6 secrets for winning pointy plastic creative advertising awards

creative awardHere’s an 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. So I’ve decided to share it with my loyal, savvy readers here.

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! They’re 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 ads that impress your colleagues, win pointy plastic prizes, and give you a well-deserved break from all that pesky response.

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 copy 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 ultra creative and which justifies your salary.

Feature stunning photography or artwork. Years ago, 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 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!

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10 Responses to “6 secrets for winning pointy plastic creative advertising awards”

  1. Alan Fagan on October 19th, 2011 9:07 am

    Ha! Ha! Great piece. It actually made me go back and revise a mailer that I’m working on at the minute.

  2. Copywriter Kevin Francis on October 20th, 2011 8:46 pm


    You’ve surpassed yourself with this! Worthy of an “award”! Almost fell off my chair so thanks for brightening up the day.

    And, of course, careful reading reveals a host of response boosting and money-making tips…not that we want that sort of thing, of course!

    Thanks for the post.

    Kevin Francis

  3. You…A Pointy Plastic Creative Advertising Award Winner? | "Maximum Results Copywriting" on October 21st, 2011 3:39 am

    [...] “6 secrets for winning pointy plastic creative advertising awards”! [...]

  4. Jodi Kaplan on October 24th, 2011 9:42 am

    Ha ha ha! Love it!

  5. Judith on October 25th, 2011 9:34 pm

    Funny post. Now I seriously hope you’re going for reverse psychology.;)

  6. artgrab on November 1st, 2011 8:52 am

    Bwaahaahaahaa! This is wonderful – thank you! I can’t believe you got evil mail for this!

  7. ray on November 14th, 2011 2:10 pm

    You have compiled great tips for creative ads. I liked all of them. I personally hate all those age old ads or banners with same old designs and patterns. They are no more appealing and the designers should understand that now the audience need something new, a change. I also liked the idea of odd shaped coupons. And for pills treating impotence, you can try coupon shaped liked kids. Lolz. Much better.

  8. Why Most Ad Agencies Can’t Be Taken Seriously on December 14th, 2011 4:19 pm

    [...] Here’s a tip. The ad agencies don’t care. Here’s how ad agencies win awards that prove their value to [...]

  9. Ken Richards on January 19th, 2012 12:10 pm

    All true, but a lot of direct response and direct mail people use this rationale to destroy creativity. I know, I work with these kinds of people every day. I even had one direct mail guy tell me that the Helvetica in a headline was not “readable.” That kind of ignorance is never helpful.

    The point is to use powerful and creatively-executed direct response techniques, copy and good design together. That means having attention-getting headlines, well-written and easily legible copy with obvious entry points to capture the reader’s attention. Good typography set in a inviting layout makes it easy for the prospect to read all about the benefits and reasons to buy.

    Buying is always an emotional decision. And great design can tap into that emotional current like little else. Great ads should work in something like this sequence: arrest/inform/convince and make the sale. Each component of the ad has its function in the job of selling.

    Ignoring good design and typography is as bad as ignoring good response devices and good copy. Unfortunately many people the DR and DM industry think good design is irrelevant and only about agencies winning awards. So they crush ideas that could have made the offer and supporting copy more powerful.

    Absolutely no one needs a prima donna art or creative director who puts his or her personal taste over the client’s objective. That’s just bad art direction and bad advertising. In advertising, design should always be a tool of marketing. When its done right it is a very powerful one.

    Every element of an ad should work together toward the goal, which as I understand it, is to sell the client’s product or idea to more people. Great advertising is successful advertising because it never forgets the goal. And truly great advertising means happy clients–the best award any agency can ever win.

    Ken Richards,
    KRA Media,
    Amherst, MA

  10. Dean Rieck on January 19th, 2012 12:43 pm

    Ken, you make valid points. However, this article tweaks those who commit the opposite sin of killing sales in order to satisfy their creative urges. The bottom line is always sales. The level of creativity that goes into any ad should be determined by what it takes to make those sales. Sometimes you need a pretty ad. Sometimes you need an ugly ad. Award shows never give awards for ugly even if it works.

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