Gourmet treats, gourmet copy

Aug 01, 2005 9:30 PM  By

All olive oils aren’t created equal. Well, of course you already knew that, just from getting over bewilderment at the range of prices in the supermarket. But what makes one catalog’s “virgin olive oil” (haven’t any trees ever been deflowered?) worth more than another? Pressing? Soil? Age of tree? Purists abound. Just a cursory investigation told me more than I want to know.

Climate and land, plus differences in ripeness and how various oils are blended also affect the final oil and its characteristics. Green olives produce a lower yield than ripe olives but will have a stronger flavor with greater “bite.” Riper olives present a more golden color and a more delicate flavor.

Bah. We’re catalogers. The difference is the copy.

While researching this oleaginous subject, I uncovered another facet of gourmet food copywriting: More and more catalogs are shifting from “traditional” copy to “contemporary copy.” In our usage, that means a shift from physical description to benefit and/or positioning.

One of the beneficiaries of benefit copy is Dean & Deluca, a gourmet food merchant whose catalog copy a couple of years ago was largely pedestrian. Now note the catalog’s tight, appetizing copy for a $40 bottle of Black Truffle Oil from France:

A rich, gold extra-virgin olive oil infused with a heady dose of black winter truffle. Woodsy and earthy with a sharp finish. Let potatoes soak up this oil. Drizzle it in soup, pair with scallops.

To prove that the upgrade isn’t a fluke, here’s one for White Truffle Oil from Italy:

Earthy and robust with lingering flavors. A terrific complement to foie gras. Delicious tossed with pasta and shaved cheese, brushed on roasted vegetables or added to mashed potatoes. Adds heft and mystery to mushroom ragout.

Check out those key words — “heady dose,” “woodsy,” “earthy,” “sharp finish,” “heft,” “mystery” — and, endearing to my grammarian heart, they used “complement” properly!

Other marketers compete on the same level. Di Bruno Bros. is primarily a Web catalog, although I’m told the company publishes a printed catalog twice a year. Note this description of an olive oil, on the Di Bruno Bros. Website:

Classic Tuscan Oil produced since 1058. Golden Yellow with hearty green nuances. Balanced fruity flavor with a hint of toasted nuts. You will experience a mild peppery sensation at the back of your palate with a slightly bitter aftertaste, an attribute of an oil whose olive harvest is young and fresh. The “Albereto” version is unfiltered, has a sharper aroma, a bigger peppery kick, and a sweeter more grassy aftertaste.

The “Albereto” was a finalist in “Best Oil” category 1996 Fancy Food Show. Perfect for dressings, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, soup and bread.

Notice the cataloger’s slightly “European” rhetoric. And notice, too, what many catalogers would no doubt regard as daring wording — “You will experience a mild peppery sensation at the back of your palate with a slightly bitter aftertaste.” This copy smacks of both olive oil knowledge and marketing integrity. So it’s either an exercise in honesty, a clever ploy, or both.

The Baker’s Catalogue is one I’ve admired for years, but not because its copy is innovative; on the contrary, copy here uses the company’s reputation along with a “you’re our family” familiarity to coat descriptions with wording inspiring buyer confidence. Here’s the description of Fior Fiore Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, priced well below Dean & Deluca or Di Bruno: (Note the Di Bruno and Baker’s similarities and differences.)

We taste-test different olive oils frequently but, amazingly enough, after all these years, we keep coming back to our first favorite: Fior Fiore Novello extra-virgin, first-cold-pressed, unfiltered olive oil from the Mantova family vineyards outside of Rome. With its cloudy texture and very slight “bite” in the aftertaste (but absolutely none of the bitterness sometimes associated with first cold pressed oils), this oil evokes the warm, mellow essence of olives.

If you Google “Olive Oil” you’ll have about 4,700,000 entries. Not all these are vendors, but enough are for catalogers to take pause. Whether you feature olive oil, machine oil, or Oil of Olay, consider two factors: First, remember that logical buyers know what olive oil is and also know they can buy a bottle at the supermarket, probably for less than your price and without having to fill out an order form and pay for shipping and handling charges. Second, don’t forget that you have the power, right there in your fingertips, to cause a goodly number of prospects to say, “I think I’ll get this one.”

Even when selling gourmet goods, crafting effective catalog copy isn’t just an excrescence of descriptive words. It’s simple salesmanship.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Author of 28 books, including Catalog Copy That Sizzles, Marketing Mayhem, Effective E-Mail Marketing, and the recently published Asinine Advertising, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide.