My first "real" job out of school was writing catalog copy. At the time, the model for great copy was the J Peterman catalog (later made famous by Seinfeld). The Peterman catalog (called an owner's manual) was almost as much fun to read as a novel. And while I never wrote anything as entertaining as did Mr. Peterman and his copywriter, Don Staley, I did learn a few things.
Copy this engaging is all too rare.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up the most recent REI catalog. Browsing through I noticed the writer didn't settle for product specs, part numbers, and sizes—the three components of most catalog copy. Instead, he (or she) tells stories that focus on the product benefits. (It's probably been like this for a while, but it took me a while to notice.)
Sometimes it's just a simple story in a headline, like this one for the Kelty Yellowstone Tent: Have lots of money left over for marshmallows. Or this one for a pair of zip-away pants: Pants or shorts? Eh, decide later. Okay, they're not high literature. It's not even J Peterman. But they are simple stories that share a great product benefit. And it made browsing the catalog not just more entertaining, but more engaging. I've added several items to my "stuff to get" list.
Compare REI's catalog description for a pair of biking shorts to similar shorts (different brand) featured in the Performance Bicycle catalog that came the same week.
New! Don't let the casual look fool you—these are serious shorts
On the surface, they're rugged, stretchy nylon/Lycra spandex shorts with a laid-back look. But look inside, a wicking mesh liner and gel chamois add serious comfort. Import.
Zoic Ether Short
Ripstop nylon shell and removable Assault liner with Zo-wick Chamois. Side adjustable elastic waist with Velcro tabs, two zippered hand and two cargo pockets. 11" inseam.
Big difference. Which would you rather read? Or buy?
It's too bad more writers don't understand the power of stories to create meaningful and memorable brand interactions. Want great headlines? Start with a story. Also goes well with body copy.