The darndest things turn up in the letterbox sometimes. Such as this 16-page catalogue of equipment and consumables for catering businesses. They are industrial supplies, which is surprising given that, in all my culinary activities, I rarely have need for a twin deck pizza oven or a sous vide bath (unstirred – whatever that means).
That’s not to say the catalogue is without interest, even for someone whose basic requirements extend no further than a saucepan and a can opener.
For instance, I never knew that knives and chopping boards could be colour-coded according to what they are used to chop. How do chefs manage to remember such details in the hurly-burly of kitchen prep? In fact it’s quite easy and logical: red for meat, white for dairy, blue for seafood (the sea, see?), yellow for poultry (what a yolk), green for veggies and brown for cooked meat (well-done presumably). Neat eh, although I’m not sure where tofu fits into this scheme.
Then there’s the chafing dish fuel. I had no idea what a chafing dish might be, apart from perhaps being something that might involve constant rubbing. And why would it need fuel to do that? But it turns out that chafing dishes have a long and venerable history. Who knew? From such nuggets of knowledge are crossword clues born (and solved).
I’m still not enthusiastic though about publications being named after what they are – in this case Bulletin – rather than what they are about. It just seems like laziness to me, a lack of seriousness and effort to come up with a suitably descriptive moniker. All it takes is half an hour’s brainstorming down the pub. How about The Cater-logue? Kitchen Chronicle? Hospitality Herald? Anything would be more memorable than just Bulletin surely?
WIN! FREE! FREE! FREE!
This is a monthly B2B marketing publication delivered to businesses via Australia Post. Full colour, glossy with lots of smiling people and big bold type, the company behind these catalogues, the aptly-named Business Catalogues, claims to print and distribute 250,000 copies nationally each month.
It’s not so much the paper objects here that are of interest – although the catalogues themselves are perfectly fine examples of the form – but rather what they are selling that catches the eye. This is print personalisation run riot.
There’s been a lot written in recent years about the confluence of digital technology and print, and how this offers the potential for new markets based on one-to-one communication. In some respects, none of this is new; a bill is a one-to-one communication, albeit not a very personal one.
The main change though has been the development of faster, higher quality and full colour digital presses capable of printing every single copy differently. Instead of the old print model whereby, typically, hundreds or thousands – maybe millions – of copies would be printed and everybody got the same thing whether they wanted it or not, the new model (the paradigm if you wish) is predicated on the idea that everybody only gets print that is tailored specifically to their tastes and preferences.
I’ve written about it before in relation to the Coles flyer, for instance.
Typically, personalisation is discussed in terms of marketing collateral and corporate communications, developing printed material that is more targeted that a simple ‘Dear [insert name]’. The idea is that the more personalised the communication is, the more successful it will be in actually conveying its message and triggering the appropriate response.
That’s not what this personalised print is all about. In fact, in the eyes of many commercial printers, I doubt if it would even be regarded as print (most of it is not on paper at all). But it is, and it’s amazing.
The Identity Direct premise seems to be that there is virtually no object in the world that cannot be improved by the simple addition of a person’s name. Some of these items are fairly standard, such as engraved pendants and key rings, but beyond that the personalisation spreads much further – into the kitchen (personalised chopping boards), the dining room (personalised place mats), the bathroom (personalised toiletry bags), down the hallway (personalised doormats) and into the backyard (personalised barbecue tools).
Then, of course, there are the myriad combinations of labels and stickers suitable for plastering over everything from top (hats) to bottom (shoes). The typical school challenge to ‘Please ensure everything is labelled’ is here met with gusto.
I imagine that living in an Identity Direct household must feel like a constant affirmation of one’s existence, a narcissist’s dreamworld. Christmas, in particular, is a very special time of year (for you, you, you and you) with its own personalised Christmas tree skirt, Santa cushions and tree baubles.
Interestingly, perhaps the only items that a conventional printer might recognise as ‘proper print’ are the personalised story books. Here, the personalisation takes the form of a typical data merge whereby standard information such as name, birthday and address is inserted into the text at the appropriate point. There’s even a photo book option using the image of a face.
This is print very much of its time: not the mass communication tool of old which derived its strength from the fact that it enabled lots of people to read the same thing at the same time, but rather print for the i-society, a culture based on the primacy of the individual in which personal identity is everything. It’s not enough just to read a book now; you actually have to be in it.
Another super-shiny catalogue arrived in the mailbox, this time from the local bottle shop. The UV varnish on the cover is so smooth I can see my face in it.
Why am I writing about this catalogue? That is the question. It is the question I was asking myself recently while speculating idly about the degree to which my interest in such ephemera is intellectual rather than emotional – what do I care about the catalogue? Nothing, of course. By it’s very nature, ephemera is transient and fleeting, no more substantial than the bow wave from a passing ship or a puff of smoke from a dying fire.
Pushing on, I can remark on the strange wondrousness of somebody wanting to produce this item and stick it in my letterbox, what this says about the nature of print in the early 21st century – reviled in many quarters as an environmental turd, ignored by perhaps far more, regarded by just about everybody as old, old, old. And yet, and yet… here is this thing. Nothing like this has been done before, or rather it has… but never so easily nor so abundantly and given away for free.
Look at the number of design elements on each page. Quite apart from the serried ranks of reds, whites and rosés, there are corners of concentrated design that combine a dozen different elements or more – text, reversed out text, reversed out raggedy text that picks up the background colour, curved text, text down to, say, four or five points and still readable, very subtle vignettes and shading, photos with borders, deep-etched with drop shadows, all printed in full colour on coated stock, folded and stapled.
Last week, the Americans landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. Fantastic, mind-boggling achievement, almost unbelievable, way out at the far extremes of what humans can do ie put something on another planet. Given the tiny amount of matter that has ever managed to break free of our blue orb, it shows remarkable skill and dexterity to do it so carefully and precisely.
I’m not foolish enough to compare Curiosity with a piece of junk mail. Actually I am. One may be wholly admirable and the other more often despised but both are almost beyond my comprehension. I can barely grasp the hours of endeavour, the mind-stretching use of technology, the creativity of purpose that went into producing both items – neither of which would have been possible just a few years ago.
So this is where we are at. From Mars to my mailbox, the mechanics of production and delivery are a baffling mystery. And yet I know what is possible. The gulf between what is possible and what is knowable seems to widen ever more.
But maybe that’s just me. Always a sucker for a bit of techno-rapture.