The Word That Is Worth A Thousand Pictures

These days we are awash with images. Also awash with advertising flyers and discount coupons. We see them but we do not note them – the brightly coloured sheets are transferred from soggy post box to soggy garbage can without even stopping to enclose fish or coffee grounds. If  I were a catalog shooter for a big firm like Coles or Woolies I would probably be quite depressed to see the disdain in which my work held. Mind, you, the pay cheque for what is essentially an industrial service would be rather nice.

The writers for these flyers may also consider the fact that their best work goes in the bin with the rest of the paper. You might not think that ” Best cabbage, two for one sale. ” is great literature, but even at a few pennies a line, it still adds up. You can write the Great Australian Novel on the weekends, but the time spent advertising roast beef is what actually puts roast beef on your own table.

The catalog writer is freed from having to present closely reasoned arguments or deathless prose. Bright, blithe description is what is needed. The writers do no research on boxes of tissues or packs of biscuits – all that they need is right there in front of them. And there are only so many things you can say about table napkins before people get restless.

The more technical goods like Hi Fi amplifiers and digital cameras need numbers as well as words – you need to be able to print a higher number than your rival in the spec sheet and a lower number on the price line. You need not be concerned about the number of units on offer – if the store runs out after two sales but there is a crowd of angry shoppers surging up and down the aisles, it is not your problem. Indeed a good retail riot is a useful way of suggesting to the management that fake-bait offers are a bad idea. After the place is trashed and the insurance company refuses to pay up, even the greediest of managers settle down.

Of course any self-respecting catalog writer will want to be the first to advertise a new product. If they are careful to use the words ” planned “, ” virtual “, and ” coming soon ” at the right time they can keep the buying public suspended from trading with the rivals for months. This gives the wholesalers and manufacturers breathing space to either actually produce the goods or devise an escape plan. The retailers will die under the waves of enraged customers who finally realise they will never see what was promised, but then with the economy the way it is, dead retailers are so common as to attract little attention.

And occasionally a writer will – perhaps unwittingly – achieve immortality with a catalog entry. People might not collect electronic communications…by people I mean people and not national spy agencies…but once the writing gets onto even the flimsiest newsprint, someone will carefully catalog the catalog and put it in an acid-free archive box so that it can disintegrate more slowly. 20, 50, or 100 years hence new readers can marvel at the enthusiasm and mendacity of the advertiser. With a bit of luck the typeface will be considered classic or quaint and the unconsidered catalog will become iconic.

Or it will be carefully used to wrap extremely old fish.



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