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How This $75 Million Fashion Catalog Wrote Some Of World’s Most Unique Product Descriptions

Written by Danavir Sarria

At its peak, The J. Peterman Company brought in $75 million dollars in sales.

In fact, the catalog was so popular and successful in the 90’s that it was even parodied in the most popular television series at the time, Seinfeld.

Unfortunately, due to some bad decisions having to do with trying to expand too quickly, the company went bankrupt in 1999. However, the company is now back up and raking in sales like it’s nobody’s business at north of $20 million a year in revenue.

What’s so special about this catalog is not in the amazing revenue numbers though, but its product descriptions.

In a world where most product descriptions are just copied and pasted from the manufacturer, the descriptions on every product from The J. Peterman catalog are some of the best in the world.

It’s rare to see such amazing copy for retail products.

And that’s why I’m going to teach you exactly how to write J Peterman’s unique and profitable product descriptions for your own ecommerce business regardless of what it is you sell.

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What Makes J. Peterman Product Descriptions Different

Like I said earlier, a big problem that ecommerce businesses have is that they just copy and paste the product descriptions given to them from the manufacturer.

What you ended up getting is a bunch of boring product characteristics that mean absolutely nothing to the customer.

Like, who cares if your bottle is 3 inches in diameter? No one.

That’s not copywriting. Your customer doesn’t want to know facts. They want to “feel” what it would be like to own your product.

And that’s what makes J. Peterman product descriptions different.

While they will talk about the actual product characteristics, that’s not the highlight of the product description itself.

What they do instead is focus on the story.

Just take 5 minutes to scour the J. Peterman site and you’ll quickly see how every product takes on a personality of its own.

It’s not about inches or fabric type anymore. It’s about values, beliefs, experiences, dreams, aspirations, and more.

Best of all, this type of copy is not only unique, but it creates an experience for customer.

This leads to a point of differentiation, a stronger brand, a raving fan base of customers, and more sales than you can possibly fathom.

Now here are 7 different types of J. Peteraman product description types that you can model after as soon as tonight if you wanted too.

Product Description #1: The “Who Wears This” Story

“Where sailors and fisherman have worn snug short-sleeved shirts like this one for centuries”

“I saw a man wearing this shirt using a shucking knife; he was faster”

“They were built like great sagging old bulls; in this shirt, they looked formidable”

In this story, there is no mention of product characteristics until after the story is told. Instead, they focus on who would normally be wearing this type of shirt.

In this case, sailors and fishermen would wear it. They didn’t stop there though. They also got into how these men were stronger, faster, and more capable than the average man.

It wasn’t just any man who would wear this shirt. Only a man who lived at sea and had the body, skills, and experience to show for it. It’s the father of all T-Shirts for crying out loud.

And most importantly, if you are or wished to be one of these men, then you would also wear a shirt like this one.

Questions To Help You Write A “Who Wears This” Story:

  • Who or what type of people would use your product?
  • What makes those people different? (Physically, emotionally, psychologically)
  • Where did those people come from?
  • What did those people look like?
  • How did those people talk?
  • What did those people do for a living or hobby?

Product Description #2: The “Old Problem, Perfect Solution” Story

This is an interesting type of product description because it takes the old “problem/solution” angle to a whole new level.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it positions the necessity of having a briefcase by mentioning how it’s been a need for a millennia.

There’s nothing new about needing to carry around things. But that doesn’t make them any less important. In fact, “we obsess over what to carry in them”.

And then the story goes into the exact expectations one should have when picking a briefcase. Naturally, this briefcase solves all of those problems.

Finally, they get into the product characteristics including where it was produced, who made it, what specific features it has, and more.

Questions To Help You Write A “Old Problem/Perfect Solution” Story:

  • What’s the main problem your product solves?
  • How did that problem manifest itself in years prior? (The further out in history, the better)
  • What are the specific expectations that a product like yours should be able to meet or even exceed?
  • Where was your product produced?
  • What specific features are most attractive to your customer?

