Yays and Nays of the Fortnight

Not having worked in retail for a couple of decades, I forgot exactly how frenzied the lead-up to Christmas can be. And though my primary client is an online merchant rather than a bricks-and-mortar store, and I write copy rather than wait on customers, “frenzied” did indeed describe the weeks after Thanksgiving for me, workwise.

But now that we’ve reached the calm after the storm, I’ve been able to sort through my backlog of catalogs for some belated yays and nays.

* The headline of every single copy block for every single product in Hammacher-Schlemmer’s Last Minute [sic] Gift 2011 catalog begins with “the”: “The Best Inflatable Bed,” “The Marshmallow Shooter,” “The iPad Leather Satchel.” The result is a cumulative, subtle but effective reinforcement of the primacy of Hammacher’s products. Hammacher doesn’t sell any old Turkish shower wraps; it sells The Turkish Shower Wrap; ditto The Indoor Barking Dog Deterrent, The Waterproof Gloves and Socks, The Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandal…
The brilliance of this stylistic decision is undermined, though, by another choice. None of the compound adjectives, starting with “last-minute” on the cover, are hyphenated in the display copy. This results in headlines such as “The Space Saving 36 Pair Shoe Rack,” “The Irregular Heart Beat Detecting Blood Pressure Monitor,” “The Hands Free Over Ear Book Light.” Combine that with the use of all caps, and you’ve got some product headlines that you really have to stop for a second to process. Perhaps that’s the point: In the absence of hero photos or lifestyle spreads (every page in the catalog is designed around the same basic grid), maybe the lack of hyphens is meant to act as speed bumps to keep readers from whipping through the pages too quickly.  

Then again, it could just end up frustrating readers well before they hit the halfway mark, leading them to chuck the catalog aside and reach for, say, the latest Brookstone catalog instead.

* The Holiday 2011 catalog from CardsDirect is one of the best website traffic drivers I’ve seen in a long time. To play up what is clearly the company's strong suit, customization, the opening spread points out the myriad personalization options available: inside image, front and inside message, signature, logo, even paper stock.

The following spread is nearly as good. “This is our phone number: 866.700.5030. It’s toll free. We thought we’d start with that, so you’d know we’re not just a website. We’re a company that makes sending custom cards simple. We offer over 4,000 products, but don’t let that sound overwhelming. The reality is we have the quality you want, the prices you need, amazing designs, and customer service that makes it easy.” If you don’t think that’s brilliant, I’d love to learn why.

(What’s not so brilliant, in my opinion, is the relatively small, widely leaded font, which floats among a huge amount of white space. I think bumping up the type a bit would have encouraged more people to actually read this killer graf without diminishing the visual impact. And countdown to a wonderfully scathing comment from Josh Pincus Is Crying in five, four, three…)

* I love that commercial in which a woman and her fiancĂ© opt to spend money on rock-climbing gear rather than a diamond ring. The music’s great, the script is clever, and the images are gorgeous. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times on TV and, just yesterday, in a movie theater. But damn if I can ever remember what it’s for. (I Googled it using “commercial woman climbing rock.”) And no matter how artistically/aesthetically brilliant it is, if it doesn’t make people think fondly on your brand or take the action you want them to take, it fails as a marketing effort. I like being reminded of this from time to time, as it’s very easy to let a desire to be clever detract from the task at hand.

The image at the top is the front cover of the holiday Dean & Deluca catalog. With the lack of cover lines, the gourmet food retailer is assuming that recipients already know what it sells, and one could argue that the lack of a call to action fails to spur readers to open up. But the image is so engaging that this may be a time where rules were meant to be broken. In any case, I like it, and since this is my blog, at the top it goes!  

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