6 Secrets for Winning Creative Awards

by Dean Rieck

Here's a tongue in cheek article I wrote a while back that infuriated agencies and award show supporters all over the country. It generated criticism, diatribes, tirades, personal attacks, verbal abuse ... and quite a bit of praise. I guess it really hit home, huh?

If you're the typical advertising 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 generating profit. 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, they don't know squat about what's really important: winning awards!

I mean, sheesh! DMers are so spastic. Always whipping out calculators and crunching numbers, as if numbers have anything to do with advertising!

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

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 ultracreative and justifies your salary.

Feature stunning photography or artwork. I saw an ad for a fax machine with a huge, sepia toned photo 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, unusual typefaces, lots of all-cap text or white text reversed out of black, text over artwork or running in odd directions, 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. Who reads all that stuff anyway?

Make your phone number really really small. Nothing is more gaudy than a big phone number. I mean puleeeeze. It just screams, "Call me now!" And nothing is more off-putting to award judges than appearing too eager to conduct business. So if you can't talk the client out of eliminating the phone number altogether, set it in small type, buried in the three lines of copy hidden in light gray text waaay down 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!" Again, way too eager. If you have to include a coupon, try 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 a drug to treat impotence, 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!

Copyright © 2002 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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