Orvis, The Sporting Tradition, Fall 1999

“How cute!” exclaimed a judge upon seeing the snow-speckled black Lab puppy on the cover of Orvis’s fall Sporting Tradition catalog. The cover is compelling and inviting, and “it uses the key element in hunting – the dog.” Judges were also touched by the more subtle imagery. The puppy is tucked inside the hunter’s camouflage jacket, which could be a metaphor for a hunter’s strength while also hinting at a deep tenderness, according to one judge, who added, “It definitely speaks to its target audience of men.”

The Gold Award winner’s merchandising is top-notch, the panelists agreed. “It offers clothing, accessories, and the whole sporting experience,” said one judge. From compasses and clothing to fishing reels and shotguns, Orvis makes sure no sportsman is without his gear. The catalog even sells cigars!

The catalog also “really speaks to its buyers,” said a judge, with narrative copy and essays on sporting experiences, responsible hunting, and environmental preservation. In an essay entitled “The Flyway,” one hunter writes about “calling” to his prey: “…I watched three blacks jet mile-high over our blind as if they had a business meeting in Chicago.” And the environmental focus pleased many judges. “The notion of preserving the environment and giving back to the earth and society is profound,” as well as quite appropriate for Orvis’s target market of upscale sportsmen, praised one panelist. What’s more, the book’s guide to hunting trips reaffirms its authority on the sporting life. “And the president’s letter alludes to the escapism of being out in the wild,” noted a judge, making it clear that the president, like his audience, is a true outdoorsman.

But customers need not go further than the Orvis catalog itself for a great escape. The “simply stunning” photography draws the reader into the page. “It’s almost three-dimensional,” said one judge. And the layout is “brimming with product, but not overdone,” noted another. The book’s copy and product shots are nicely balanced throughout.

Orvis pleased the judges on the customer service front too, with its comprehensive service policies, such as 100% satisfaction guarantee, its toll-free fishing and hunting line, and a return and repair information hotline for fishing rods and reels. The clean order form and the clearly stated 800-number and Website address also earned high marks from the panel. “Service, service, service!” happily exclaimed one judge. “At Orvis, the customer clearly comes first.”

Orvis, The Sporting Tradition, Fall 1999

In years past, the Catalog of the Year was actually awarded to the cataloger of the year: the catalog company that best exemplified the qualities necessary for direct marketing success.

But for this, the 15th Annual Catalog Awards, we changed the criteria so that the award is given to the year’s best catalog – the competition entry that garners the top score from the judges, the catalog that the panelists deem closest to perfection. This year, the winner is Orvis’s fall 1999 Sporting Tradition catalog.

The cover shot of the adorable puppy exemplifies why this catalog was such a success, both creatively and financially. The canine (whose name, we learn on page 3, is Teal) adds a sense of warmth and, dare we say, humanity to this 164-page book of guns, knives, fishing rods, and camouflage gear.

In praising the catalog, the judges lauded the blanket guarantee, the personalization services and the “white glove” delivery, the wonderful photography (“nearly three-dimensional,” enthused one judge), and the detailed yet informal product copy. The 10 pages of Orvis-endorsed wingshooting lodges and the inclusion of ancillary products such as wing chairs, leather desk accessories, and cigars also impressed the panel as proof that the cataloger was well aware of the needs and wants of its upscale niche audience.

But it’s the seemingly nonessentials that burnish the Orvis brand and make this edition of the catalog exceptional: The photo of the white-mustached gent with his arm around a fair-haired boy as they examine the Side-by-Side Cap Gun designed to teach youngsters gun safety. The brief essays by such well-regarded writers as “Forrest Gump” author Winston Groom (“In the scheme of personal objects in a man’s life are many considerations, but mine have recently returned to the chair I sit in….”) and journalist Charles Gaines (“[Bird] calling is the heart of the thing for me, and the best calling can be a Zen koan: the sound of one hand clapping….”).

And of course, the photos of hunting dogs that appear throughout the pages. Teal, Duke, Radar, and the rest remind readers that hunting is less a sport than a vocation. As author Guy de la Valdene notes in an essay on page 36, “By hunting with dogs, I share their passion….” And as the Catalog of the Year makes clear, so does Orvis.