Smart Selections, 2000 (U.K.)

Finally, said one of the Annual Catalog Awards judges, “an office supplies catalog that isn’t as dry as a bone.” Trust a British catalog company to know how to sex up office supplies.

Indeed, the Silver Award-winning Smart Selections business supplies magalog (or “magalogue,” as its known across the pond) looks more like a fashion magazine than a catalog. “I thought it was a fashion magazine at first glance,” remarked a panelist. That’s no doubt due to the stylized photo of three young and exceptionally good-looking office workers, and the provocative teaser, “Buzz. They’ve got it – have you?” Cover lines such as “Time to rethink your office!” and “Trendspotting – what’s in, what’s out” further add to the magazine feel. But at least one of the judges felt the cover veered a little too far off track from the cataloger’s main goal: to be “your personal office supplies specialist.”

Inside, the catalog features many more photos of shiny, happy people. “Some of them really do look like they’re having too much fun to be at work!” a judge exclaimed. For certain, Smart Selections’ unconventional creative techniques abound. The call-out on a spread with wastepaper baskets, reads “done that, bin there.” And a page selling indexes and dividers depicts an elegantly coifed young woman wearing a dress made of color-coded tabbed file folders. People pop up throughout the book, proffering quotes labeled “smart” ideas and tips.

While the people photos definitely pull readers into the book, product still manages to be the hero. But Smart Selections might consider cutting down the merchandise density, one of the judges said: “Some spreads really suffer from too much product.” More captions might also help readers with product selection.

Smart Selections could also do more to help the customer place orders, a few of the judges pointed out. “More calls to action, more widespread use of phone numbers, and more ordering details would be helpful,” said one panelist. But the cataloger offers many excellent services, such as an extranet supply link, as well as the basic phone, fax, and e-mail order options.

The cataloger’s strength remains its strong human touch. “A potentially dull and sterile product line is made interesting and desirable by concentrating on benefits to the people buying and using them,” a judge said.

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