Catalogers Discuss Ideas that Worked, Didn’t Work

BOSTON–In one of the more popular workshops of the catalog conference here June 2, a standing-room audience packed into a room to hear catalog executives candidly discuss which ideas have worked and which haven’t.

The workshop concept, tested for the first time at this conference, featured representatives from L.L. Bean, Ethel M. Chocolates, Barnes & Noble Direct and Levenger’s, a catalog of reading and writing tools.

Tom Sidar, vice president of creative at L.L. Bean, described how different creative approaches produced different results for the same product. A successful presentation of a sleeping bag called the Burrito Bag explained that the bag got its name because campers could keep themselves warm by sleeping under the left flap, the right flap or by wrapping themselves in both flaps like a burrito. In a later, less successful spread, 12 campers were pictured in nine different sleeping bags.

“It’s kind of like we took the burrito concept and opened up a whole restaurant and confused the customer,” he said.

Steve Leveen, president of Levenger’s, noted that what has worked well for his company is copy that speaks to a customer honestly and comfortably. In one catalog, successful copy helped sells chairs through the mail by explaining that while customers couldn’t sit on the chairs, they could try them out in their homes rather than in a store in the middle of a long day of shopping. It further reminded customers that if they didn’t like the chair, returning it was as easy as picking up the phone. The company has been unsuccessful when it has strayed too far from the reading, writing and home-office products that are its staple. Failures included jewelry, a sweater with a book pattern and Levenger’s brand coffee.

“Our merchandiser has a new rule. Nothing in the body, nothing on the body,” Leveen said.

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