Monthly Archives: February 2013

What the hell is Brand Response?

Brand Response. One of the newest manifestations of ignorance, stupidity and fashion that is sweeping through the marketing industry.

In case you haven’t stumbled across it, Brand Response is a new term used by many marketing people and advertising agencies to describe an advertising campaign that is created to do a brand-building/image/awareness job and at the same time generate a bit of direct response. (I’m already getting cross, just writing this description, it makes me so crazy! Deep breaths….)

Now, the smarter readers amongst you (especially the ones who don’t work in marketing or advertising and therefore still have a modicum of common sense left between your ears) might be scratching your head and thinking “But surely all advertising affects the customer’s perception of a brand, whether it’s designed to generate a direct response or just awareness or image building?

Surely a customer’s perception of a brand is affected by every interaction she has with it—whether it’s watching a telly ad, reading some PR, sampling the product, talking to their customer service reps, visiting the website?”

And of course you’d be absolutely correct.

Direct response advertising doesn’t exist in a separate universe to any other sort of advertising. To suggest it does is patent nonsense to anyone who pauses to think for a moment.

You build a brand by getting the punter to sample your products and forming a good opinion about them, about your company, about the way you talk to him, treat the environment and so on and so on. Direct response advertising, like any other form of promotion, is simply one of the many ways whereby your customer can form an opinion about you.

Put simply, every ad is a brand ad. Whether you call it Brand Response or Direct Response is utterly irrelevant.

OK, so we can tick the ‘brand’ half of the equation. But what about the ‘response’ half? This is where Brand Response falls crashing to the ground.

It doesn’t work.

The copy isn’t long enough, it doesn’t focus on the consumer benefits enough. It doesn’t demand a response and rarely uses any incentives, closing dates or any of the other bog-standard, tried-and-tested tools in the direct response armoury.

Brand Response ads are mostly written by agency creatives who don’t know anything about how to write copy that is designed to drive response—a very different skill to awareness/award-winning/portfolio-packing advertising. (Sadly, this now includes most creatives in direct marketing agencies, too.)

These creatives are briefed by planners who don’t know the first thing about what makes direct marketing tick. The work is approved by a Creative Director who is only interested in the next awards ceremony. And the work is sold to the client by an account team raised on the mantra: Short Copy Good. Long Copy Bad. (I wish I were exaggerating here, but I’m not.)

Of course, the client may get a bit of response from the ad—simply because it’s got a phone number on—but nowhere near the response they’ll get if it were put together with the specific intention of driving response.

And of course its ROI (return on investment) will be simply too horrific to contemplate.


A phone number isn’t a call to action

Art directors are the chaps (and chapesses) in advertising agencies who design the ads—in other words, they’re the ones in charge of deciding what stuff looks like—whether it’s telly, press, online or dm.

Art directors like their designs to be clean, elegant, beautiful, balanced. (They went to art college, you see, not selling school.)

This means in a press ad, for example, they’re always asking their copywriter to cut the body copy, remove what they consider extraneous words, shorten the headline and generally remove all the stuff that might, with a fair wind behind it, actually persuade somebody, somewhere, to buy something.

I’ll cover the subject of long copy vs short copy in another blog, but one of the things an art direction driven culture does is emasculate the power of The Call To Action.

The Call to Action (CTA) is the bit on your ad, website, newsletter, flyer which demands that the reader respond in some way. By calling you, by clicking through, by buying.

Anyone trained in a direct response/direct marketing or sales environment, like yours truly, knows that if you want someone to respond in some way, you have to tell them do so.

We know this because we’ve tested again and again and again the difference in response that you get with and without.

So you have to say CALL. Or CLICK. Or RETURN THE COUPON. Please. (You should also give them a reason to do it NOW, if you can. Tell them when the lines are open, too, if you’re asking for a call and explain what will happen when they do. I’ll go into more detail about all this in another blog.)

But many art directors don’t like to say ‘CALL US NOW FREE ON 0800 123 1234 Lines open 8am-7pm Mon-Sat’. They just want the number.

Elegant, clean, beautiful. Utterly wrong.

This insanity is now even spreading to DRTV  (direct response television advertising) where the client is spending a bloody fortune specifically to get calls! And then not getting the response he needed simply because the agency is putting art before sales.

Because, as any nine year old will tell you, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.




Why WHAT you say will always be more important than HOW you say it

When I was a fresh-faced, bushy-tailed graduate trainee at a top London ad agency many years ago, we were always taught that when you’re producing advertising of any sort, what you say is always more important than the way you say it.

