International Entries Continue to Dominate Caples

NEW YORK — A television commercial making the case for cable's superiority by dramatizing the shortcomings of satellite TV won this year's Maxwell Sackheim Award for Best of Show at last night's XXVI John Caples International Awards.

The “Umbrella” spot by advertising agency Doner USA for client LA Cable opens with a satellite installer arriving at a customer's home with a huge quantity of gear.

“Gee, that's a lot of equipment,” the woman customer says. “It's ugly.”

Things go downhill from there. “Local channels are extra,” she is told. But you can get “volleyball from Romania. It's high-school level. But the girls are big.”

“I think people are a lot more understanding of humor,” said David M. Sable, general chair of Caples and vice chairman and president of worldwide operations at direct marketing agency Wunderman, New York. “If you look at the past few years, the general creativity keeps going up and up.”

The winner of the Courageous Client award displayed as much chutzpah as LA Cable. Called the Diet Pepsi Home Taste Challenge, the effort had Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. spend a small fortune to place its competitor's product in the hands of consumers.

In this home version of the renowned Pepsi Challenge, Proximity Canada created a kit that included a can of Diet Pepsi, another of Diet Coke, six paper cups and a game board. It also contained sleeves to duplicate the blind taste test.

Step-by-step instructions explained to consumers how to conduct the test. Recipients were asked to share the results by telephone or the Web for a chance to win $5,000. The agency was glad to report that 64 percent of participants preferred the taste of Diet Pepsi.

Those campaigns were among the best of the more than 950 entries for the 2004 Caples awards, an all-volunteer industry effort since 1978 that honors creative work for direct marketing problems.

Caples also bestowed the Irving Wunderman Award to Arthur Parshotam, executive creative director of Draft London. Named for a top copywriter, the Wunderman award goes to an individual who for more than a decade has combined talent, imagination, curiosity and insight to produce outstanding creative work.

Richard Rosen, president/CEO of AlloyRed, Portland, OR, was named this year's winner of the Andi Emerson Award. Named for the founder of the Caples awards, the prize recognizes outstanding service to the creative community in direct marketing.

While this year's total entries were down about 14 percent from 2003's estimated 1,100, the international flavor was retained. Entries from 17 countries were among the winners, with 74 percent of all award winners coming from outside the United States.

Accentuating a trend seen in numerous international awards, the United States only narrowly beat its nearest rival by taking 27 Caples awards. Britain won 26, Australia and New Zealand 11 each and Spain 10. Australia and New Zealand are markets to watch for their DM creativity.

“One of my judges from New Zealand put a full-court press out to all the agencies there, and we had a flurry of entries and winners,” said Holly Pavlika, vice president of judging for Caples and executive vice president and executive creative director at Grey Direct, New York.

“There may be only a few agencies in totality from Australia and New Zealand, but they're doing great work,” she said. “In fact, for this coming Caples, I've enlisted the very same judge to be our chief judge for the Pacific Rim. We're going to put his talents to work, pumping up efforts in China, Japan and the entire Pacific Rim area. China is a burgeoning direct marketing country.”

Such is the growing interest in Caples that the Czech Republic finalists invited a journalist from local magazine Strategie to join them on their visit to New York.

The Caples judging process aims to be inclusive as well. Judges from around the world need a minimum five years' experience in DM creative. Final-round judges must have at least 10 years' work experience and hold the title of senior or executive vice president and creative director.

A new batch of judges this year from countries like India, Sweden and Belgium made their debut. In round two of the judging process, Caples let the judges spend a lunch exchanging anecdotes, best practices and challenges facing their countries.

“It was hard to break up and get the judges back to the task at hand,” Pavlika said.

As in years past, there were good entries and lackluster ones. But the basic problem stays the same: Many entries were brand ads passing for direct marketing. There was no clear call to action, just Web addresses and quiet 800 numbers.

Of course, the quality of submissions from overseas is impressive compared with U.S. submissions. However, foreign agencies do not face issues like strict postal regulations, mail clutter and tighter budgets that their U.S. counterparts have.

“It also seems, after overseeing the judging for so many years, that clients overseas are comfortable with taking risks,” Pavlika said. “With the economy being what it has been for the past few years, clients in the U.S. are playing it safe. Marketing managers' jobs are on the line when it comes to driving results. What kind of chances are you going to take if you were in their shoes?”

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