Caples: Celebrating 30 years of creative genius

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In just over three decades, the John Caples International Awards has grown from humble beginnings as an annual luncheon for New York-area creative directors to an international event featuring the best direct response work from more than 50 countries.

Founded in 1978 by Andi Emerson in honor of copywriter John Caples, the Awards are esteemed by the direct marketing industry because they acknowledge the work of individuals rather than agencies or clients.

“There were a lot of awards shows that celebrated advertising work, but there was no such show or competition to celebrate the creative efforts of the hard-working writers and artists in the direct marketing arena,” explains Penny Vane, VP of the awards showcase for the Caples Awards.

One of the unique aspects of Caples is the judging process. Entries are judged by agency peers not solely on creativity, but also their ability to solve marketing problems.

This year's judging panel is composed of 80 creative directors from agencies around the world. As a first-time judge last year, Cliff Sorah, SVP and creative director at The Martin Agency, realized the need for the type of balanced excellence Caples strives to exhibit.

“You can't just simply solve the marketing problem; you have to solve it in an ingenious way,” he says. “There are pieces out there that solve a problem but that aren't superior. What Caples does is combine creativity and problem-solving beautifully.”

Sid Liebensen has been international chair of the Awards for more than 15 years. He believes Caples' ability to corral judges from all over the globe is a foundation of the Awards' success.

“There is a lot of camaraderie and positive networking during judging. There's a great value there in the sharing of information and shared experiences,” he says.

Now in its 32nd year, the Awards has always been a reflection of the industry's changing landscape. Since the early 1990s, the number of entry categories has risen from 16 to 24. The emergence of digital media has played a large part in that growth, and channel integration and emerging technology ensure future evolution of categories.

“More entries have an interactive or e-mail component in addition to the creative component,” says Patrick Fultz, Caples Awards president. “There's more blending of media and, on the interactive side, it's interesting how creatively people are using technology for direct response.”

A successful Caples campaign is not limited to beautiful images. Among the more memorable campaigns was one that relied on the element of surprise rather than on technology or gripping copy.  

Sorah was creative lead on The Martin Agency's “Jon Lovitz in Bed” campaign for Yellow Pages, which was entered in the Collateral-Business category and took home Best in Show honors at the 2000 Awards. Visitors to that year's Army Aviation Association of America convention returned to their hotel rooms to find a cardboard cutout of Lovitz laying in their bed, with bright yellow envelope taped to his chest directing visitors to the Yellow Pages booth.

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