Monday, November 16, 2009


Matt Keating--"A Roundabout Way To Get Wise" (mp3)
Bob Dylan--"Return To Me" (mp3)

Twenty years ago, at this school, we had a senior faculty member who would give a chapel talk before Christmas using a Neiman Marcus catalog. He took great pleasure in pointing out the extravagant gifts that were available at the highest end, things like one-of-a-kind wooden motorboats or restored automobiles or trips around the world. He would go on and on, raising the level of outrageousness and then end with a predictable yet powerful message about the true meaning of Christmas.

What was in that catalog was overpriced and ridiculous.

Now, it is the mail itself, regardless of what it is, that sparks the outrage in me. The idea that in 2009, with a supposedly-increased awareness of the environment and an emphasis on conserving resources, retailers are blanketing neighborhoods with mass mailings in hopes of scrounging up a sale or two (million?) just doesn't seem right.

The one that really pissed me off was the David Yurman catalog. Heavy, expensively-produced on fine stock paper, with very few actual products in it, the catalog seemed to say little more than "We're rich as shit, and if you want to know what it's like to be rich as shit, just look through this catalog." Maybe, oh maybe, a guy like me will look at it and conclude that I need to keep my woman up in the Yurman to which she hasn't become accustomed? Nope. Sorry. Your catalog just strikes me as foolishly wasteful.

Now, I know it isn't shocking that corporations might be socially irresponsible, but isn't it also possible that they are wasting their money? And doesn't it get worse as the holidays approach? All of a sudden, every joker with a company has come out with a catalog; the more "branded" the product, the more likely there's something coming our way in the mail.

The way we live at this house with the weekdays kind of out of control between schools and jobs, the mail for the week tends to pile up on the dining room table. And when there's time to sort through some of it on a Friday night, I'm sorry to report to the great corporate retailers of America that their magazines usually go into a pile that, if our act is together, which it usually isn't, ends up at the recycling center by Sunday afternoon. But even if the catalogs don't go that Sunday, they do eventually get there.
Even the French waifs in the Anthropologie catalog, those full-lipped pouty souls who seem to give me guidance on what I should buy my wife, those equisitely-photographed befreckled, natural, un-made-up beauties, those French country maidens who make me want to spend a year in Provence, have begun to seem extraneous.

I know that some of you are going to tell me that I could do something to have these catalogs stopped. Yeah, some of them maybe, and I think I've done that. But every time you purchase something knew, it seems you become instantly eligible to receive yet another, different catalog that you haven't ever received before.

I was touting the pleasure of a Bose purchase on these pages a few weeks ago. Since then, I have received no fewer than seven mailings for them, as if they didn't realize that when I buy something from them I buy it on time so I can afford it, and I'm not going to spring for their latest, slightly-different products. Look for me in about 12 months.

Maybe I should feel sorry for our retailers, who, if they aren't searching for new ways to snag us, are clearly behind the times. I like to spend as much money as the next person, but they'd have a hard time reeling me in with a catalog in the mail, an advertisement in a newspaper, a commercial on tv, or even an ad on an Internet website. And they will defintely not get to me with a pop-up ad that I wasn't expecting. An email, maybe. And as for my family, if merchandisers want to get them, they've got to get them into the store. That's where my girls do their impulse shopping, when they go out to the mall to "look around."

I don't know about you, but I don't get a whole lot of "real" mail anymore, so the chance that I'm going to be excited by something sent to me randomly, or even something that has been carefully targeted to me because of demographic studies or because my purchasing history and tendencies have been sold from one company to another, isn't likely to make a whole lot of difference. At least, I don't think so.

Maybe I'm just deluding myself, and the mail coming into my box is influencing me and my family a lot more than I'm willing to admit. After all, if they hadn't bought Yurman at some point, we wouldn't be getting the Yurman catalog. But they didn't buy it because of the catalog and they don't even open the catalog when it comes. Do your best, retailers, but quit stuffing my mailbox and quit killing the trees!


Goofytakemyhand said...

Agreed. Though I do miss the days of BMG's "12 for 1 CD" mailers.

15 years ago, I licked the back of catalog stamps to receive the latest Boz Scaggs and Tracy Chapman albums for just shipping costs...

The whippersnappers these days don't believe me.

Then they ask who the fuck Boz Scaggs and Tracy Chapman are.

Aryl W said...

One of the over arching problems - if I remember correctly from my accounting & business classes, direct mailings can be deducted as a business expense by the company sending them out. Based on this & the # of sales they get, it makes sense for them to blanket the world. Until that changes, remove yourself from as many mailing lists as you can.

Billy said...

Much like your Nigerian email scams, if these catalogs didn't result in orders, I doubt they'd survive. Most of these companies track marketing effectiveness quite meticulously.

But yeah, I hate 'em. However, I can also proudly claim to have never once in the last 20 years ordered anything via catalog, so I hate 'em because they're utterly useless to me.

Unfortunately, my wife uses them. And for every one you use, you're guaranteed to receive 40.

I speak of the pompitous of love. (I don't know what "pompitous" means, but it sounds about right for this situation.)

Tockstar said...

I order out of catalogues. And it's so much easier than just going out and killing the trees myself!! Sometimes, when I'm having a bad day, I just look at the wholesome people in the L.L. Bean catalogue. They inspire me to put on a snazzy sweater and get on with living!!

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