there’s a great opportunity to create more drama and excitement with size variations and hero items. On each spread, PetMeds should choose a product that’s a best seller and make that twice the size of the other products on the spread.

There is also ample room to create added-value informational sidebars that help the consumers make decisions about what their pets need. PetMeds has a small feature in the pain section, but there is so much more the cataloger can do to show its knowledge and authority.

The pet shots are cute, but they can’t do the heavy lifting needed. So this catalog needs compelling and specific headlines across the tops of spreads.

For example, instead of ‘Pain & Inflammation’ as a headline, the head might read, “Relieve your pet’s pain naturally without harmful side effects.”

Overall, the cool color palette does not convey the excitement of owning a pet. Although I can understand this connection with medicines, the blue tint is overused and gives a sameness to each spread — not a good thing when a cataloger is trying to keep customers’ attention.

The order form blends in too much with the rest of the catalog due to this pale blue tint. Order forms need to stand out and be easy to fill out, even to the point of including recipients’ addresses.

PetMeds needs to re-create the form to accommodate this technology, which is a good customer service. It also helps to keep track of prospects and customers due to its accuracy with the database.

While many catalogs have dropped their order forms, testing recently has confirmed that it is well worth it to include one. I recently heard from a colleague that it pays off to print an order blank on uncoated paper and bind it in. This allows the reader to write on uncoated paper when planning his or her order.

It also allows the catalog to remain intact if the form gets torn out. A more intact catalog is one that the customer is more inclined to keep!

These suggestions for PetMeds can all be accomplished within whatever budget the company is using now. To make the catalog even more compelling, including more shots of pets and their owners would be great.

It’s well worth it for PetMeds to improve and grow the print catalog channel. Not only will this aggressively feed its e-commerce site, an improved catalog generates more orders on its own, too.


Simply send four copies of the same edition, along with basic information about your target market, merchandise niche, and competitive advantages, to: Catalog Critique, Multichannel Merchant, 11 River Bend Drive South, P.O. Box 4242, Stamford, CT 06907-0242.

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