The J. Peterman Catalog Makes Me Cringe

Did you know that The J. Peterman Company catalog still exists? Yes, it does! I signed up for the catalog not too long ago, because I am a copywriter, who loves catalogs, and The J. Peterman Company Owner’s Manual has long been held as an astonishing example of catalog copy, mostly because they spend an extravagant number of words on each product description. Extravagant for a medium and retail arena that focuses on shoving in as much information as possible.

JPeterman_01
The J. Peterman Company Owner’s Manual No. 146 Early Spring 2017

When I received Owner’s Manual No. 146, Early Spring 2017, I had time to sit down and read a few of the product descriptions.

My jaw dropped.

JPeterman_02

Honestly, what the hell is this? This: “If you are thin, this dress will positively make you look more thin, chic, feminine. …If you are not thin but more of the voluptuous persuasion… Decadent gifts of choux à la crème from the finest Parisian Patisseries….An over-abundance of social engagements.”

Let me translate that for you. If you’re thin, you’ll be even prettier. And, hey, even thinner, which is chic and feminine. If you’re fat (sorry, J., even your fancy wordsmithing isn’t clever enough here), people will shove Twinkies and Hohos in your direction, because they’ll think you’re too thin. Oh, and you’ll finally get asked out.

Surely this is just a fluke, right? I took a look at some of the other descriptions for the women’s clothing.

jpeterman_03.jpg

Nope. Not a fluke. Just across the spread a pleated collar blouse promises to have people ask, “Dear God, who is that charming little darling…?” Because, “little” is what any woman should be and strive to be, right?

No, no, no, say it isn’t so! The J. Peterman Company surely is doing better, right?

Then, there’s this dress that “hide[s] what you want to hide and accentuate[s] what you want to accentuate.”

JPeterman_04

“And of course there are the colors—slimming and eye-popping.”

Really, they should have started and ended the copy here: “The thing is, a simple yet alluring dress like this makes people feel good when they see it.”

Take that in.

Let’s just sit with that a moment.

Because, it’s all about WHO is looking at a woman, right, J.? Never about the actual woman. Never. Go figure.

But, across the spread, I found one amazing, inspiring description. I’m not being sarcastic either.

JPeterman_05

In its entirety:

The merger hasn’t been announced but everyone’s in panic mode.

Brantley said you’d be okay but nothing’s concrete. The good thing is you’ve got a niche. They need you. Don’t they? Wait, do they expect you to move to Berlin? You’re asking the wrong questions.

How about, do you need this headache?

Do you even like Berlin?

What’s the weather like on the Spanish waters this time of year?

These questions are more befitting of someone ready to turn the page.

Tomorrow you’ll tell them how it’s going to be.

Hell yes! This is the woman I imagine wearing J. Peterman clothes and, really, any brand. The woman who doesn’t depend on anyone. Who isn’t told what to do. The woman who forges her own path. The woman who’s ready to turn the page.

C’mon, J. Peterman! How about some more copy like that last one? A little less focus on women’s bodies. No more feeding into the vicious cycle of body image. You’re better than that. Or, maybe you’re not. Doing a quick Internet search, I found that you’ve written eyebrow-raising copy before. Check out this piece on Jezebel about a “rapey” description. Good thing I’m ready to turn the page.

The 2016 IKEA Catalog

It’s here! It’s here! Okay, it was here. I received my IKEA catalog in the mail a couple of weeks ago–and now it’s probably at the bottom of the pile that is my kitchen table, because the recycling bin is only 2 feet away, yet so, so far.

I love a good catalog. As demonstrated here and here and here. So, why don’t we look through the IKEA one together. It’ll be fun!

IMG_4651

“Consumers vs. People.” Meh. This is marketing speak. Maybe customers and consumers prefer to be called “people,” but let’s face it, we know they’re people.

IMG_4652

Oh my goodness. I cannot take this. Really? This is your opener? Let’s look up “expectation.” Hmmm… Okay, now let’s take a look at “anticipation.” Ah. So I think their first two examples of “expectations,” the party and vacation, are really examples of anticipation: sweet, sweet excitement. The home expectations are truly expectations: a feeling about how successful or good something is going to be. (Hey, aren’t we all expected to have a spotless, well-organized home and cook dinner every night? And we seem to fall short of those expectations…or maybe it’s just me.) The pre-feelings about the party and vacation could be expectations, too, and end up the same way: your friend forgot the dip and it rained the entire week you were at the beach. But what they’re referring to is that happy excitement anticipating a fun event. It’s like IKEA was stretching their idea a little too hard and far.

Then I thought, well, they are a Swedish company, right? Maybe something got lost in translation. Alas, they hire American copywriters:

IMG_4669

This, by the way has to be the most meta thing I’ve ever seen: Copy about a copywriter. Or, the new word these days: content about a copywriter, wait, metacontent?

This year, it seems like they stepped up their content game. There’s an article every few pages.

IMG_4667IMG_4663

Along with the usual catalog-style copy that hit on some good insights.

IMG_4654IMG_4655

(My whole dining room table needs to be one big tray.)

IMG_4666

This one made me sad, though. Awww, aren’t we supposed to be encouraging outdoor play?

There are little things I noticed, too. Like this:

IMG_4656

Is that a legit man bun or just a fluffy pony tail? I haven’t been able to sleep because I keep trying to figure this out.

IMG_4653

Standing desks are so hot right now. So on-trend.

IMG_4668

Sharp thinking, yes. Okay. Sliced carrot shadow! Wait! What are my eyes seeing?!?

