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Tip 7: Don’t confuse activity with call-to-action


Did you see Haymarket Communications’ e-mail countdown of 10 tips to win direct marketing’s coveted Caples award? This one stopped me in my tracks:

7. You must have a call-to-action.
If the entry doesn’t clearly have a call-to-action and a specific offer, it should not be entered. And a URL at the bottom of the page does not constitute a call-to-action.

Caples Awards | Haymarket Communications

Can’t you hear the backstory? Judges looking at campaigns describing frenzied activities, or slick and simple ones that discretely included a url about the size of a copyright line. They look up and ask, “Yes, but is it direct?”

Unless you’ve been on the judging side, you may not realize just how important that question is to entering and winning an award in the direct marketing category.

 Direct marketing's make-or-break

More than activity

Direct marketing continues its steady creep above the line. Yet, more campaigns claim to be “direct” that really aren’t. It should be a no-brainer, but it’s not.

The call to action is the make or break of direct response.

It takes more than a url slapped at the end of ad copy. That url’s a bridge. Yes, you can get someone to click through to a page, but you must return to the AIDA message, enhanced, rewarded, and fully engaged.

  • Call. Tell someone what action to take. It’s imperative to use imperative. Send, call, click. Notice it’s not the actual “Buy,” “Buy,” “Buy!” but “Act act, act!”. You’re reinforcing the conscious choice or intent to follow through on an interest, a deal, a solution, or a cause you want to support.
  • To. Direct your reader to the pay-off. Let them know clearly of the relation/experience that comes next. That’s what separates direct marketing (relational) from direct selling (one-shot).
  • Action. Be as clear and rewarding as possible. Of what should happen right now. At the same time create hopeful expectancy of what’s to come.

Don’t be fooled. Every word, space, and dash matters. The smallest changes can boost or flatten response significantly. So be sure to know what works and what doesn’t. That’s where DMA research can come in so handy.

Then, push the boundaries. I reviewed a campaign earlier this year that invited people to click through to a site and scream! It made sense, it directed response and I never laughed so hard. I hope it gets an award.

So check your e-mail, check your  teams, and start buffing up those entry forms.


  1. pefultz permalink
    09/04/2009 7:35 am

    Excellent, Excellent, Excellent. As President of the John Caples International Awards, this is one of the most frustrating issues during judging. Great work the judges want to let through, but it’s not truly direct response. And it’s surprising how often it happens. Sad part is, with a little tweaking or better understand of direct marketing, many could have been direct marketing power house pieces. So listen well to the comments here and if you solve a tough marketing problem with a clever creative solution and have a strong call to action, you too could holding a hard to win Caples Award.

  2. 09/08/2009 3:52 pm

    Thank you especially for your comments and your leadership to the awards. The John Caples International Awards have always set high marks for both rigor and inspiration. Hope current and future applicants find these observations useful.


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