Tim Wood on the Caples Awards 2016 and New Zealand’s ’cause for cautious optimism’

Young & Shand creative director Tim Wood is representing New Zealand as a judge at this year’s Caples Awards and reports what he saw, and what you should know, from inside the jury room.  

For those that may not know, the Caples Awards are run out of New York annually, but they accept, and openly encourage, agencies from around the world to enter their best work. What sort of work are they after? Caples has its roots in the direct marketing space. In fact, it’s considered a pioneer award show in that regard as it’s been awarding metal for the most creative examples of DM since the 1980s. For the record, Cannes didn’t take on direct as a category until about 2002.

Today, what you see as a judge is the very best creative work the global advertising community has to offer, sans traditional TVCs, outdoor and print. Provided your work has some sort of response mechanism or call to action, and you can attribute results in a direct way, you’re eligible to enter it. Creativity is definitely the primary criterion the work is measured against and this year’s crop was easily some of the most interesting and innovative creative work I’ve seen, anywhere.

Caples 2016 invited 29 judges from 14 countries to attend. Judges can only be creative directors, ECDs or CCOs and are are grouped into teams of five. Mine came from Malaysia, Slovakia, two from the States with yours truly representing New Zealand. Over the course of two days, our table alone looked at over 160 separate entries from categories that included, but not limited to, Integrated Campaigns, Creative Use of Technology, Content Marketing, Mobile Marketing (Non-Display), Ambient/Guerrilla and Out of Home. Long gone are the days of stuff that folds (although you can still enter that too, if you’re so inclined). Today, what’s coming across the table at Caples is some seriously next-level stuff.

What are the judges looking for? The work is scored against three, equally weighted criteria; idea, execution and results (the exceptions are craft copywriting and art direction, where the only thing really looked for is how well the work was executed). Importantly though, all work will be judged by at least three judging teams. This means that your final score, out of 30, will be calculated by averaging the scores of at least 15 different judges, but it could be more. Unlike some award juries, you have to consistently impress a lot of people to win at Caples, and those people almost certainly will come from lots of different places. This has some implications agencies should be paying attention to.

First, clarity trumps cleverness in case studies. In fact, you can’t even assume, nor shouldn’t, people will understand the things you take for granted based on cultural experiences. Case in point, one campaign our table looked at was for superannuation. Our Slovakian judge needed superannuation explained as he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. A simple sentence stating that ‘superannuation was a government sponsored retirement savings scheme’ probably would have bridged the gap, but they hadn’t bothered. For me, this served as a timely reminder that if you’re sending your work abroad, don’t assume people know the things you think are obvious, or be damn sure that they actually do.

Similarly, trying to be overly clever is a death knell to your chances. Judges will not be, and weren’t, impressed by such tactics. Precisely the opposite. The worst example is one entry that, in its efforts to impressed, us coined the term ‘brandformation’ which it then preceded to used multiple times throughout the paper. The term confused two of our table, and made the other three, including me, literally start laughing. Neither response, I would argue, helped the work’s chances. So, if ever you’re considering that sort of cleverness, don’t. No really, just don’t.

So, how did New Zealand fare? Short answer is, I don’t know. The averaged scoring system means that you can only get a general sense of how your table found the work. But you know nothing about the impressions of other judges. My gut feeling is that New Zealand should do quite well. There was certainty a few familiar faces, work-wise, that I saw from New Zealand and the ‘talk around the campfire’ about much of it felt really positive. As always, New Zealand’s global reputation as a country that punches well above its weight, creatively speaking, was a view that was only reinforced by the work we sent this year. So if you entered, I think you should have cause for cautious optimism.

Either way, we’ll all find out soon enough. Finalists are announced 25 May, New York time, with the winners being announced toward the back end of June. Good luck, New Zealand. 

  • Tim Wood is the creative director at Young & Shand

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