The Humor of Shipping Supplies?

Every month this catalog hits my desk and immediately goes into the recycle bin.


This month, something different happened and this catalog has been on my desk all week.


Uline is doing something right.  Marketers agree that catalogs are still effective means of driving business (Geller, 2012).  In 2013 there were 11.9 billion catalogs mailed in the United States and customers use them to make purchases online and in stores (Berliner, 2014; Geller, 2012).  The key is getting consumers to keep catalogs, if they hit the recycle bin they won’t drive business.

Uline’s latest catalog was an unexpected, timely and humorous departure from their typical cover art.  Humor helps differentiate a product or brand from the competition and creates an emotional connection with the consumer (Dubois, 2010).  This catalog was delivered the same week that Netflix’s third season of Orange is the New Black was released, creating a timely play on words with the “Corrugate is the new black” title. They also struck the right balance by not including too much product detail and leaving something to the imagination (Dubois, 2010).  Ultimately, Uline’s cover stands out in a pile of mail.

When something stands out people want to talk about it, creating additional brand awareness and the ability to reach new audiences.

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It will be interesting to see what Uline comes up with next!


Berliner, U. (2014, December 11). Here’s why retailers keep sending you catalogs. NPR. Retrieved from

Dubois, L. (2010, December 31). How to use humor in advertising. Inc. Retrieved from

Geller, L. (2012, October 16). Why are printed catalogs still around? Forbes. Retrieved from

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12 Responses to The Humor of Shipping Supplies?

  1. Dawn says:


    Great example of how humor can help ideas and brands “stick,” instead of ending up in the recycling bin! I have never heard of Uline until your post and, I have to say, I am quite impressed with their creativity with the catalog cover. If a brand can market their product in a relevant, hip and interesting way, then their brand will become memorable. Uline was able to stray away from the “norm” and venture into a pop culture reference. This appealed to offices across the country, especially to workers who watch Netflix. I’m sure Uline’s sales went up after publishing this daring cover simply because Uline helped build a curiosity about their catalog.

  2. Christin says:

    Hi Valerie,

    This was a great post! It caught my attention as I was scrolling through, so I can believe it when you say this catalog is still sitting on your desk. Having worked in an office environment multiple times, it was common to receive catalogs and coupons from office supply companies. I would either pass them on to the owner, or recycle them before they could make it across his desk. If I had received this catalog in the mail, not only would I have kept it, looked through it and had a made a point to show my boss and have a conversation about it, but I would have likely taken a photo, shared it with friends, and on social media. What a great way to spread their message and keep their catalogs on the desk of consumers, especially when they are used to congregating in the recycle bin!


  3. Steven says:

    Humor has long been a tool of effective marketing and advertising. Delivering a well timed, surprising and/or humorous punch line often influences consumers to have a happy feeling associated with the targeted product. One thing that marketers must achieve, however, is both effective humor, as well as effective association to their product.

    Oftentimes in marketing, the advertiser will deliver with the humor, but the product for which the advertisement is meant has a tenuous nexus. Even if the consumer remembers “the joke,” they may not remember the brand associated with it. Conversely, if the advertiser fails to achieve a humorous reaction, then the brand will be associated with failure. Few things are as uncomfortable as an inappropriate stab at humor. In fact, many companies have had to conduct “apology campaigns” after an advertiser’s inappropriate or failed attempt at humor. I guess it comes down to the cliché of “buyer beware.”

  4. Jennifer says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Thank you for your post! You are absolutely correct that catalogs are still an effective means of generating business. At my company, our catalog is our primary advertising tool. We don’t run commercials, we don’t send advertisements, we don’t offer sales or discounts. But everyone in the industrial supplies industry knows about our big yellow catalog (some of the older catalogs are listed on Ebay for hundreds of dollars). Even though we offer our catalog online and via our mobile app, everyone wants the physical catalog. Our catalog isn’t nearly as humorous or pretty to look at as the new Uline catalog, but I think an effective catalog is one that makes a statement. Humor definitely makes a statement. Mustard yellow also makes a statement. Both are unexpected, unavoidable, and draws attention. Let’s face it: shipping supplies are pretty unglamorous, so the fact that Uline has redesigned their catalog in a more human, interactive way will surely benefit them.


  5. Kelly says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Uline certainly brought a new, humorous look to boring office catalogs! As you mention, they strategically aligned their quirky, yet modern cover with the popular show “Orange is the New Black,” which was well timed with Netflix’s launch of the third season. Also, the new cover style certainly leaves the catalog recipient (in this case, you) wondering what Uline is going to do next and will ultimately cause the recipient to look in the mail for the next catalog. A strategic approach to customer engagement. Considering that it’s a biannual publication, the catalog has a good chance of being seen and hopefully utilized, if it remains on the recipients’ desk and not in the bin.

