With Christmas rapidly approaching, I feel it's a timely opportunity to reflect on how gift-giving took place for much of America's history; which translates well to the modern fanfare we see today.
For most of the population for a huge stretch of American history, people lived much further from urban trade centers to make regular use of them.. Transportation was limited to walking, horseback (and carriage) and to a much lesser extent, railroads.
This meant "going to town" was an occasional, arduous trip that often took all day and which culminated in buying a LOT of bare essentials and taking it back to the homestead. So how did people acquire gifts during the holidays? Catalogs.
There's something romantic even now about the notion of parcels arriving by post just in time for the holidays. It evokes a modern, capitalistic take on Santa himself to envision the horse-drawn network of gift delivery. New shoes, rifles, knives, pots & pans, the whole cavalcade of things people needed to comfortably survive the upcoming year were ordered out of catalog.
And catalog marketing drew heavy use of the hard-wiring of the human mind. Immaculately realistic illustrations of the 18th and 19th centuries gave way to photographs of the 20th century, coupled with short blurbs about the quality of the product whose legacy we see in modern website product galleries.
People want to see something much more than hear about it. Better yet, they want to feel it, study it, experience it.
What's old is new again, and online shopping has brought back a renaissance of Catalog Marketing in both digital and print mediums. For starters, people are still using catalogs in record numbers, and online shopping has been reverse-engineering the catalog format to cater to that mentality.
New innovations allow 3-D views of products, and for the customization of certain features. I was blown away by Indian (the motorcycle manufacturer) making use of this witht their website. Any feature you want can be translated to an interactive model of the bike you're interested in.
The old sears catalog may seem stuffy and unrelated to Amazon's 12 Days of Deals, but if you look closely, the lineage is as direct and measurable as any real family tree, and making use of this firmly entrenched method is a tremendous asset, whether you're using digital, print, or a healthy mixture of the two.