Adventures in Cataloging: The Vital Importance of Good Copy
“Could I ask your age?” I asked.
“22,” she said.
“This catalog’s audience is mostly age 60 and older, and the copy guidelines specify a lot of nostalgia, of looking back to the good old days. Your copy doesn’t have any of that.”
“I don’t really care for that style. It’s boring. Copy should reflect the honest feelings of the copywriter.”
“You’re 22!,” I exclaimed. “Your audience is age 60 and older. Your feelings and theirs probably aren’t going to match. Wouldn’t it be better if you tried to adopt a somewhat older copy voice?”
“I’d really rather not.”
If you counted all of the exceptional catalog photographers, designers, art directors and copywriters in the world, there would be fewer copywriters in the group than anyone else. I say this based on more than 20 years of hiring catalog copywriters and writing a good deal of copy myself. Copywriting isn’t generally considered to be a glamorous occupation, but I become much more excited when I run across an outstanding catalog copywriter than any other practitioner.
Among other things, a good catalog copywriter needs to have these six qualities:
1. The ability to analyze a product and figure out the key benefit for the customer. Note: This is a rare skill.
2. The ability to write copy that will make that key benefit instantly clear to the reader. The importance of clarity cannot be overstated here.
3. The ability and willingness to adopt different voices for different catalogs. Many copywriters have one voice, and that’s it. That’s not good enough for creating most catalogs.
4. The ability to write without simply resorting to puns and wordplay. While they may work for recreational publications, puns and wordplay simply waste time and space in your catalog.
5. The ability to rewrite. Many copywriters have “first-thought-best-thought” syndrome—if their first efforts are rejected, they can’t think of anything else. Wholesale changes in point of view or product benefits often are needed.