Dot-Com Gets Traditional With Takeoff on Classic Ad

At a time when back-to-basics direct marketing is all the rage among surviving Internet marketing firms, iQ Commerce Corp. has launched a campaign copying John Caples' classic 1925 ad.

The marketing services firm debuted its ad, the first print ad for iQ Commerce, to capitalize on traditional direct marketing laurels. It copies Caples' ad for the U.S. School of Music with the headline, “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!~”

“We weren't really ready to do a print ad yet, but when presented with a great opportunity for some inexpensive ad space, we decided we had to do it,” said Christopher McCarthy, vice president of marketing and strategic services at iQ Commerce, Saratoga, CA. “We needed something quickly, and the idea just came to me. It was classic, copy intensive and could be turned around without a lot of creative.”

From its headline, “They Laughed When I Said My Online Marketing Worked But When I Started to Show Results!~” to its three copy-heavy columns of serif text, the ad mirrors the Caples ad throughout. It deviates only in the bottom right corner, where the call-to-action appears. There is a box of reverse sans serif type with the iQ Web address and a sweepstakes offer. Although many traditional direct marketers would say the box is a no-no, McCarthy isn't so sure.

“We needed the call-to-action to stand out from the rest of the text in this copy-heavy ad,” he said.

Andi Emerson, who founded the Caples Awards in 1978 to honor the copywriting legend, said she sees quite a few copycat ads.

“It's a complete knock-off and it's actually rather good,” said Emerson, president of Emerson Marketing, New York. “Whoever did it did it well, and that's coming from a very picky copywriter.”

Though the final results won't be in for a few more weeks, McCarthy said iQ already has had several dozen responses. Respondents are definitely recognizing the ad, McCarthy said.

“We've had a lot of inquiries from the 'Wow, this is a great ad. I'm really interested in talking to this company' perspective,” he said. “But even if you don't know the ad, it's still pretty arresting.”

In the future, iQ may continue to pay tribute to other famous ads. Bill Bernbach's Volkswagen ads, such as “Lemon,” “It Floats” and “Think Small,” are prime targets, McCarthy said. The Caples ad was designed and written by McCarthy with art direction by Glenn Randle Design. It was featured in the March premiere issue of 1 to 1 Quarterly, a new CRM publication with circulation of 15,000.

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