the department of Flannelytics

“The cure for Plumbers Butt! We introduced the Longtail T® Shirt in 2002”

from the Duluth Trading Co. catalog <and website>Duluth_Timeline_Feb2013_03


Well. It’s the time of the year when I get to talk about one of my favorite topics – Flannelytics.

Actually. This is about catalogs and advertising.

First. The catalogs.

Duluth Trading Co., Sierra Trading Post, Territory Ahead, Bas Bleu, Femail Creations, Wireless and, the granddaddy catalog of them all, J. Peterman.

Once you have ordered from one of these you will end up seeing all of them at some point in your mail (that’s good customer development strategy – I’m sure somewhere in Byron Sharp’s “How Brands Grow” there is some smart thinking associated with this).

Most are well written if not fabulously written.

And by that I mean they don’t just contain products with basic description and prices, but instead someone takes some time to think about how to descriptively, in an entertaining way, describe each product.

Sometimes some of these are called “maga-logues” <part magazine, part catalogue>.

J. Peterman is the best at this <although Territory Ahead is a close second>.

Each catalog is a keeper.

Now. They do something like that because they don’t advertise. Their catalogs are their advertising. By the way, I wish even businesses that actually did advertising & catalogues thought about their catalogues that way.

So. That leads me to advertising.

Here is a little known secret outside the advertising world.

Because theses catalogs are so frickin’ good  … every advertising agency in the world is constantly sniffing around these companies trying to convince them to do some advertising.


Well. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with actually thinking that advertising would be a good business decision. Instead it is simply because agencies immediately think “whoa … if they are creative enough to do THAT <in a catalog> think about how cool it would be to do some advertising for them.”

I could quite comfortably suggest that these catalogue companies could hire someone just to keep agencies at arm’s length.

And then, every once in a while, it does make good business sense <an agency will never tell them … the company figures it out by themselves> for a catalogue company to step out and do some advertising.

Which leads me to Duluth Trading Co. and The Department of Flannelytics.

Not only do they have a great catalogue <with great products>, but more importantly they ‘get’ what it means to have a great brand character.


On their website they couch their brand character in terms like “entertaining” or “with a sense of humor”, but don’t let them kid you someone figured out their brand character and said “well … we maintain this character in our catalogue … let’s do it in some advertising.”


This character thing.

Here is how they describe their beginnings:

duluth firstcatBack in 1989, there were these two brothers in Duluth – wild and woolly, hippie tradesmen kinda guys, working in the construction business. Every day, they saw guys dragging a jumble of tools from job to job using discarded five-gallon drywall compound buckets. A few of the guys strung wire around the bucket to hold tools, or even used bungee cords. The two brothers thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” So they invented the Bucket Boss® – a ruggedly durable canvas tool organizer that fit on a drywall bucket.

One thing led to another, and pretty soon they came out with a little catalog called Portable Products. Under the heading “Job Tough, Job Smart,” it offered 8 pages of products dedicated to improving and expanding on existing methods of tool storage, organization and transport. To save money, everything in the catalog was illustrated by a friend of the two brothers, a free spirit named Rick.

It’s conversational.

It’s not elitist.

Its, well, hard working, sipping a beer, speaking with a northern-twang-discussing-the-cheese-crop type Minnesotan feel.

And it’s awesome.

And then while they probably didn’t want to do exactly the same type of illustrations in advertising someone decided that they would like to do an advertising campaign using illustrations.

Well. I bet some agency had a cow over that direction.

“that will limit our creativity!!” … duluth mens-flex-fire-hose-work-pants-bush-1013-DEPT

“what happens if we have a better idea and not use an illustration!!!”

<please note the exclamation points to show utter dismay on the part of the ad agencies>

I would bet the company was probably quite nice about it and said something like “show us what you think is the right thing to do.”

<all the while knowing that they wanted illustrations>

What happened? <speculating here>

Let’s assume there were several advertising agencies pitching ideas.

One ignored the illustrations <mainly because no one came up with an idea using an illustration> and another agency said “well … let’s use illustrations … but use them to bring their brand character to life so they aren’t flat and lifeless.”

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … guess who won.

Guess who came up with an outstanding advertising campaign.

This television is funny, charming, educational <and it’s product specific> and matches what Duluth Trading Co. is all about.

This is good stuff.

This is something I wish I had thought of and wished I had actually done.

Duluth Trading Co. TV advertising

Oh. Next. These guys at Duluth really have their shit together.

They have come up with the Department of Flannelytics.


duluth Evolution_MarchFlannelytics.


And they not only created a department they actually put them to work. They determined the top ten flannel markets in the United States and came up with some fairly random factoids <made up> about each selected city’s flannel personality (Colle+McVoy work).

Once again.


At Duluth Trading Company, we make hard-working flannel shirts and jacs for the country’s hardest workers.  So, we gathered a team of world renowned Flannelysts to determine, once and for all, the most ferociously flannel locales* in the good ol’ U-S-of-A. These are those places.

*Our Department of Flannelytics referenced Google search data to pinpoint the top flannel-seeking metros, and then dug deep to find the most interesting nuggets since the gold rush.


I skewer companies and advertising agencies all the time for doing stupid stuff. But. On occasion someone really gets it right.

Like REALLY right.

Duluth Trading Co. is one.

They deserve kudos for not only eliminating plumber butt <with their long tail shirts>, but recognizing that good product is good — but good product with good brand character is gooder.

In the end. Flannelytics. Awesome.

Written by Bruce