Famous Last Words: Shooting Ourselves in the Foot (Again)
A number of years ago, a bunch of direct mail writers were kicking around the idea of giving each other awards for creativity. They came up with the Caples Awards, named for the legendary John Caples (1900-1990), author of the classic “Tested Advertising Methods,” and the iconic headline, “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano, But When I Started to Play!—”
Having a soft spot in his heart for direct marketing writers, Caples OKed the use of his name for the awards.
In the old days, the Caples Awards were funky and fun—a shoestring operation to which the freelance community contributed time creating calls for entries, judging the creative efforts and putting on the awards lunch.
Unfortunately, the big direct marketing agencies saw the Caples as an opportunity to give each other awards that would impress prospects and each other. The freelancer founders were so delighted to have this work taken off their hands that they let the big players assume control.
About the cover of the 1993 call for entries (shown here) Precision Communications CEO Thomas Lix wrote:
I found it offensive, certainly in poor taste and not very effective. It did get my attention (and also the attention of my 8-year-old who was looking for anything addressed to him). The Caples Award is an industry award. As an industry, we can do much better.
Direct mail veteran Axel Andersson, a friend of Caples, wrote me:
John Caples would turn over in his grave if he saw the brochure. Attracting the wrong audience is one of the big sins he points out in his books. “Do not inflate your readership by attracting curiosity seekers at the expense of losing customers,” he writes on page 4 of “Making Ads Pay.” So are blind headlines that require reading of the copy to decipher. “For every curiosity headline that succeeds in pulling results, a dozen will fail,” he warns on page 20 in “Tested Advertising Methods.”