Famous Catalogs and What Made Them a Success

Before the age of online shopping, there was only one other way to browse your favorite store’s inventory from the comfort of your home: their mail-order catalog. Both a nuisance and a novelty, mail-order catalogs have been a part of American shopping culture since the 1940’s. Clever marketers of old understood the power of getting previews of the season’s items directly into the hands of consumers, and several of them have done better than others, launching their catalogs into cultural history.

What qualities make a catalog valuable, as opposed to being just another piece of junk mail? Want to know how to write a catalog that stands above the rest? To find out, we looked at some of the famous catalogs to find out.

Famous Catalogs: Montgomery Ward Catalog

In 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward printed and mailed his first one-page catalog to customers who did not have ready access to stores. His famous catalogs of goods for his company, Montgomery Ward’s, eliminated the need for his customers to leave their rural area farms for goods. Ward’s hand-drawn original prints sold everything from coffee tables and hardware to dresses and shoes. By 1883, Montgomery Ward’s Wish Book was part of the booming Chicago mail-order industry, but his will be best known as the first successful mail-order enterprise because he was the first to recognize and sate the unfilled needs of the rural community.

Famous Catalogs: Skymall Catalog

If you’ve ever flown on a plane from the US, you have probably seen — even browsed through — the infamous Skymall Catalog, your source for the “Coolest Stuff on Earth.” Skymall is a master class on how to write a catalog. Since its founding in 1990, the Skymall Catalog can be seen on most commercial flights departing America. Skymall Catalog’s fame comes from the fact that they enjoy a captive audience, passengers on long flights. The catalog is as much a form of entertainment as it is a sales tool, what with their sales of “Cat Lady Handheld Mirrors” and dog raincoats. However, Skymall doesn’t make most of its revenue from sales; it makes most of its business revenue from selling catalog space to the unique product suppliers. It is a successful bridge between emerging product suppliers and a captive audience.

Famous Catalogs: Neiman Marcus’ Fantasy Christmas Catalog

Where else will you be able to purchase a bejeweled Peacock statue for $5800? Perhaps one of the most famous catalogs still in existence is the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Christmas Catalog, which features over 50 pages of luxury items. It began in 1915 to encourage shoppers to begin their holiday shopping in the Dallas-based high-end department store. It wasn’t until 1959 that the unusual and more ludicrously expensive gifts began to appear in the Christmas catalog. The 2013 book even featured a 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante for a little less than $400,000. The catalog is also famous for their outrageous “His and Her” gifts; 2013’s Christmas catalog included an “Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment System” for $1.5 million dollars.

What makes them successful is their regular schedule and ability to inspire awe in the readers with their catalog writing. Its novelty has earned it its place in American Christmas culture.

What Makes a Famous Catalog Successful?

The best catalogs are dynamic statements that reflect the world around them and contribute to the existing culture. Catalogs can be publications that offer entertainment value while simultaneously filling a commercial need.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out this article with 70 creative catalog designs.

Contact Dazzle Printing today to print a catalog that enchants your audience.

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