Packaging the Brand: Avon Calling

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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.)