First published on 11th July 2011 on http://www.robinsons-uk.com
The Autumn/Winter 2011 Catalogue is just about to be printed and will be with you by the middle of August but as we’ve found recently, even without anyone seeing a single product, it’s already creating a following.
Over the 25 years that we’ve been publishing catalogues, we’ve always found the choice of the front cover to be quite tricky. Equestrianism is, as we all know, quite a broad church, with many riders seeing themselves as a devotee of their own particular discipline and many more equally proud not to be associated with any competitive activity. This peculiar stand-off has meant that we’ve always been very sensitive to the risks of giving the wrong message with our covers. Dressage, for example, is supposed to represent the ultimate in harmony between horse and rider but even the most stunning photography of a dressage pairing in mid-piaffe carries the risk of identifying Robinsons too closely with that particular discipline.
Of course, we have nothing against dressage riders (heaven forbid!) but neither have we anything against showjumpers, eventers, carriage drivers or those who prefer any other discipline and the last thing we’d want was for our catalogue to be dismissed by other riders (and bear in mind that we can’t be arrogant enough to presume every rider in the country knows who Robinsons are) as ‘for dressage riders’ or for any other specific group. I’ve blogged before about trying to identify the common themes that unite all riders and horse owners and concluded that there may be fewer than you’d think. The obvious one of course is the horse itself and it’s a fairly safe bet to assume that we’ll always have a horse present somewhere on our front cover… …probably. So the image has to appeal to everyone and offend no-one – if at all possible.
I’ve always felt that this is exactly the mission that the BBC face when they draw up the schedule for BBC1 on Christmas Day: upto 18 hours of films and programmes that everyone can watch without anything that anyone would consider to be inappropriate. That might sound simple but I’ve always suspected that it’s a much more difficult task than it looks. Of course a day full of Disney films either side of the Queen’s Christmas Message would meet that requirement but is there sufficient interest there to stop people turning over? Especially these days, with so many more channels… The consequence of attempting to steer clear of any sort of offence is usually to drive headlong straight into another pitfall – blandness.
Carrying on the Christmas telly analogy, that’s why we have the standing joke about Christmas always involving Morecambe & Wise and The Great Escape. There’s nothing wrong with either of these great stalwarts; they’re proven over many years to be very popular viewing. This popularity is also their weakness – we’ve all seen them before. They’re not particularly imaginative. They’re not exactly different, are they? I know that lots of people have had quite firm views over our cover images over the years and whether they’re complimentary or not, I’m always flattered that anyone feels strongly enough to tell us. It would be a far worse situation if we were to inspire nothing but apathy. Certainly, we’ve had plenty of internal discussions and debates over the image with which we’re happiest to associate our brand, twice a year. It’s sometimes an awkward process but always a necessary one which always seems to bubble along until the print deadline is too close for comfort.
I’ll admit that we’ve always tended to be a little conservative with our imagery and that in doing so, like the BBC at Christmas, we risk coming across as a little bland. In recent years, we’ve tried to mitigate the difficulties of choosing an appropriate cover by using silhouettes (a move which was inspired by looking at Next Directory covers at the time, I’m not ashamed to say). Instead of trying to take a ‘perfect photograph’ ourselves, they were easier images to come by and we had slightly more control over the composition of the picture this way. Crucially, from my point of view, it was also a unique style which I felt help to make us different (that word, again) from the other equestrian catalogues out there. Since then, we’ve opted to use the world of online stock photography – websites full of usually (but not always) impressive photographs of almost anything you can image.
In addition to our catalogue covers, the use of these images has helped us transform our instore experience. Once again though, things aren’t quite as straightforward as they seem. Being mostly American, any search for ‘horse’ on a stock photography website will inevitable return far more Western scenes than we’d ever use, virtually halving the number left for us to consider. Then there are a wide number of pictures of horses that are photographically impressive but that would immediately alienate you, the customer.
What do I mean by that? Well, images that carry with them a certain baggage that are easy to spot for you or me are, bless them, perfectly acceptable to many photographers, however good they are. As a consequence, pictures that include subjects like horses with their ears back, hatless riders or riderless horses alone in a field, wearing a bridle are all ruled out of the equation. This year, when we held our usual internal straw poll of the eight or so images to choose between, something happened that I can’t recall happening before: we had an almost unanimous verdict. What made it all the more remarkable was that the clear winner was the most radical, least bland choice available. It’s a black-and-white image and the last time we featured one of those on the front cover of anything, it was the early 1980’s and we couldn’t afford to print in colour.
So, in case you haven’t seen it yet, here it is in all its glory (see below). We’ve also posted it on our Facebook and Twitter pages and once again it was met with what can only be described as universal acclaim. Maybe we’ve been lucky this time but I’d like to think we proved that it is possible to appeal to the widest possible number of people without descending into blandness. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter what I think. What you think is much more important!