As an advertising and marketing professional for more than 38 years, I’ve seen practically every change in the industry. From the typewriter and linotype to process-cameras and stat-kings to traditional pre-press and electronic pre-press, the form and function of advertising has shifted to accommodate emerging technologies, markets and consumer demands almost seamlessly. But one dichotomy still exists, and, for reasons I’ll explain, continues to sew an unnecessary rift in the landscape of advertising and marketing. Welcome to the world of traditional v. direct response (DR), where the Ogilvy-esque prominence of ideas and abstraction stands in direct opposition to an acquired learning in digital and measured response analytics and the subsequent aggregation and generation of leads.
The goal is to identify a successful point of convergence within these different ideological camps. I’ll address two very different ends of the spectrum, two contrasting cultures that continually battle to co-exist within an ever-shrinking marketplace. I’ll identify ways they can effectively succeed in building response while keeping to the high aesthetic, historical standards of good creative. And I’ll refer to Jon Roska, someone more insightful than I, that offers a simple story on this very topic in his book, Ducks in the Henhouse.
Direct response marketing is grounded in numbers, which, at its core, flies in direct opposition to what most creatives find interesting, to what they’re passionate about, to areas in which they excel. It’s about developing strategy and tactics from the proven accountability of metrics and analytics. But, because of this focus on numbers, the perceived emphasis of stats over ideas, direct response marketing is widely perceived as the weaker of the two in the creative arena. Traditional marketing, on the other hand, with its high-brow creative persona, has developed an elitist mentality that conveniently proffers a scathing indictment on the grounding principles of DR: awareness trumps results.
However, even as these two ideologies continue to collide, a few of the world’s biggest brands, firmly entrenched and guided by the world’s biggest traditional agencies, have begun to implement direct response tactics in some of their most successful campaigns. Most readily recognizable is Nike, with their now-famous ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Another example is Holiday Inn, with their most recent campaign, ‘Stay You’. While Nike’s has more edge, to reflect their company and products, and Holiday Inn has taken a softer, comfier approach, for obvious reasons, both messages are direct: they speak one-to-one by using affirmative dialogue directed to you, to me, to one person; not to everyone all at once. This is the fundamental, guiding principle behind DR creative. Both Nike and Holiday Inn are looking to compel an individual to take action, to buy a pair of shoes or book a reservation, and hopefully, inspire a similar response from 100 million individuals all at once, all for unique, personalized reasons. This way, the agency takes the first step to measurable accountability without sacrificing what has proven to be memorable, high-brow, even award-winning creative.
To speak to the specifics of what makes a direct response marketing campaign both functional and successful, it’s important to identify some mandatory guidelines without losing sight of the conceptual, ideation process creative-types love. What’s interesting, and often overlooked, is that each of these points can and should be applied to the traditional creative process as well. Some of these guidelines include:
•Creating conversation through the idea/message by employing immediate, one-to-one dialogue.
• Using noun/subject conjugations, i.e. first person, singular or plural.
• Developing call-to-actions (CTAs) not just in a headline or two, or at the end of a spot, but across several mediums and comprising an entire campaign.
• How does the hierarchy of your messaging continue to drive the response throughout the story?
• Providing for the quickest read in all messaging across all platforms, i.e. If a potential consumer only reads three lines of copy, how does the he/she get the overall message by reading only an excerpt of the story?
• If the quick-reads are interesting enough, the potential consumer will go back and read the rest of the story.
• Using the whole idea to connect and motivate a response from the first headline to the last call-to-action at the very bottom of the story.
• Using graphics and images can play an additional role in supporting the one-to-one dialogue.
As you concept, understand the approach to the strategy as well. The challenge, the empowerment, the affirmation instilled within the idea, become a natural avenue to deliver a message to the potential consumer; to compel him/her to respond. And of course, when combined with an incentive, an offer, savings, the direct response message becomes a powerful, arresting way to stop potential consumers in their tracks, to take notice and to take action – all without giving up one ounce of creative integrity.
I want to believe, and Roska would know, traditional advertising and direct marketing have one task: to create messaging with the customer’s interests in mind. And while clients are not the ones buying their products or services, they need to read the messaging as they do when they buy other things. And understanding how to speak
to the customer, and not over them, marks the pivotal difference between direct response and traditional, where results (profit) will always trump awareness.
Now that takes response-ability.
This post is guest written by Rick Anderson, Creative Director, Gragg Advertising.