Opinion & Response

Jan 01, 2003 10:30 PM  By

Frodo Doesn’t Really Live, You Know

Tying in with the release of the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the holiday catalog from collectibles mailer The Noble Collection includes nine pages of swords, goblets, and of course, rings commemorating the fantasy tale. But one description has us concerned about the copywriter’s grip on reality: “Based on the actual ring worn by the Witch King, the leader of the nine Ringwraiths, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Ring of the Witch King has been crafted in solid sterling silver…” We hate to break it to you Ringers, but there can’t be an “actual ring worn by the Witch King,” because The Lord of the Rings is fiction.

A Different Sort of Knock-off

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) has been needling apparel and home goods cataloger Brylane with colorful protests. But recently the union turned up the heat with a mock Brylane “Sweatshop Holiday Catalog 2002.”

The organization charges that the $1.6 billion Brylane has been harassing workers at its two Indiana distribution centers who have been trying to join the union. UNITE, which represents workers at Brylane’s Chadwick’s of Boston apparel catalog warehouse in West Bridgewater, MA, has been organizing with the cataloger’s Indianapolis DC employees since October 2001. Brylane employees are seeking union representation to improve what they claim is a higher-than-average rate of repetitive motion injuries in 2000.

Brylane, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute that includes the KingSize, Jessica London, Roaman’s, and Lerner New York catalogs, in August had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a secret ballot election for the Indiana workers to vote on the union. The NLRB denied the petition on Sept. 9; Brylane appealed, but the NLRB denied it again in December.

Brylane’s New York headquarters was visited by the union’s giant inflatable “protest rat” in June; in October, union demonstrators donned Halloween costumes to protest the cataloger. But for our money the Sweatshop catalog takes the cake. The eight-page book features the company’s DC workers modeling Brylane clothing, with headlines such as “One in 10 workers at Brylane suffers from a repetitive motion injury” and subheads such as “Brylane clothes are made in sweatshops.” We will respectfully stay out of Brylane’s dispute with UNITE, but we have to say that the union’s catalog effort was highly creative.

CATALOGS WE LOVE

Here’s proof that Bud Plant’s Incredible Catalog deserves its name: Cheech Wizard Vol. 1 appears opposite The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes. If the yin-and-yang nature of those two books of comic art means nothing to you, don’t worry: This catalog targets aficionados of comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, and art books. But its product range is so broad, casual readers of the Sunday funnies are as likely to find must-have items as are die-hard collectors of underground comics or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The copy doesn’t assume that readers are obsessive comic geeks. Instead, it aims to inform, in an enthusiastic but never overbearing manner. Take the description of Milton Caniff: Conversations: “This collects more than a dozen interviews with one of comics’ great luminaries, from 1937-1986 when he was producing Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon…” The copy continues for another paragraph and a half — just about all of the copy blocks are that lengthy, making Bud Plant a pleasure to peruse.

The catalog is well organized, with “Bud’s Best” and new items promoted up front. In addition to a table of contents on page 5, there’s an index of books, magazines, and calendars by title in the back. And to encourage add-on sales and repeat business, for every $100 order, Bud Plant gives customers a $10 merchandise credit. As Cheech Wizard would say…well, we can’t actually print anything that Cheech Wizard would say without losing our jobs, but trust us, Bud Plant is an exceptional catalog.

Getting Wacky with Dot Whacks

Just as with ink-jet personalization, dot-whack messages can backfire if misused. Here’s a classic example: A Catalog Age staffer received a copy of confections catalog Savannah Candy Kitchen with a dot whack stating “We’d hate to say goodbye…but we may have to if we don’t hear from you soon. To keep receiving our catalog, just order from the special edition and take 15% off your order…” An interesting offer considering that the staffer had never received the Savannah Candy Kitchen catalog before. Reminds us of the lyric to a Beatles classic: “Don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello…”

Here’s another: The cover of the a recent Bon Prix catalog sent to another Catalog Age staffer included a faux dot whack declaring “You’re a Great Customer…Take 10% off any purchase.” This staffer has received a half-dozen catalogs during the past year but has made nary a purchase. If the low-priced apparel cataloger thinks she’s a great customer, how does it define a poor customer?

This month in Catalog Age…

Catalog Age marks its 20th anniversary this year. To celebrate, each month we’ll be looking back at some notable headlines from issues past:

  • Mail order tax threat still looms in Congress (December 1985/January 1986)
  • L.L. Bean rolls out 800 service after long test period (December 1986/January 1987)
  • Catalog Clearing House proving to be an effective list builder (January 1988)
  • Privacy bill threatens to close down California market (January 1990)
  • Fax ordering: beyond business-to-business (January 1991)
  • Designing in Quark: Does it help or hurt creativity? (January 1994)
  • No rush to new media alternatives (January 1995)
  • Is ink-jetting old hat? (January 1998)
  • A fulfilling opportunity: Got warehouse space? Fulfill for Web-only merchants (January 1999)

CONTACT US … or visit us on the Web at www.CatalogAgemag.com

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