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"Hey, Jack! Punch 'save' and try these on." (imaginatively produced mail order catalogs) (Look of the Book) (Column)

The people who put out catalogs these days are using a more relaxed approach. In its hodgepodge of a catalog, Archie McPhee, a Seattle firm calling itself "Outfitters of Popular Culture," announces that the rubber chicken is back. In a copy block selling the item, the company says "You may only buy one rubber chicken in your life . . . why not the best?" (Alden Wood would prefer "You may buy only one . . . ," but let that go.) The J. Peterman Company, Lexington, Ky., which sells clothing and accessories, puts out a series of informal 5-1/4 x 10-1/2 inch catalogs called "Owner's Manuals," which are written in first person, apparently by the owner himself. ". . . people actually stopped me in the street (in New York, in Tokyo, in London) to ask me where I got the coat I was wearing.

"So many people tried to buy my coat off my back that I've started a small company to make them available . . ."

Even Garry Trudeau, who has for so long fought off the commercialization of his comic-strip characters, is involved now in catalog sales: "The Great Doonesbury Sellout of Sausalito, California." The catalog wants you to know, though, that all of the creator's royalties and a portion of the company's royalties go to selected social movements and organizations.

From Trudeau's own copy for a watch featuring the face of the character Duke: "Sooner or later, someone will design a watch that measures quality time, that elusive commodity that children, charmingly, often confuse with quantity time. Until then . . ."

Lands' End (why not Land's End?) consistently issues imaginative catalogs, often with a magazine format up front. The friendliness there extends to the literature accompanying the merchandise. From a folder on returns: "If you've lost your packing slip (tsk, tsk), just give us your name and address, along with the date of your order."

The September 1992 catalog adopted an interesting idea for models: using the people who put out the catalogs or work for the firm. Presumably, the price is right; and the models look like real people. They are fully identified in captions. On the cover we have art director Jack Sidebotham (left) who models a pinpoint oxford shirt, watercolor flower tie, cotton braces, wool slacks, and cap-toe bucks; and writer Cathy English, who models a flannel sportcoat, pinpoint oxford shirt, tartan skirt, and penny loafers. She's saying, "Hey, Jack, dressing up can be fun!" He's saying, "humphh?"

On an inside page (also shown), photographer Chris Elinchev is shown being pushed on stage to model other clothing items, while art director Chris Miles and young Elizabeth Miles model still others. There are several pages of these displays, giving even a "maintenance guy" and an "inventory support specialist" their day in the spotlight.

With the mail order business so competitive, we can look forward to further editorial and design exploration into ways to catch our attention and sell us merchandise.

Roy Paul Nelson, professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, is the author of a number of books on design, art, media and writing, including "Publication Design" (Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa).
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Nelson, Roy Paul
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Words:519
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