Catalog Doctor: Strike the Right Beauty/Clarity Balance
PATIENT: Why aren’t catalogs prettier than they are? Isn’t a beautiful design the best thing for my catalog?
CATALOG DOCTOR: It’s true that many catalogs aren’t as pretty as they could be. Most important, of course, is what lifts sales. Will beauty improve sales for you? Let’s try to answer that, then look at how to achieve beauty.
Look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous “Mona Lisa,” acknowledged as beautiful art the world over. Whether from the colors, the proportions or the mysterious smile, it has the underlying elements that make people want to look at it and hang it on their walls.
Could a catalog image be so beautiful that people would want to hang it on their walls? Look at the candle holder on pg. 41 of this article. It’ll probably never hang at the Louvre in Paris alongside the Mona Lisa, but it has beauty and, in fact, hangs on our office wall.
If you were to take that same image with some copy on it, most people would say the copy detracts from the beauty. But you can’t buy the “max beauty” candle holder without copy telling you how and why to buy it.
So now look at the same image on the right. It has two copy blocks: a big “30% OFF” circle and a corner violator that designers would complain “ruins the graphic integrity.” You’d be hard-pressed to find this image framed on anyone’s wall, so it loses points for artistic merit. But who cares? It gains points for salesmanship.
There’s a dynamic tension between selling and beauty, and striking the right balance in your catalog.
Pretty in Its Place
A gift cataloger conducted a creative test between “beauty” and “clarity.” Guess what: clarity won.
Both the beauty and clarity catalogs were very good-looking, but the beautiful one focused on drawing attention to the pretty photos and creating ambience and emotional connection — all of which are important. Headlines and captions became secondary, though, and were easily missed by scanning readers. The connection between copy and its image was slow to materialize and not always clear.