Mastering the Secrets of Magalog Success,
Part 1 of 3: Formats

Many graphic designers working in direct mail are asked to create artwork and layouts for magalogs. Any designer new to this field needs to know how magalogs differ from other types of direct mail … and how they are similar. So today, and in the next two issues of Inside Freelance Design, I'll be bringing you key points to understanding this very effective (and profitable for you) direct-mail format.

Magalogs are a cross between a magazine and a catalog. Like magazines, magalogs often have a table of contents and stories spread over several pages. To draw the prospect's attention, magalogs use photos, infographics (see Issue #15), sidebars, and other design elements.

Magalogs are really informative sales brochures written to a specific audience. They are designed for maximum readability … and, in the end, a HUGE SALE!
So let's begin our look at magalogs by taking a tour of some of their distinguishing features.

Magalogs can vary tremendously in size – but, because they work well, there are three sizes that have been used most often over the years:

  1. Regular/standard size – 8 inches wide x 11 inches high
  2. Tabloid size – 10 inches wide x 13 inches high
  3. Slim Jim format – 6 inches wide x 10 inches high

Usually, magalogs have between 16 and 32 pages. Full color is often used to successfully "imitate" the magazine style. Some magalogs have a full-color glossy cover and then switch to a more cost-effective 2-color interior. Some magalogs use 2 colors throughout for more of a newsletter-style look.

The size and color of the magalog depends on a number of factors, including your market, the timing of the mailing, and the type of prospect you're trying to reach. Maybe your client experimented with various formats in the past and came to the conclusion that 4-color tabloids have worked best for him. Or maybe the client's budget limits the printing to 2 colors.

My experience in direct mail has shown me that design – especially with magalogs – follows trends or current fashions. There was a time when full-color tabloids on glossy stock with huge headlines were the "thing" to mail. They were a huge success, since nobody had ever seen such a mailer before. But then they were everywhere, and people got tired of seeing them.

So a new format was born. Magalogs that looked like real magazines became the rage. They caught the prospect's attention because they looked and felt new. Some even had a small pricetag on the cover to make them appear even more realistic. At one point, the Slim Jim was in every mailbox. That format fatigued, and today you rarely see it. Recently, 2-color designs with a simpler look are back in style. I have had several winners recently that were only 2 colors.

The decision about which format to use for a particular promotion ultimately lies with your client. But you can have a significant impact on that decision. One of the best ways to determine the format you think would be best for a promo is to look for one that you've been getting in your mailbox over and over … but that doesn't yet look stale and old hat because of overexposure.

I recently had a client who wanted me to design a Slim Jim. After researching the product and its prospects, I did not think that was the best format. I asked my client to see the results of past mailings, and, together, we made the decision to go with a 2-color, 8 inche x 11 inche magalog. It became a huge winner.

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Published: January 26, 2006

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