No doubt, we all remember some of our favorite catalog covers: those covers that stood out in the mail, made us smile, made us curious, and most important, got us inside the catalog and made us place an order.
(Note: This article was published before our features appeared on the Web and the high-res art is not available. Here is a PDF of the original article with the catalog cover artwork.)
Selecting the 10 best catalog covers of all time is a daunting task, however. For one, it’s hard to remember all the standouts over the years; it’s even harder to get my hands on some of them. Although I have piles of my favorite catalogs in my office and in my home, many I’ve saved have been lost along the way. And in many cases, even their originators don’t have copies of them!
But of the catalog covers I’ve remembered and saved over the years, I’ve come up with my top 10 list. For the most part, I used my instinct and gut reaction to select them, also keeping in mind the cover’s drama, emotion, relevance, differentiation, positioning support, and logo treatment. All of the covers selected use a combination of these factors; I also found that I responded to color, cleverness, and the presence of an animal or a child on the cover.
THE TOP 10
1. J. Crew, Summer 1992. Featuring a bare-bottomed toddler toddling into a summer house, this cover from the casual apparel cataloger goes off the Richter scale of emotion. No woman I know can see it without breaking into a smile and an “ohhhhhh.” It’s like a Hallmark card commercial.
2. Warner Bros. Studio Store, Holiday Catalog 1993. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And when you own the world’s most famous wascally wabbit, you should absolutely use that to your advantage. Here, the gifts marketer adroitly uses color and cropping to present its most famous creation.
3. The J. Peterman Co., Spring 1995. Love it or hate it, you couldn’t miss a J. Peterman catalog. The illustration art, high-quality paper, and slim-jim format made this upscale apparel book look and feel different from other catalogs in the marketplace. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we again see the unconventional catalog appearing in our mailboxes.
4. Patagonia, Fall 1990. The venerable outdoor equipment and apparel marketer literally goes to the ends of the earth to bring us dramatic realism on its covers and inside the catalog. And who could pass by this fall cover featuring a buffalo?
5. The Territory Ahead, First Signs, 1993. With its scenic front cover photographs and horizontal format, this apparel cataloger broke the rules. No longer did catalogers feel they had to show product on the cover to be successful. Lifestyle won out.
6. L.L. Bean, Early Spring 1998. The message from this outdoor gear and apparel cataloger is clear: quality. With the closeup of a duck-hunting boot under construction, you’d recognize the product and the catalog/brand manufacturer even without the logo.
7. New Pig, January 1998. This is a cataloger with a sense of humor. What better way to attract buyers of industrial cleaning products? Like most New Pig efforts, this cover disproves the theory that business-to-business books have to be somber to sell. The cover captures the humor that helps differentiate New Pig from other industrial supplies catalogs.
8. J. Jill, Holiday 1998. How does an apparel cataloger break through the clutter at holiday time? Unstructured women’s clothing mailer J. Jill managed to do it with this different and delightful cover of a “naked” mannequin adorned with Christmas lights. The catalog even manages to convey “apparel” through the use of the mannequin.
9. TravelSmith, Spring 1999. It’s hard to resist this catalog of travel accessories and clothing. The company has done a great job using its own branded style of illustration art to support the travel experience.
10. Lands’ End, March 1995. When this catalog from casual apparel marketer Lands’ End arrived in the mail four years ago, it stopped me in my tracks. Talk about a dramatic cover! There’s no way you can put down a book like this.