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Direct Response Marketing

Guest Opinion: Branding Is Dead

1 Apr, 2009 By: Donald L. Potter Response

Over the years, many advertising practitioners have forgotten that the primary purpose of their profession is to sell stuff.

The job of advertising is not to entertain. Or to be clever. Or even to make friends, although no marketer wants to alienate the customer. While some of these approaches may be used to engage consumers, such tactics are meaningless unless they cause someone to take action. And the action must motivate people to buy the goods or services being offered by the company paying for the advertising. Simple, huh?

  Donald L. Potter
Donald L. Potter

The DRTV model — actually all forms of direct marketing — is the only ad strategy utilizing the time-tested sales techniques: gain attention, create interest, stir up desire and ask for the order, thereby consummating the sale. Branding, on the other hand, might be defined as a way to create a product's value based on cumulative impressions and positive reinforcement. This suggests that if the consumer is aware of a product and has a good attitude toward, it the goal of advertising has been attained. Unfortunately the success of such efforts is difficult to measure, so advocates of branding must defer quantifying results until some time in the future.

The Strictly Branding Model

Since most brands don't sell directly to the consumer, the companies behind these products have bought into the awareness/attitude concept. These advertisers rarely ask for the order or direct the consumer to do something, so they have to wait and hope for the best. No call-to-action results in ads with no teeth. In these uncertain times, winning brands will wisely incorporate more bite into their ad messages — the sooner the better.

To be effective, making branding ads work harder doesn't mean flooding the tube with hard-sell slicer/dicer type ads, but the benefits must come through loud and clear if a product hopes to facilitate a brand switch. Procter & Gamble, for instance, is running value ads for premium brands like Charmin and Bounty, comparing them to so-called low-price competitors. For Olay, a popular-priced cosmetics line, the company suggests there is no need to buy the expensive brands anymore. And, this packaged goods giant promotes online coupons in selected TV spots in order to generate trial and repeat purchase. If it's working for P&G, it might be something to consider for those spending less but who need immediate results. Now, marketers such as S.C. Johnson and others have instituted similar programs.

Advertising's True Role? Sell!

Adapting to the DRTV model does not mean marketers should abandon their current distribution channels. To the contrary, utilizing DRTV elements will strengthen their marketing efforts and give them more things to merchandise to retailers, such as going to the product Web site for usage ideas, coupons, sweepstakes, testimonials and reasons that further demonstrate why their particular brand is the one to buy. These can all be promoted with the DRTV approach. Tagging spots with the names of participating stores and mentioning low-price offers or other in-store promotions can also be enhanced through the use of the DRTV model.

Guthy-Renker's Proactiv Solution is a direct response product, yet the commercials are as stylish and as well produced as any branded cosmetic spot. Many pharmaceutical short-form commercials have high production values. The call-to-action is what makes these commercials effective. Asking for the order is what differentiates these ad messages from the others. And the results are measurable. It's time to go back to the basics and advertising's true role in the marketplace: sell.

Making television commercials using the direct response approach is just the beginning. The opportunity to use longer spots and buy them at discounted rates is an important element of the DRTV model, and it can work for brand building too. But that's the subject for another discussion. For now, just accept the fact that advertising is changing. Bury conventional thinking, because branding is dead. Get with the DRTV approach — it's alive and well.

Don Potter is a 50-year veteran of the advertising agency business, a frequent lecturer and an author of novels and non-fiction books. He consults for selected marketers and can be reached at (818) 728-8266 or via E-mail at

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