Finally, my absolutely favorite thing about the IKEA catalog: leaf peeping. (I have a secret passion for houseplants.)

IMG_4665
In order to envision myself here, I have to ignore the fact that my feet would fall asleep and my tailbone would start to ache after 15 minutes. But, that tall, draping plant? Count me in!
IMG_4662
Do you make lemonade here? With all these plants? I don’t care. I want to do it.
IMG_4671
It’d be like showering in the jungle. Or, at least a greenhouse. I’ll take it.
IMG_4674
I love this, but I just have visions of cats and small children knocking everything over.
IMG_4672
Monstera plants are so hot right now. So on-trend.
IMG_4670
I spotted the cacti first and then I noticed the blurry leaf in the foreground. Very sneaky, IKEA, playing with my eye like that.

There you have it. Now I have to unearth the catalog and put it in the recycle bin.

Catalogs Doing Great

We all know my love for catalogs, right? Well, as the holiday season descends upon us, catalogs are getting thicker and more abundant. So, I figured I’d share some gems I’ve seen stuffed in my mailbox. They’re my beloved Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer:

Holiday Season 2012 Catalogs

I’d say they’re adding a little je ne sais quoi, but I can tell you exactly what they’re doing that’s caught my attention. First up, Eddie Bauer:

Eddie Bauer Athlete
Eddie Bauer Athletes

The first couple of spreads feature the athletes/guides/whoever they sponsor along with a family member or two all sporting their down. It warms the heart to see the faces of the metaphorical Eddie Bauer family. It’s this personal touch that will have me settling in with a catalog instead of just doing a quick flip and toss.

Next up, Lands’ End:

Lands’ End Book of Yarns

Love, love, love the play on words!

First Yarn

“Irish Fisherfolk?” Seriously? I’d PAY any client/employer of mine if I could use that!

The Next Yarn

“…docile alpacas, grazing on the plateau…” Sigh, take me away! Who does Lands’ End think they are? J. Peterman? Well, maybe they’re not quite there, but I did appreciate the writing in this catalog.

Keep up the good work, Eddie & Lands’!

Sans Models

So, I must have hit the catalog jackpot, because every so often, out of the blue, I’ll get some random catalog I know I did not request. I love catalogs and I do request my fair share, but not the one I just received. Because it appears a lot of people are fascinated by catalog models, especially those quirky Boden models, I was intrigued when I got this catalog, NorthStyle, and saw that they do NOT use models.

NorthStyle Catalog

Well, they do have pants models, but their torsos (and heads) are cut off. Pourquoi? Maybe their business model (pun intended) doesn’t include the cost of models or models with good-looking torsos.

NorthStyle Pants Model

Of course, as demonstrated here, they do have the cost of a wind machine or a whole lot of starch built into their budget. How did they get this skirt to flare like that?

Breezy Dress

I’m okay with not using models. J. Peterman uses only illustrations and that’s a well-thought out catalog, but I just think NorthStyle is giving the geographic North a bad rep with selections like this:

Bandana Pants

I mean really? Do I want to feel like I’m 12 years old whose mom (who couldn’t pick out 2 crayons that don’t clash if her life depended on it let alone the fact that she believes the junior sections of JC Penney and Kohl’s are just too scandalous) laid out this outfit for me, saying that the bandana pants are just soooo cute? Moooooom! I’m not 3! I want cool clothes!

Put some models in those clothes! Please!

Catalogs Doing It Right

There are some catalogs that I get excited about when they arrive. Sure, I’m a fan of the clothing, but I’m more in love with the copy. I’ll pore over these flimsy booklets and carefully examine every page, sometimes going through them twice. There’s no explanation for my obsession with companies whose heritage is rooted in the mail-order business (specifically ones selling outdoorsy clothing), but when companies send me tantalizing words, I can’t resist.

Let’s take a look!

First up, a relatively recent discovery: Boden

Boden Catalog

Take a look inside:

Wait for it…

Model’s Answer

Heck yes! Either Boden asks their models a ton of questions or they make things up about them. Either way, it’s interesting, portrays the models as real women and gets me to look at every single page of the catalog.

Next up: title nine

title nine catalog

Here it is:

title nine model profile

title nine will print a short profile on some of their models. As if this company didn’t make you want to high five a sister anyway, they have to go show that these women are just like me!

Alright, here’s another: Duluth Trading Co.

Duluth Trading Co.

And again:

Duluth Model

A little tidbit about the model makes perusing the catalog a joy.

Now, Eddie Bauer does it a little differently.

Eddie Bauer Catalog

Closer:

Eddie Bauer Spread

Here it is:

Eddie Bauer Product Description

Ah-ha! A sweater named after the Stine Bauer! (By the way, this is a revamped version of the Stine Cardigan that was out a year or so ago.) By naming clothes after people, we get to feel like we’re that person when we wear it. This is a bit more aspirational than introducing the models to the readers, but it has a similar effect.

The personal copy in these catalogs doesn’t necessarily translate to the web very well. There’s too much to click on when you’re sitting at the computer. (Duluth Trading Co. has some pretty hilarious videos, though.) Because of this interesting copy, it’s still worth requesting a physical catalog every once and awhile.

What I like about this approach is that unlike some clothing companies that make you think “I wish I was her” with their highly stylized models and photographs with a certain mystique, these companies make you think, “I am her!” Or, maybe you still think “I wish I was her,” but these women lead a more realistic, attainable lifestlye.