Comms expert and media specialist Will Guyatt's weighed in on the demise of the Argos catalogue. The news has sparked an outcry from a loving public that had forgotten it existed, which he claims, is a huge PR win for the retailer.
I always hoped The Drum would come calling – but if you told me my first feature would be about the demise of the Argos catalogue, I’d have suggested you were on glue, but needs must.
I never set out to become a media voice on the end of the Argos catalogue on this unassuming Thursday. Following a throwaway early morning tweet, and a hit with my usual radio home, LBC, I found myself lamenting the end of an era and throwing back to a different age on other TV and radio outlets. Then I appeared on the UK’s largest radio programme – The Jeremy Vine Show, the place every PR worth their salt wants to place a positive story.
Now the story has gone absolutely everywhere.
The communications expert in me (available for hire) knows the press team at Argos has played an absolute blinder. It’s one of those rare news stories that generate emotion nostalgia and a healthy dash of surprise – and a rich vein of content for literally every news outlet worth its salt. Generally speaking – all features have gone something like this today; sadness it’s ending, warm memories and anecdotes, and genuine shock it actually still existed.
According to the curiously neat numbers contained in today’s media assault – Argos has printed approximately 1bn copies of its catalogue over the last 47 years, and while annual numbers have declined steeply over the last decade, it’s definitely had a negative impact on our planet. There’s definite environmental benefit in saying goodbye.
If the Argos catalogue really was Europe’s most widely printed publication behind the Holy Bible (at least until Ikea went global), you could span the world at least five and a half times with all the copies of the so-called 'Book of Dreams' (I’ll only use it once) printed. Many, many trees have been felled to bring you that catalogue.
And while we’ve all got a bit misty-eyed about a bygone age featuring Bullworker chest expanders, scientific calculators, toastie makers and VHS recorders – it’s given Argo’s recent(ish) owners Sainsbury’s the chance to place the retailer back in the centre of our public conscious – not just for the nostalgia either. It has made a damn good fist of transitioning to become a competitive, innovative online retailer – one of the few that’s genuinely managed to evolve and thrive against the ever-powerful Amazon.
If I flashback to the world of 80s shopping – I remember my parents choosing a new colour TV from a smoking salesman and being told it would take at least 28-days for delivery. It ended up taking around three months – today, dad reckons everything was slower in the 80s, apart from him. Today – a print catalogue updated twice a year feels totally alien – and you start wondering how the hell it lasted this long.
I don’t mind admitting I’m a monster fanboy for Argos 2020 – it’s one of the retailers outside of Amazon I use the most. Not only are the physical store locations now in the corner of local supermarkets – but its country-wide footprint means I’m able to get large amounts of the product line delivered the same day – even in the middle of nowhere. Same day delivery might be the norm for city types, but here in my corner of Wiltshire, Amazon doesn’t offer any kind of comparable service. And there’s a single takeaway on JustEat (shout out to Purton Pizza and Grill). It costs just £3.95 extra to get Gerry the driver to drop it off at my place – great for lazy sods like me, but a godsend for my elderly (don’t tell them) parents – who don’t need to be trundling out to the shops during a pandemic.
The news of the demise of the catalogue left me wondering whether my two-year old daughter is going to have a similar cultural reference when she gets to my age? I find browsing online doesn’t even come close to browsing a catalogue or wandering around a store – after all, I could lose hours in Blockbuster or Virgin Megastore browsing for tapes to watch on my Argos-bought VHS recorder. But I guess that last sentence just proves my point – some things belong in the past.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too emotional, it looks like Lola’s going to be able to harangue her grandparents with the Argos gift guide, still in print for the next few years to come.