    Interestingly, I checked on Uline’s website and there is no reference or information about their “Corrugated is the New Black” catalog cover. They should consider integrated their marketing communications for consistency across mediums so consumers can enjoy their quirky sense of humor online and in print. Who knows, the catchy slogan and campaign they used for their catalog may even attract more online shoppers.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  6. Elaine says:

    Thanks for sharing! What an interesting, out of the box idea! I’m sure other companies will catch on to this strategy and then, I’d be interested in seeing what comes next. Being able to use humor is definitely providing them a competitive edge. However, I do think that this specific strategy has to be used carefully.

  7. Cynthia says:

    Yes! This was awesome. Funny enough, we were just talking about something similar at work this week. We discussed how marketing was shifting a bit and how it’s now very important for marketers to be creative with their messages and also to reach consumers at a time that is most optimal. It was a genius move to create this type of catalog using the tag line “corrugated is the new black” at a time when Orange is the New Black III was being released. It was able to feed off of the popularity of the show and bring in more business. Great post!

  8. Renna says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Great post! I agree, Uline is doing something right on this cover. I feel like so many brands are afraid to take risks like this, but I find they often pay off. This cover is a perfect mix of product and humor/intrigue. When you look at the cover – you see the boxes and they stand out. If boxes are a top selling item for Uline, then it is great to create that memory and association.

    I really love how this cover could become a long term campaign. I can picture another cover where they have Uline rubber mats as a red carpet or chic toilet paper caps, keeping with the fashion theme.

    I’m not sure Orange is the New Black is the inspiration behind the headline though; that phrase has been around for A LONG time, especially associated with fashion.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. Alexis says:

    Hi Valerie,
    I love this post and how it shows how a simple image can change the way consumers view a brand. Catalogs are notorious for being a waste of paper, and the biggest move in this space has been online catalogs. But there is something to be said about having the communication goal of reinventing the way people think about a brand or market. This definitely shows how a little humor and a good simple image can change perceptions of consumers. But the real question is – will this actually change behaviors and purchasing decisions?


    • Eric says:

      Hi Valerie,

      Great blog post! I’ve seen Uline’s catalogs around the office too, but mostly in the recycling bins as you had mentioned. You brought up many great points, but one of the main takeaways that I got from this post was the importance of adaptability with any company. For example, at one point Uline’s magazine style may have worked and appealed to the majority of audiences it was trying to reach. However, that is no longer the case today and in response the company has adapted to change the look and feel of the catalog in order to make it more appealing to today’s readers.

      In addition, your post also highlighted the importance of using humor in marketing / advertising. Humor really does help to differentiate a product or brand from the competition by creating a lasting impression with the audience. In other words, humor is what gets people talking about your brand. In our class discussion this week, we examined Dove’s case study and whether or not parody could be a good thing for a company. Although often times parodies make fun of a company, it also benefits the company by creating a lasting impression with an audience that is more likely to generate buzz. Parodies aside, using humor in general is great for a company’s advertising. One company that I always refer to when it comes to humorous advertising / marketing is dollar shave club. People like it not only because its funny, but because it sounds more real. I think this was also the case with Uline’s most recent catalog cover.

      Lastly, I thought what you mentioned about Uline’s timing with Netflix’s third season of Orange is the New Black was spot-on. Uline was able to take what’s trending and put their own spin on it in order to make it more appealing to consumers. The timing of this gave the catalog instant recognition and automatically was able to identify with an audience of a Netflix series that has millions of viewers.

      Again, great post and thanks for sharing!

  10. Stephen Aguayo says:

    Hello Valerie,

    I enjoyed your post! How funny that we used to order supplies from Unisource and now from Uline. I wondered if this is how they got our attention to notice them and to switch. So I had to ask our suppliers guy, and he honestly said that it prompted his boss to get his attention. To price compare and to find out that it made sense to switch supply companies. So to answer Alexis’s question the new catalog has changed the behavior and purchasing decision of our business supplier.

  11. Jessica says:

    This was such a great post! I had no idea that catalogs were still that effective in getting orders. As a consumer usually I keep the more relevant ones to me (Nordstrom haha) and toss 80% of the others. I then go online or in store to purchase the item but the catalog does play a role in that first point of contact.

    The company ULINE sure did a great job at catching the audiences attention with that cover. When I first saw it I had no idea it was for office supplies. It made me immediately want to flip though and see what the products were.