Catalogues aren’t ads

Here’s how to write catalogue copy. It’s pretty easy, to be honest, but more and more often, I see catalogue copy written as if it were in a press ad. (And get asked to write it like that, too).

This is very wrong.

If you’ve got as far as looking in a catalogue for a certain product, you’re already a good way along the path to forking out for it. What you’re looking for is information about the product or service that will convince you that you’ve come to the right place, and to reassure you that the product you’ve found meets your needs — whether it’s a table, a skirt, a case of wine or a Lego set.

So when you’re met with some glib, lame copy that the writer obviously thought was ‘creative’ or ‘clever’, instead of easy-to-assimilate facts about the product, it’s just intensely annoying. And it actually gets in the way of the sale.

Imagine if you’re looking for a new coat on the High Street. You’ve decided that, oh I don’t know, Next is the place you feel might have the very one you’re seeking. You go into the shop. You find a sales person.

You ask him to show you where the raincoats are. He tells you a joke before you’ve finished speaking. And laughs at his own brilliance.

You ask him whether they’ve got it in a large. He tells you another joke. Equally as unfunny and irrelevant as the first one. You realise the conversation is all about him showing off. Not about you proceeding to the till, a happy customer.

You ask him how much it is. He responds by quoting the company’s new TV ad, word for word. You  kill him with a swift chop to the jugular.

See what I’m saying?

I suspect this new trend for writing catalogue like this might be a horribly inevitable spinoff from the obsession with Tone of Voice as discussed in my previous blog. Dimwitted marketing folk think that all their communications must speak to you as if you were a fifteen year old LA punk, so that their brand is cool and edgy and all the other yawn-worthy adjectives that they hurl about.

Clarity is lost in a fog of bogus TOV-driven ‘creativity’. (As my friend and fellow practitioner Bill Fryer says, if it doesn’t sell it isn’t creative.)

Again, it’s all part of their fundamental misunderstanding about what a brand is. Let me repeat. A brand is something that is created in the minds of customers who have experienced your product and formed an opinion about it. It is NOT something that you create through copy, design, advertising and all the other communications tools at your disposal. These things create an initial demand. But they don’t create a brand.

The same malaise is creeping into direct response advertising, too. A lot of this is to do with the gradual erosion of the distinction between what is ‘above the line’ (traditional media-based advertising) and what is ‘below the line’ — sales promotion, direct marketing, in-store and so on.

Most agencies now declare themselves to be ‘integrated’ and offer the whole lot in one lovely expensive package. (WIth a silly Brand TOV document thrown in for free, naturally.) Unfortunately this means that we’re losing the craft specialists.

So advertising people think they know all about direct marketing, and create and write it as if it were the same thing. So it’s usually very bad direct marketing.

And below the line people think they can do advertising. And it’s usually very bad advertising.

And, of course, the poor client who traditionally could quite rightly assume the specialist agency knew what it was doing, is left to make a judgment that he is possibly unqualified to make.


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