Competitive benefit is king


The combination of fierce competition and merciless judging is certainly a reason every winner — in fact, make that every finalist — in this year’s exceptionally powerful group of entries should feel considerable pride.

Some of the winners were catalogs that year after year set a “gold standard” for effectiveness in matching copy, illustration and impact to the maximum number of potential responders. Once again, the Black Box catalog of computer and electronic supplies won the Gold Award for Computer and High-Tech Equipment — and this year was also Business-to-Business Merchant of the Year.

Once again, L.L. Bean, a perennial top contender, was a Gold Award winner, this time not only for Gifts but also for Children’s Products — and this year was also Business-to-Consumer Merchant of the Year.

Do these selections mean the traditional is trumping the innovative? Hardly. Some of the Gold winners and a number of Silver winners were first-timers. The common denominator: effective salesmanship. And the first catalog we’ll describe in this column is a paragon of innovation.

No one can contest the notion of effective salesmanship as the logical criterion not only for awards, but for ongoing business effectiveness in a murderous economic climate. And that’s the 2008 criterion.

Let’s take a closer look at some of this year’s best:

Tea drinkers’ paradise The Gold Winner in the Small Catalog category was The Republic of Tea. Innovation? Who could see this polybagged catalog in the day’s mail and not open it, especially since floating visibly is a big, colorful teabag!

“Small” is an odd appellation, because this colorful 56-page slim-jim catalog is full-bleed throughout. And even a competitor or chronic detractor would have to admire the very notion of page after page of descriptions, none of which detract from others.

The copywriter (or copywriters) for this catalog add sidebar copy imparting additional cachet to some of the teas. Example, the first few sentences of the sidebar for Double Green Matcha Tea:

“Tradition, One Step Removed — Matcha is the star of the centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony. Sipped only on occasion, the tea is traditionally prepared only in single portions, whipped to a frothy green with a bamboo whisk… .”

That introduction, in fact, has considerably greater power than the actual description. The entire text:

“The Power in Green Powder — We’ve married the exquisite organic green tea powder known as matcha with the fine, organic green leaf tea. We invite you to sip the fresh, springtime-grassy flavor of the jade hued brew. This tea’s smooth character makes it a good partner with sweet or savory foods.”

Without that additional boost, the description would be, well, adequate but pedestrian. The lead-in gives it a built-in edge.

That’s the way to sell supplements. won the Silver in the Consumer Specialty Products category. At the risk of incurring the ire of the judges, I opine that every aspect of this catalog is Gold quality.

Copy is pointed and potent. The heading for Remifemin: “Cool Down Without Hormones!” For an antivirus called Blockade, with a picture of an angry green virus locked in a cage: “Now, viruses will have nowhere to go. Blocks and locks viruses … cold!” For a section on children’s vitamins and supplements, the invitingly simple heading “Kids’ stuff.”

Purists can raise no objections because ingredient-specifics are spelled out clearly for every item. And use-segmentation promotes ancillary selections.

The perennial winner An outsider observing L.L. Bean’s Gold and Silver Awards year after year might comment cynically that the rationale for ongoing positive judging is the company’s venerable history. Not so.

L.L. Bean has stayed abreast of trends in both production and sales appeals. This catalog is 100% contemporary in approach, content and production.

The L.L. Bean Kids Catalog (actual winner is the Spring 2007 issue) emphasizes specific benefits of fabrics, sizes, colors, washability and any other pertinent factor. Any parent can order with confidence. An example, the first part of a description for Bean’s Fitness Fleece Pullover:

“Our lightest fleece is made of stretchy polyester microfleece — just the right weight to stave off chilly breezes or cool night air. And a special treatment helps it resist pilling with every wash. Sleeve pocket holds miniature treasures. Contrast-color neckline and zipper. Imported. Machine wash and dry.”

One wonders how many additional orders resulted from that inspired little insert, “Sleeve pocket holds miniature treasures.”

Adding to the salesworthiness of many product groups are big, happy photographs of children at play. For the pullovers just described “Cookouts, watermelon, fireflies,” with booster text. For boys’ tees and cargo pants “Trail tough meets all-day comfort.”

Gold on the Web — I’m guessing that the current home page and jump pages parallel those that won the Gold Award for Business Specialty Products, Web Channel. Obviously, what the judges saw months ago isn’t what we see now. But assuming the judges applauded the clear and easy organization of categories and intra-category items, that aspect remains worthy of applause.

Finding a specific within a huge online catalog can turn off an impatient prospect. That problem doesn’t exist here, where two “clicks” bring the visitor to almost any product.

An occasional grammatical glitch isn’t as irritating as it would be in a printed catalog, because the Web dictates a different reader-psychology. So “These high quality speakers folds out to bring more rhythm to your next promotion” generates a chuckle more readily than a frown.

Another Web winner — PetCareRx

I got a kick out of the current home page of, the Gold Award winner in the Small Web Merchant category. It shows a handsome dog — a golden lab, I’m guessing — with a headline the reader can take two ways: “Flea & Tick Sale.”

That notwithstanding, the site is a pleasure to wander through. Products are described with ample specifics, price is emphasized (as is proper for Web marketing), “Pet points” for each dollar spent help maintain customer loyalty, and lighthearted wording keeps the tone inviting.

Taking care of business Office Depot’s “The Green Book” was the Silver Award winner in the Office Supplies, Furniture, and Stationery category. Timeliness obviously was a factor here, because environment and health are major selling points, emphasized by heavy use of green ink.

One has to admire the product research that went into this 180-page catalog. Pens and pencils are marked “refillable” and/or “recycled.” Highlighters are indicated with “Reduced Chemicals.” The green “Recycled” icon appears everywhere, identifying paper and binders and boxes and file jackets.

One competitive benefit to the catalog is that prices, however favorable, are secondary to patriotism and environmentalism. Copy on the back cover is headed, “Our Commitment to the Environment,” emphasizing that the catalog itself was “printed on 100% postconsumer recycled content paper, bleached Process Chlorine Free.”

If for no other reason, the intention of this catalog is worthy of an award.

And that’s enough for this year I guess apologies are due to the Gold and Silver Award winners excluded from this review because of obvious space limitations. So I have a suggestion for those who are worthy of attention I haven’t been able to bestow this year: Enter the 2009 competition. Maybe we’ll have the opportunity to shake hands as a trophy passes from my mitts to yours. l

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises in Pompano Beach, FL, and author of 31 books, including Catalog Copy That Sizzles, On the Art of Writing Copy, Marketing Mayhem and Effective E-Mail Marketing.

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