Packaging the Brand: Avon Calling

D.H. McConnell, a traveling book salesman, founded the now iconic Avon brand out of his California Perfume Company in 1886. He realized that “his female customers were far more interested in the free perfume samples he offered than his books.” (Even then books took whacks to the spine.) His company was predicated on recruiting female sales representatives because they had a natural ability to market to other women. In so doing he provided many women, who through no fault of their own were not employable owing to social standards, with ways to earn money. It was revolutionary.

Avon provided its sales force, which was known by the family ding-dong and the tagline “Avon calling,” with alluring printed matter. The examples here are from a beautifully illustrated 1932 product catalog that came inside a customized leather briefcase. Armed with McConnell’s personal guarantee “Every article illustrated in this book is unconditionally guaranteed. If for any reason whatsoever a product is not found satisfactory, it will be cheerfully exchanged or the full purchase price will be immediately refunded. . .” When was the last time you heard that promise . . . and the word cheerfully?

Avon also promised to save the consumer money because enormous quantities were produced, which secured the best prices on everything from status cosmetics to everyday detergents. And warehouse/shipping offices in strategic locales around the country and Canada insured quick and low-cost delivery.

Avon is a case study of brand efficiency, quality and loyalty. In the days before commerce was a click away and customer support was thousands of miles away, McConnell’s concept and his designers’ talents bolstered the Avon Lady’s power to sell products and earn money. It is a lesson worth savoring.

(Yesterday’s Nightly Daily Heller on Baseline’s new design cookbook.)

4 thoughts on “Packaging the Brand: Avon Calling

  1. Kate Heathcote

    I sell Avon and must say the only ads I see are to recruit. However the recent innovation of the product A-F33 is selling like hotcakes in the UK and US, we have only just got a small amount of it here in Australia, but what I did get hold of sold in a matter of hours. Whilst Avon is synonymous with make up, they have some brilliant jewellery, children’s products, hair products, fantastic nail colours and a top end moisturiser range to rival the well known brands.
    Avon representatives achieve different levels of status and in doing so receive a porcelain figurine of Mrs Alba and broach pin, as well as different levels of commission and prizes. The Bronze Mrs Alba is given once a year to the representative who has increased sales through various techniques. She doesn’t necessarily have had to made the most monitory sales.

  2. Russell Mills

    McConnell was a phenomenal business man who clearly understood the power in presentation. Along with the products produced being of superior quality (Trailing Arbutus and Narcissus being my person fragrance favorites), the packaging and the labeling…even the choice of fonts…all blended together into a beautiful item that often remained as a family heirloom. It is truly amazing to see the amount of California Perfume Company and early-Avon products that have survived to date. For more information on the company’s history, products, and people, please visit

  3. Patricia L. Ballard

    The older Avon bottles are very collectable now. I haven’t seen an Avon add on TV lately, but some of the more recent campaigns seemed to be targeted at getting women to sell Avon as much as buy Avon.