Getting to know you, holiday catalog copywriter

With the advent of the Web and e-readers, the lure of the holiday catalog should diminish if not disappear. But you just cannot relax with a cup of hot cocoa and thumb through this year's toy catalog — or one of its grown-up versions, from Brookstone to L.L. Bean to PBS — online. You have to have the real thing in your hands, so you can flip back and forth between the pages in a senseless, inefficient, joyful way.

As a former advertising copywriter, I am one of those people who actually reads every word of the descriptive catalog copy. And for this purpose, I truly savor the Herrington catalog.

Herrington's catalog has a return address of Londonderry, N.H., which sounds remarkably upscale considering New Hampshire is mostly known for being the state that is not Maine or Massachusetts. And kudos to its catalog writer, who makes me want to trek out to my nonexistent woodpile if it means I warrant a pair of "Sorel's Squaw Valley Slippers, for cabin comfort and toasty toes." On the other end of the spectrum, Herrington also offers a "dry snorkel that puts air in your lungs, never water!" Yes, "Herrington Copywriter" truly understands me and the fact that when I'm in an Arctic climate, I like my feet warm, and when I'm in a tropical one, I like my lungs dry.

Of course, I can always tell when Herrington Copywriter is stretching. I've had to do it myself in my job at a major private Baltimore university that goes by a common American man's first name with the addition of an extra "s."

Yes, sometimes I have had to promote the benefits of a particular academic journal in copy, and for job security and festive holiday reasons, I will make one up that sounds entirely plausible: "The Journal of the History of Giblets and Associated Antediluvian Viands."

I might have to extol the virtues of this academic journal in a direct-marketing piece, with prose like: "For any scholar who has ever mused about the fascinating culture of giblet history, this journal elucidates the subject in a way that exacerbates healthful salivary excretion!" A couple of months after disseminating this vital information, I would run a report and find out that Giblet Journal is up 10 subscribers, just as Herrington Copywriter tracks the sales of the "Smallest Wallet in the World."

Still, I have to wonder about Herrington Copywriter's description of a few items, among them the "Festive Holiday Adirondack Candles." In the middle of the paragraph describing the aromas, it says: "My personal favorite? 'Cinnamon Beignet,' a rich buttery cinnamon scent with just a hint of apples that invokes memories of warm sticky buns straight from the oven on a chilly Saturday morning."

Suddenly, Herrington Copywriter has gotten intensely personal — and I want to know more. Why Saturday and not Sunday morning? Also, straight-from-the-oven cinnamon buns are not warm but palate-searing, as anyone who has tried to eat one can attest. So I think Herrington Copywriter missed the mark here.

Fortunately, Herrington Copywriter redeems him or herself in the entry for the "Back Arch." In this description, I learn that Herrington Copywriter's father used to slip a plywood board under the mattress to alleviate his back pain. What's more, Herrington Copywriter puts 30,000 miles per year on his or her car. Finally, Herrington Copywriter plays a lot of golf. And all of these factors help him or her wax poetic about the $89.95 Back Arch.

So, thank you, Herrington Copywriter, for throwing yourself into your job and making it enjoyable for me to dream this Thanksgiving … of a time when I might wear exquisitely soft cashmere socks while standing on a 3/4–inch-thick, shock-absorbing kitchen cushion, enabling me to prepare holiday meals without foot fatigue and backaches.

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