What makes a great catalog cover?

The Art of Commerce: American Mail-Order and Trade Catalogs, 1874-1956 is a recent exhibition of 145 mail-order catalogs dating back from the year 1874 through 1956. Unfortunately, the exhibition ended last week at the Enterprise Center of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.

I wasn't able to make it to Louisianna due to Rosh Hashanah festivities, but had a chance to view some of the featured catalogs on display and it got me to thinking...what makes a great catalog cover?


I talked to one of my esteemed colleagues who has seen over 3,000 to 5,000 catalog covers in his lifetime here at Catalogs.com, and asked him to share some knowledge on what indeed makes an exceptional catalog cover. Here are his do's and don'ts, catalog merchants and designers, take heed:

1. Highlight what you're selling.

Advertising 101. If you sell clothes, show pretty people wearing the clothes. If you sell shoes, show a nice pair of gams or feet wearing the shoes. Don't put an aardvark on the cover and expect people to know that you sell ashtrays.

2. Make sure it's a good looking product.

This is rather obvious. If you have an ugly product, don't feature it on the cover. You'll never get the consumer to open it up to page 2. Unless you hire Cindy Crawford to hold it.

3. Don't cram too much information on the cover.

People have short attention spans, and if you make a cover that's too busy, you'll lose them. Stick to simple designs, yet striking designs that won't give customers a headache.

4. Stick to color catalog covers, no black and white.

Of course there's an exception to every rule. If you're selling old fashioned merchandise from the 1920's let's say, a black and white motif may be thematically correct and add an air of nostalgia. If your merchandise is contemporary, it just looks like you're being cheap.

5. Don't put anything on your cover that's unidentifiable.

It took me a week to figure out that a flesh colored item on the cover of a catalog was really a piece of fruit. Save the abstract stuff for art school, if you want to sell your stuff, make sure people can tell what it is.

Hope these tips help, and we look forward to seeing some hot catalog covers in the near future!

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