Patagonia, Holiday 1999

At first glance, all the judges agreed, Patagonia’s cover image of two rock climbers scaling an enormous, icy rock face is “stunning,” “dramatic,” and “breathtaking.” Though one judge didn’t know what to expect inside – “it could be a travel catalog, or it could sell motivational posters,” others decreed that “it’s unmistakably Patagonia.” And the catalog’s back-cover map of its retail locations is a “good use of space,” added another panelist.

Patagonia’s flair for the one-two punch of imagery and marketing does not end at the cover. Its “assortment of technical outdoor apparel,” which spans from long underwear to windbreakers, is displayed via “gorgeous lifestyle photography and clean layouts.” In fact, the large, detailed product photos and generous white space “give the merchandise an aura of exclusiveness,” said a judge. The panel did have one criticism of the creative: “There’s no eye contact among anyone in the photos in the whole book,” as one judge put it. Nonetheless, “this is a fun catalog to look at, with some very powerful images interspersed with strong messaging.”

Such messaging includes “what’s in it for me?” copy that educates and entertains the reader. Take this description of the Ridge Rider Jacket: “It’s built to slough off snow, block the wind, and protect your shoulders, sides, and seat from abrasion.” As one judge gushed, “That’s great stuff!” And judges agreed tht the book’s use of product call-out notes, tips, headlines, photo descriptions, and environmental essays consistently addressed the unique challenges and rewards of outdoor sports.

Patagonia’s customer service offerings also keep the special requirements of winter sportsmen in mind. For instance, the company offers the toll-free Patagonia Guide Line, which is an outdoor information and equipment-use hotline. “The bottom line is that Patagonia has trust and credibility,” said one judge.

This sense of trust and credibility left its mark on the judges. “Patagonia’s branding is clearly the best in its industry,” said one panelist. And even judges who have never gone ice-climbing – and likely never will – walked away with newfound respect and knowledge. Quipped one judge, “I learned that there are a lot of places that are really, really cold.”

Patagonia, Holiday 1999

If your idea of winter sports is running from your heated car to your heated house, any old jacket will do. But if you prefer, say, skiing Alaska’s Chugach Mountains or climbing the ice-coated K2 in Pakistan, then you need to be sure that your apparel is up to the task. With its Gold Award-winning holiday book, apparel cataloger/retailer Patagonia ensures readers that its products are as tough as they are.

The copywriters don’t stint when it comes to explaining the benefits of the gear featured in the catalog. Take the beginning of the copy block for the Torre Jacket and Pants: “The Torre suit is lighter, easier to move in and more compressible than the heavy armor touted as `expedition’ gear by most suppliers. Details: visibility hood, Y-joint sleeves for freedom of movement, storm flaps over zippers, gusseted cuffs and drawcords at waist and hem to seal out moisture….” As if that’s not enough, the copy further elaborates on the fabric, and a sidebar on the same page gives layering tips for “extreme cold,” along with the combined weight of the suggested apparel. Such depth of product knowledge, said one judge, is what positions Patagonia as “the ultimate authority in this specific product category.”

The action photos – showing “real people” hiking, skiing, and tubing while clad in Patagonia apparel – help too. Not only do they beautifully set off the product shots, but as another judge noted, “photos of items in use definitely entice you to buy.” And in case readers still aren’t convinced, scattered throughout the pages are reminders about the company’s “iron clad guarantee.”

Patagonia further distinguishes itself with its environmental stance. Icons indicate products made of post-consumer recycled plastic and those made of organic cotton. A note on the bottom of the inside front cover reads “Patagonia pledges 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” And one spread is given over to an essay about the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement among more than 160 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while another discusses the cleanup of the Kennebec River in Maine. Four whole pages dedicated not to selling product but to educating readers about a topic – conservation – that Patagonia deems important. The result, the judges agreed, is a catalog that’s both exceptionally effective and just plain exceptional.

Patagonia, Holiday 1999

As a cataloger/retailer/wholesaler/Web marketer, Patagonia is indeed a multichannel powerhouse. And, judges said, the outdoor gear and apparel marketer’s catalog does more for reinforcing the franchise’s brand than 99% of the books out there.

Starting with this Gold Award winner’s cover – one of Patagonia’s signature dramatic photos, featuring two climbers scaling a rocky, ice-covered cliff – the cataloger creates an experience for readers. Photography is the book’s true strength, said one of the judges: “While the photos often don’t overtly show the product, the suggestion of how the product will perform in extreme environments speaks volumes.” Product credibility is constantly reinforced, while the reader is captured by the catalog’s sense of adventure. In fact, commented another panelist, “the credibility is so strong that customers know they’re buying something that will perform well.”

Copy is another strong point. Limited and clean in style, the copy is educational and reinforces the notion that Patagonia knows what it’s doing. Technical copy is well written and descriptive. “Patagonia reaches its target market [of upper-income serious outdoor enthusiasts] well, but it’s also inclusive enough to welcome the more casual or aspiring outdoorsperson,” a judge said.

Although Patagonia products are renowned for performance in outdoor pursuits, the merchandise is also modern and fashion-forward. And the catalog makes certain that readers understand every aspect of the products, from materials and construction to breathability, warmth level, and water resistance. “A reader has no trouble navigating the catalog to find the best product for the purpose, and becomes a believer in Patagonia along the way,” praised a judge.

In keeping with its outdoors theme, Patagonia takes its commitment to the environment seriously. For starters, the catalog is printed on recycled paper. Also, most of Patagonia’s fleece is created from post-consumer recycled polyester made from discarded plastic bottles. In addition, the company devotes several key spreads to editorial on environmental issues. And did we mention that Patagonia pledges 1% of sales to “the preservation and restoration of the natural environment”?

Indeed, “nobody does the “credibility thing” much better than Patagonia, one judge said. “The copy, the extreme photos, and the merchandise all weave a story that is rock-solid believable.”