The Best and Worst Catalog Copy of 2014

The Best Catalog Copy of 2014


Best, No. 1:  Improvements

Herschell Gordon Lewis
Herschell Gordon Lewis

Some online catalogs have figured out why the web offers opportunities a printed catalog can’t match. Might it be because the web exists as a separate medium with separate advantages?

That’s the advantage of this web version of “Improvements.” The printed catalog is competitively professional,. but the online catalog has a big edge because of its capability to combine a rolling home page with a multitude of “Click here” bargain invitations (never baldly stated as “Click here”). “Weekly specials” are just one group of incentives to re-visit this lively catalog.

Are you looking for an “All Purpose Lantern”? Of course you aren’t. But here’s an attractive photo, coupled with an attractive price – reduced from $19.99 to $9.95 and enhanced by a batch of positive customer-reviews. So the buying impulse springs to life where not a single whim existed before.

IMPROVEMENTS (Click to Enlarge)
IMPROVEMENTS (Click to Enlarge)

Benefit descriptions are sprightly and apparently logical. For this item, the tight and convincing copy-block:

All-Purpose Lantern has 24 LEDs for super-bright light.

Don’t be left in the dark! This compact lantern provides brilliant 360° illumination for home power outages, camping trips, car breakdowns, and more. The All-Purpose Lantern even has a built-in compass to help you find your way. You get either a set of 2 or a set of 3 All-Purpose Lanterns; each requires 4 D batteries, not included.

Benefits of the All-Purpose Lantern:

The All-Purpose Lantern is ideal for power outages, outdoor concerts, beach, more

This emergency lantern has a handle for carrying or hanging

I don’t know why no punctuation follows those final bullets, but maybe they’re out of periods.

Best, No. 2:

ART.COM (Click to enlarge)
ART.COM (Click to enlarge)

Like most self-declared sophisticates, I’ve developed a down-the-nose set of comments about art-for-sale. This simplified online catalog and its printed  brother cleverly caters to phony sophistication such as mine, and in doing so is both a buyer-incentive and an educational gem.

Types of paintings are grouped logically, and the subheads under each category are both helpful and quotable. An example is “Art Styles,” divided into “Fine Art,” “Decorative Art,” Vintage Art,” and “Photography.” It’s just one indication of how easy it is to navigate through these offerings.

Being instructive without including a dollop of pomposity isn’t easy to write, especially when dealing with “fine” art. This catalog carries it off with a quiet flourish, and my only quarrel – it’s a mild one – is their use of phrases such as “Learn more,” which in my opinion damages the one-to-one relationship between vendor and faux-knowledgeable potential customer.

Best, No.3:

Here’s proof that clarity and salesmanship can co-exist. The web version and the print version of FeelGoodStore aren’t identical, but that doesn’t mean either one suffers. Online, the buying impulse is enhanced from the moment the eye absorbs the home page. Here’s a “Thumb and Wrist Wrap,” and unlike many descriptions that would prioritize product construction before product benefit, here in big bold type is a reason to buy: “Quiet the throbbing in your hand and wrist.” A “Clearance Outlet” plus a “Here’s what you get” set of listings hammers home “Bargain, bargain, bargain!” and “Unique deals” without lapsing into blather.

The printed catalog picks up, right on its cover, discounts from the web version – “This catalog only, Save $5” and “FREE Shipping!”

Product descriptions are solidly benefit-heavy. A number of compression-hosiery products appear side-by-side without fighting one another.

Best, No. 4: The J. Peterman Company

Peterman has had an up-and-down reputation. This season’s “Owner’s Manual” (No. 121 by their count) is definitely up.

We know this company well enough to anticipate off-the-wall descriptions, which have the power to either damage or enhance. In this catalog, they enhance.

Right there, on page 2, we’re in high gear. The item is a woman’s dress, a prosaic product that gains impetus with each succeeding sentence. The heading: “I have a Secret.” Then copy forces us to read the description all the way through. Just the beginning of the copy-block:

You don’t know her.

At least, not formally. You’ve seen her on Madison Avenue, once at a crab shack on the Maryland shore, more than once at the Venice Biennale (on a boat). Her companions bend their head toward her, as if she speaks in whispers. Learned firsthand (in Amsterdam), she wears jasmine….

That’s guts. What have we learned about the dress? Zilch. Getting information beyond the actual product photo demands plowing through more generic wording which doesn’t actually build to the $168 price … and that approach has been the basis of a lot of criticism aimed at Peterman (including criticism by me).

Strangely, in this catalog it works. So, for this season at least, welcome back, J. Peterman.

Best, No. 5: 32 Bar Blues

32 BAR BLUES (Click to enlarge)
32 BAR BLUES (Click to enlarge)

Maybe I’m including this funky catalog just to prove that I’m not locked into a geezer-mode. Or maybe it’s because the combination of post-millennial copywriting can have competitive merit.

Terminology matches the offbeat image. Here, in its entirety, is the description for a sweater:

Sunken Treasure

Big time comfort down-deep. Chunky shaker-knit body with Sherpa fleece lining in the hood. Rib-trimmed hand pockets, cuffs, and hem. 100% cotton. Wash-faded. Dive in. Imported. Cinder. Sizes: S-XXL.

And that, other than the price ($178.00), is it. Not a wasted word.

From the outside, I don’t see the need for the double-zero after $178, but you don’t argue with a catalog that jumps out at you, as this one does with its online description of … what, a guitar pick? Check it out:

Get Off Your Ass and Jam

Hit the power cord with a sterling silver guitar pick. Hammered, polished and finished with a raised 1/8 note for good measure. Leather cord, primitive silver and brass beads, and a knotted toggle closure. Handmade exclusively for 32BB in the USA. Silver. 12″ long (half measurement).

I wonder how many half measurements they’ve sold at $270.00.

(There’s a 2012 copyright date on the online catalog, but that may just be a casual oversight. At least, I hope it is.)

PREVIOUS: Honorable Mentions

NEXT: The Worst of 2014

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