Forget '05, '93 Caples Mailer Raised Eyebrows, Response

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Somehow, I don't think Caples Awards founder Andi Emerson thought the recent call for entries for next year's awards would be controversial. But it was. It all started with a recent letter to the editor from Bob Bly, a respected copywriter, author (I have his "Complete Idiot's Guide to Direct Marketing" at home) and columnist for this newspaper.

Bob questioned the DM credentials of the men featured in the mailer: Lee Garfinkel, chief creative officer at DDB Worldwide; Bob Greenberg, founder of R/GA Interactive; Richard Kirschenbaum, co-chair of Kirschenbaum, Bond and Partners; and Chris Becker, chairman and chief creative officer at Foote Cone & Belding. "The mailer implies that these four ad guys are 'great minds,' but unless they can show me one major control they've written, to me they're all what the Texans call 'big hat, no cattle,' as far as their marketing abilities go," Bob wrote.

And then the letters started coming - saying everything from how dare he ... to right on, Bob!.

The commotion made me remember two previous Caples calls to action that raised a few eyebrows. In 2000, a banner ad campaign riled several grammarians by using "should of" instead of "should have." But that was nothing compared to 1993, when the call featured a naked man's torso on the front of a mailer with a Caples award over his, ahem, private parts and the words, "It's a rough business. Wear a cup." The inside image had a picture of a naked woman holding two Caples awards over her breasts and the words, "Or two." (The Caples award, which honors legendary copywriter John Caples, is in the shape of a bowl.) Now that campaign was something to talk about.

"There were trade editorials, letters to the editor, e-mails and phone calls, all screaming - in horror or amusement - outraged at cheapening John's namesake or endorsing the approach as appropriately edgy," Andi told me. "Some people refused to enter, a couple of countries overseas wouldn't distribute the package and we even made the secular press." Perhaps the letter that summed up the controversy best was the one bringing up Oscar Wilde's comment: "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." After the mailing, entries were up slightly, Andi said, and way up the following year. I guess we'll know in a few months what response they got this year.

The only thing I have to add: I'm just glad the four guys in this year's mailer didn't take off their clothes.

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting

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