CAMPAIGN DIRECT: THE PROBLEM OF THE ANGELS AND THE PIN - Both creativity and effectiveness must have played equal parts in any direct marketing work which is deemed to be award-winning, Tom Rayfield argues

Creative: ’Exhibiting imagination as well as intellect and thus differentiated from the merely journalistic.’

Creative: ’Exhibiting imagination as well as intellect and thus

differentiated from the merely journalistic.’

Oxford English Dictionary

For years, many apparently wise men earnestly debated the question of

how many angels could comfortably stand on the head of a pin. (This was

after they had resolved that other great question, about whether angels

were male or female. The conclusion was that they were both at the same

time, which must have been fun for the angels.)

In recent months, a similar debate seems to have been raging (or rather,

rustling) in the direct marketing industry. And to about as much

practical purpose. Should direct marketing awards be given for

effectiveness or for creativity? Which begs the question - should direct

marketing awards be given at all?

I think they should, provided they are not taken seriously. Over the

years, I won 60 or so awards for above-the-line advertising and a dozen

or so direct marketing and recruitment advertising awards. This probably

reveals more about the number of awards available than anything


When we moved house last year, I found many of these awards in the

attic, dusted them off and hung them in the study. This saved me the

expense of having it redecorated - so awards do have their uses. My main

objection to them is that, while the framed certificates are

inoffensive, the statuettes you get are uniformly hideous (with the

exception of D&AD’s elegant yellow pencils).

The creative/effective debate is not a new one. Exactly 20 years ago, an

agency called Wood Brigdale asked 50 clients, responsible for 103

advertising accounts, how they ranked advertising agencies. ’Creativity’

was voted an agency’s most important quality. But only one of the 50

clients defined creativity as ’advertising that sold’. At J. Walter

Thompson, we were so shocked by this we ran an ad in the Financial

Times, headlined ’What the hell is an agency for?’ The copy read: ’If

creativity in advertising means anything, it must surely mean the

ability to produce and communicate an idea that helps the money spent on

advertising deliver a higher return to the advertiser.’ (We remembered

to put a coupon on the ad and received a few useful leads.)

All the awards for mainstream advertising (apart from the Institute of

Prac-titioners in Advertising’s Advertising Effectiveness Awards) are

judged subjectively for ’creativity’ by panels of creative directors and

sometimes a few clients. This is a harmless activity which gives

pleasure - and frequently an increased salary - to the winners. It is

lent respectability by the fact that there are many good reasons for

running mainstream ’theme’ advertising that doesn’t always need to make

an immediate sale.

Visible, likeable advertising can reward existing users and help to keep

them loyal. It can also help to build a strong, famous brand and protect

a price premium. It can help to establish the personality of a company

or a brand. It can inform about a new product or a new product


It can help to maintain distribution or increase shelf space - exposing

the product to a greater risk of being bought. It can - although this is

much the most difficult - help change attitudes to a brand or a


(I think it was Du Pont which, many years ago, became tagged as

’merchants of death’ because of its success in producing napalm for use

in Vietnam.

It took some years of running a campaign called ’Du Pont. Better living

through chemistry’ before attitudes changed.)

None of these reasons for running theme advertising require a sales

effect the following day - but all of them can, as we said in the ad,

help to deliver a higher return to the advertiser.

Direct marketing communications are different, however much anyone tries

to pretend that there can be a seamless through-the-line campaign for a

product or service. Any direct communication -whether it be mailshot,

print ad or DRTV - must be designed not just to make contact with the

consumer’s emotions but to trigger an immediate sale, or at least an

enquiry for more information.

The response mechanism bit is where the wheels drop off a lot of

otherwise potentially effective campaigns.

Recently, I phoned up a direct response number on a Hyundai ad which

caught my attention. A polite man answered the phone but the brochure he

sent was so dreadfully written it put me off wanting to know more.

During the same weekend, I telephoned Proton after seeing its expensive

advertisement in the same paper. Unsurprisingly (but thoughtlessly) its

helpline was shut for the weekend, so I left my name and number as

requested. Melanie from the helpline phoned me back on Monday and left a

message asking me to return her call - but didn’t give her number. Since

I had thrown the paper away, I didn’t have it any longer. End of

monologue with Proton. Hmm.

So, if direct marketing is different because it seeks an immediate

response, it needs judging differently for awards. But the main problem

with direct marketing, particularly mailshots, for the consumer is that

95 per cent of it is weepingly boring and doesn’t merit awards, however

’effective’ it might have been. Inevitably most of the mailshots consist

of a letter, a leaflet or brochure and a bribe (sorry, incentive) to

take action.

The trouble is that so very many are let down by naff art direction and

semi-literate copywriting. The result is an alleged communication that

does no favours to the reputation of the client’s company. Perhaps it is

the amount of attention to detail required that stops direct marketing

creatives thinking creatively. But I wish more of them would sit down

and think: ’How can we do this differently with a fresh idea and a new

solution to a familiar problem?’ Creativity is all about having fresh,

relevant ideas, not about behaving like a minor branch of the Arts

Council and producing incomprehensible images and unreadable typography

in the name of art.

Direct marketing print and TV ads need to be interesting just to stop

the reader turning over the page or going to make a cup of tea.

Mailshots need as much creative care with the envelope as with the

insides, because that determines how many get binned, unread.

So how do you give out direct marketing awards? The Reader’s Digest

Wordfinder (which I bought as a result of the mailshot) suggests

synonyms for effective and creative. They include impressive,

outstanding, striking and inventive, ingenious, resourceful. But I bet

you can’t guess which go with which word. So perhaps effectiveness and

creativity are not so far apart after all.

I believe each entry for a direct marketing award should be accompanied

by a Certificate of Effectiveness. I don’t believe that clients should

be asked to give away all their marketing secrets. (’This campaign

achieved a response rate of 5.743 per cent and a cost per sale of

75.34p, which we believe to be among the best in our industry.’) I would

settle for a simple, standard signed letter from the director of the

client company.

Directors, having legal responsibilities, are usually less inclined to

perjure themselves than humbler employees. The certificate would simply

say: ’We believe this campaign for Bloggo to have been effective. It

achieved/exceeded our targets in terms of sales/enquiries.’

Then, each qualified entry should be judged, entirely objectively, on

its creativity. The best, simplest question I’ve ever been asked on a

judging panel was ’Look at each piece of work and just ask yourself ’Do

I wish I’d thought of this?’’

The answer to the question: ’Should this piece of direct marketing win

an award because it was effective or because it was creative?’ is


And in that order. It doesn’t really matter how many angels can stand on

the head of a pin. What matters is finding some fresh and inventive way

of getting them to buy the pin in the first place.

Tom Rayfield was a creative director at JWT London for more years than

he cares to remember and is now a freelance writer.