6 Secrets for Winning Creative Awards

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If you're the typical agency type, you can get pretty fed up with all those direct response techniques. How dare anyone suggest that your job is about something as crass as getting people to read a sales pitch or that your sole purpose is generating profits. After all, you're a creative genius, right?


Besides, while you're pretty sure that direct marketers know a thing or two about getting people to respond to ads - sheesh! They're always whipping out calculators and crunching numbers. They don't know squat about what's really important: winning awards.


Let's take a quick look at a few sure ways to create prints ads that impress your colleagues, win pointy-plastic prizes and give you a well-deserved break from all that pesky response:


* Start with a concept. Ads that have something interesting and relevant to say don't win many awards. That's because they get people involved in a topic of personal importance, which can lead to people actually reading the thing instead of admiring your handiwork.


Remember, form over function. Instead of researching your audience or uncovering benefits, start with a pun, an obscure cultural reference, a witty visual or some idea that proves you're ultra creative and justifies your salary.


* Feature stunning photography or artwork. I saw an ad for a fax machine with a huge, sepia-toned photograph of a woman's head with tubes and wires and gadgets attached; not a fax machine anywhere. And the copy was reduced to a few tiny lines hidden at the bottom to explain the picture. Talk about award-winning! Irrelevant visuals and minimal copy are the keys to stifling response and stocking your lobby with those clear resin obelisks!


* Design it first and fill in the copy later. Sometimes, a cantankerous client will demand that you bring in an outside writer. But be careful. An experienced copywriter may give you lots of powerful words that send response through the roof. Not only will you have less room for pictures - a design nightmare - you may be expected to produce results with every ad. To keep copy and your writer under control, begin with a layout. Leave little blank spaces and tell the writer to fill them in. And if your writer is still overwriting and risking response, let your designer edit the copy to fit.


* Get fancy with type. This helps when you're stuck with a bunch of copy that goes on and on about benefits, the offer, a call-to-action and other award-losing techniques. You see, you can easily discourage reading with tiny type, san serif or unusual typefaces, all cap text, lots of white text reversed out of black, text over artwork or running in odd directions, paragraphs without indents and huge blocks of copy in unbroken lines that span an entire page. In other words, treat the copy as a visual element instead of thoughts and ideas you want to communicate clearly.


* Make your phone number really small. Nothing is more gaudy than a big phone number. It just screams: "Call me now!" Set it in small type, buried in the three lines of copy hidden in light gray text way at the bottom of your artwork ... er, advertisement.


* Use a coupon with an unusual shape. Actually, there is something more gaudy than a big phone number - a conspicuous coupon! Will the shame never end? A square coupon with a dashed border is so old-fogy. I mean, it draws attention to your ad, highlights the essence of your offer and shouts: "Cut me out and send me in!" If you have to include a coupon, how about some odd shapes? If you're selling dog food, shape it like a bone. If you're selling clothes, shape it like a pair of pants. If you're selling an impotence drug, shape it like ... well, maybe that's not a good idea.


And by the way, one big advantage of winning pointy-plastic awards is that your office will always be neat and tidy, unlike those know-it-all direct response types who are often buried under piles of coupons and order forms from paying customers. Bunch of slobs!


Dean Rieck is a copywriter, creative consultant and president of Direct Creative, Columbus, OH. His e-mail address is DeanRieck@compuserve.com.
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