Selling clothing without using pictures: What the J. Peterman catalog can teach the performing arts about storytelling and marketing.

Selling clothing without using pictures: What the J. Peterman catalog can teach the performing arts about storytelling and marketing. - Melinda Massie Blog

Once upon a time as a professional organizer, I had a client who received the J. Peterman catalog.

Confession time: I didn't realize it was a real thing. I knew the name from Seinfeld, and thought it was a made-up company for the show.

I’m obviously surprised, and my client says, "Read it. You'll like it."

Friends - no joke - with each product description I was transported.


As well as truly impressedAF because there isn't a single real photo in the entire catalog - only illustrations.

They sell purely through storytelling.

J Peterman

It's a marketing marvel.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the catalog as I was, each illustration comes with a headline and story. They create these stories around each garment that put the reader into another place and time.

They put YOU into this place and make you feel as if this is the person you can become if you wear this item of clothing.  

Is it slightly ridiculous to think that an item of clothing will turn you into a different person?

Maybe...but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either.

Think about how you feel differently once you get into costume. For most performers, the costume is one of the final things that help us truly click into our character.

Like great storytelling, attending a great performance also transports us into a different place and time and makes us feel.

But to do all of these things, your audience has to show up.  

That’s where your marketing comes in.

Tell us a story. Put us in the space.

WHY do we need to come see this show? Where will I be transported to when I see it? How will I feel while I watch? What will be the things I talk about as I walk out?

If it’s a new piece, what can we expect? What inspired the person to create it? What do they want us to feel at the end of the piece?

If it’s a popular and beloved piece, tap into the nostalgia. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. But also don’t forget people who may be seeing it for the first time. Help create some magic for them.

WHY do I need to see these performers? Why were they cast to fill these roles? How will they make the audience feel while watching them?

How can you put the performance experience and transport that reader into the space where they NEED to come see the show?

The stories you can tell around a production can truly be endless when you look for the stories and backstories.

Plus remember, not everyone will know the show. Not everyone will know the performers and other people involved. Save them the time of having to do research.

Educate while you entertain and entice.

Plus, you never know when you'll teach something new to the long-time audience members. And won't they be delighted to learn something new and get a little surprise from you too?

A few years ago I was marketing a performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. In doing my research on the piece, I discovered and shared that Neil Armstrong took a record of the symphony into space with him. I surprised one of the professional musicians with that little fun fact! So never take for granted that the audience will know...they might not.


Pro tip: You can skip the straight “It’s gonna be great” pitches. You’re putting it together so we hope you think it’s good. (And if not don’t air that dirty laundry.) But for real now, how many "come see my show y'all it's gonna be great." ads and posts have you seen. If we all had a nickel for each one, we wouldn't have to work so hard for funding, now would we? It’s OK to say that it’s going to be a fabulous show...but tell us WHY it’s such a fabulous show. #sellthebenefits


At its heart - performance is storytelling.

Marketing is storytelling too.

So while yes, visuals are very important - especially in such a visual industry - the story is even more important.

Tell us the story of WHY we need to come see your show. Transport us to the place where we'll be when we see your show. What will we learn? What will we feel? What will we walk away with?

If J. Peterman can sell clothing without a single picture, you can sell your tickets too.

Plus, you’ve got the added bonus of using photos and video to literally show your audience how great it will be!

What stories do you share through your marketing? Tell us in the comments below!

Need help channeling that storytelling for the stage into your marketing? Contact me today and let’s work it out together!