Product Description #3: The “World’s Most Interesting Person” Story

In this example, the woman is traveling around the world and doing exciting things. This includes everything from hot air ballooning to camping out in the mountains of El Salvador.

The thing is though, the purpose of the story wasn’t really to say that people who wear this product do X.

Instead, it’s about what this product represents. In this case, it would be the idea of “interesting”.

Just think about the World’s Most Interesting Man ads from Dos Equis. If he drinks Dos Equis, it says something about the brand.

And that’s the way you want to think about this product description.

Questions To Help You Write A “World’s Most Interesting Person” Story:

  • If you could summarize the “dream” world of your prospect to one word, like interesting, what would it be?
  • What would that person be doing in their wildest dreams as related to your keyword?
  • How could you bring that person back to reality, but with the feeling still lingering?
  • How did you find that product so you could offer it to your customer?

Product Description #4: The “Discovery” Story

This one is especially useful if you actually have a real discovery story, but even if you don’t, you can still make it work.

In this story, there are multiple things going on. If you notice, he’s very specific and goes into exact detail of how he found the product.

Just look at some of the descriptions he uses: Paris antique shop, silver-handled brushes, encased in wood, faint aroma, and custom-made for a rich traveler a century ago.

It feels like you’re actually there along side him looking at the bottle inside the antique shop in Paris.

He then goes on to talk about the “discovery” of what the product was made up of as well.

And finally, it ends in a benefit rich paragraph with “Women like the way it smells on a man”.

Questions To Help You Write A “Discovery” Story:

  • In what city or country did you find the product?
  • Where exactly in that area did you find it?
  • What was around the product before you found it?
  • How did the product look like?
  • What where some of the qualities of that product?
  • What’s the main benefit of buying that product?

Product Description #5: The “Only For People Like Us” Story

What if you specifically said that only a certain type of person could use your product?

And to take it even a step further, those who didn’t fit under that type would then be looked at as that type from the perspective of others?

It would instantly connect with someone who has those beliefs about themselves.

This description is short but filled with powerful statements.

This hat is for leaders, period. But if you happen to be a follower and wear it, you’ll become a leader anyway. That’s the power this hat gives you.

Questions To Help You Write A “Only For People Like Us” Story:

  • What type of people is your product for?
  • For who is not for?
  • How will other people react when they see it on you?
  • What is the product made of and where do those ingredients/materials come from?

Product Description #6: The “Core Trigger” Story

Almost all products have triggers that get people to buy them.

And so this type product description focuses on that trigger and how the world reacts to them as they use the product.

It’s also benefit rich. For example, if you’re thin, it’ll make you look even more thinner. If you’re more voluptuous, it’ll drive everyone around crazy for you.

The women who buy this want to feel beautiful, they want to be looked at sexually, and they want to attract attention.

Questions To Help You Write A “Core Trigger” Story:

  • What are the triggers that would get your prospect to buy?
  • Using that trigger, how does the world now look like?
  • How would people react to your customer while they use the product?

Product Description #7: The “Comparison” Story

Of all the examples I’ve shown so far, this one is the shortest one by far.

In this one, they make the comparison between what the product is made of to a completely different, but relatable product made out of the same stuff.

In this case, they compare the wallet to the dark pocket of leather in the middle of a baseball glove.

Making this type of comparison allows you to better imagine how that product feels like because you make that connection to another product you do know how it feels.

Questions To Help You Write A “Comparison” Story:

  • What is your product made of?
  • What other product is made up of the same material, but is also well known to your target market so they can make the connection between the two?

Conclusion

If I were to build my own ecommerce site right now, I would model most of the product descriptions from The J. Peterman Company. It’s quite possible the most flexible way to come up with unique product descriptions for any type of physical product.

And now with these 7 examples, you can do the same for your ecommerce site so you can differentiate your business and generate more sales almost overnight.

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