The Black Dog, Summer 1997

Sep 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

You don’t have to be a dog lover or a fan of Martha’s Vineyard to fall for The Black Dog catalog. Even if you’ve never set foot in the island’s Black Dog Tavern, which inspired the catalog, you can get a sense of the Black Dog experience by paging through this Silver Award winner. O.K., maybe it helps to like dogs to fully appreciate the cover shot of a black Labrador retriever wearing a Black Dog bandanna, but the photo is pretty hard to resist. The cover is “dramatic and makes you want to go inside,” one judge says. At the same time, however, all of the judges feel the catalog is selling itself short with the tiny logo treatment, which appears in smaller type than the word “catalog.” Also, a panelist points out, “there’s no sense of season” with the cover, though it’s a summer edition.

Inside the catalog, readers will find logo-embossed merchandise from T-shirts and hats to golf balls and beach umbrellas “that are guaranteed to appeal to the Black Dog nostalgia fan,” one Awards judge comments. There’s a nice balance of soft goods and hard goods across all price points, ranging from $9 to $100. While the book features some product without the logo, for the most part “you gotta love that dog,” a judge says, since it appears on just about everything. But that shouldn’t be a problem for most of the catalog’s recipients, since more than 80% of the books mailed went to the company’s house file.

The copy draws high marks from the judging panel-”it’s almost uniformly excellent, interspersed with local interest stories that reinforce the authenticity of the catalog,” a judge says. The friendly and informative prose makes good use of the word “you” to grab the reader’s attention and help the consumer relate to the product described. For instance, copy for a pair of swim trunks reads: “These trunks won’t ‘moon you,’ you’ll have to do that on your own!” Recipes from tavern chefs add color and flavor to the book, as do customer-supplied photos of people wearing and enjoying the apparel. “And there’s an excellent mix of illustration and photography that gives the book its own look,” a judge raves.

The clear, easy-to-read, and friendly customer service and ordering policies are solid, especially for a smaller catalog, though one judge points out that the guarantee time is not specified, the hours are limited, and no envelope is provided. Still, in spite of breaking a lot of catalog rules, The Black Dog does a lot of things right. “It’s a great, out-of-the-box creative presentation-nothing in the mail looks like this,” one panelist points out. For certain, taking chances can pay off. As one judge says, “If you sell the lifestyle, they’ll buy the products.”