Catalog Doctor: Good Readability Makes a Healthy Catalog
PATIENT: Doc, in my last visit [in January's All About ROI] you gave me two sure-fire prescriptions for healthy catalog marketing during this economic epidemic. Can you prescribe another sure thing I could count on to deliver results with low or no risk?
CATALOG DOCTOR: Your last prescriptions were to make design fast and easy to view, and add testimonials. Although there are no guaranteed "sure things," here's another low-risk script to keep your catalog healthy: Have good readability.
While it's a myth that "no one reads copy anymore," it's true that almost no one will ever read all, or even most, of your catalog's copy. The only person who will ever read every word of your catalog front to back is probably your proofreader.
So your readability goal isn't to get customers to read every word, but to have most of your marketing messages jump into their brains — almost unconsciously — when they skim each page. This means taking all the work out of reading that you can.
Rules for Body Copy
Body copy is the smallest copy with the most words, so it starts out harder to read than page heads, product heads or subheads. For easiest reading, know its limitations. Follow these eight rules:
- DON'T use gray type. Stick with black; high contrast enhances readability.
- DON'T use colored type. It's OK for other text, but never product body copy because the low contrast reduces readability.
- DON'T use colored type on a screen tint. It can be very hard to focus on, and may go out of registration on older presses.
- DON'T use reversed type. Especially don't reverse type out of a medium- or light-colored screen tint. This reduces contrast way too much.
- DON'T use italics. It's OK for other text, but never italicize product body copy unless you want to de-emphasize a message — such as "some assembly required" or "batteries not included."
- DON'T use overprinting on a color unless that color is very, very light.
- DON'T use overprinting on a pattern of any kind.
- NEVER combine "don'ts." For example, never use italic reversed out of a background color.
Serif or Sans-Serif?
Serif is still best for print body copy.
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.