In other words, it’s the message that counts not just the way in which you present it. At all costs, the message had to zing out and be clearly communicated to the target audience—whether on tv, outdoor media, in the press or, these days, online.

Increasingly, however, this old mantra seems to have fallen by the wayside (so many other tried and tested techniques that have been discarded in favour of a few Facebook likes and ludicrous ‘branding’ exercises).

And a lot of the work you see out there has clearly spent 90% of its creative time on the ‘how’ and barely none on the ‘what’.

The simple communication of strong reasons to buy is replaced by puns, wordplay, unnecessary jokes, complicated art direction and illegible typography. These are the things that often float the creatives’ boat, and the things that win creativity awards.

They’re not necessarily the things that sell stuff, however. Here’s an example…

A superbly talented designer/typographer at an agency I was freelancing at was asked to design some 48 sheet posters for Yell, the old Yellow Pages company. The concepts were simple copy statements which needed some zip and impactful art direction to make them leap off the hoardings. Nothing wrong with that.

The designer’s solution was to turn the type into street maps (as ever the Yell sell was all about finding your local suppliers fast and easily). Very cute and clever idea with yellow and black Yell brand colours to the fore. Great looking work.

But totally illegible.

Not only that, a lot of people didn’t even ‘get’ what the design was meant to be. Even some of the account team selling it into the client hadn’t realised the design was meant to look like a street map—presumably they thought it was just a pretty, eye-catching pattern?

But everyone agreed the posters looked fantastic; the Executive Creative Director was raving about the brilliance and innovation of the design.

The fact that they were literally impossible to read seemed to whizz over everyone’s head; including the clients’, clearly, as they bought the campaign lock stock and barrel and spent a fortune on the media. Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes!

Yell, of course, went down the pan soon after.

But the campaign and its designer won Best Typography award at The Creative Circle.

Are you understanding, valuing and reassuring your clients?

It doesn’t do any of us any harm to be reminded of some of the basic principles of what we do from time to time.

That’s why I’d like to thank Rebecca from PTC for reminding me and my fellow seminar attendees how important it is to think about how your client is really responding to what you’re offering, doing or saying.

After all, how often have agencies been perplexed when a client takes their business elsewhere and then discovered it was simply because the agency hadn’t paid attention to the most basic aspects of client service? Namely, making sure your client is always:


Sounds easy. But how often we forget this simple stuff when we’re so busy trying to sell them our latest genius headline!

Do we genuinely understand them? Have we really listened to their needs—and that means emotional as well as business, don’t forget. Have we paid attention to their body language? Have we probed and prodded to make sure they’re really saying what they mean?

I know that when I was a client I would find it utterly infuriating when the agency account director was clearly not listening to what anyone was saying and, in the whole time the relationship continued, he never really bothered to find out what it was the company really did—how The Reader’s Digest business model really worked. Basic stuff, one would have thought?

Do we really value them? Do we constantly remind ourselves that without the client we’d have no business and be out of job? Do we think of them as a customer to be served or an annoyance to be dealt with?

And do we reassure them enough? Do we carefully, painstakingly explain what we’re proposing to do for them?

Clients are often a little scared of creative work and creative types—they’re sometimes out of their comfort zone, don’t speak the latest jargon and feel excluded. We must make sure they feel included, their opinions listened to and respected, their fears, worries and concerns are teased out at the earliest opportunity.

We must make sure they’re buying our services with confidence and understanding, not simply responding to a hard sell and worrying about it later.

Another shocking TV clunker from Peugeot

Just seen a new TV ad for a Peugeot. Don’t remember the model. The ad was so shockingly incompetent that the car being sold (HA!) was the very last thing that anybody will take away from it.

This is another horrific example of the current vogue in TV advertising for outrageous ‘borrowed interest’.

Borrowed Interest is when the creators of the ad are obviously so bored by the product they’re advertising that they think the audience will be too. So they add something totally irrelevant into the script in order to catch our attention.

In this case, the ad opens with a bloke looking for his lost cat. (That’s CAT, c,a,t.)

Then suddenly we cut to some annoying youngsters in the car. Then we cut back to another reference to the lost cat…then back to the car.

My brain was humming into overdrive trying to work out what I’d missed: what had the lost cat and its owner got to do with the car (and vice versa)?

Nope. Nothing. No link.

Just pure borrowed interest. In a pathetic attempt to make the ad funny (fail), cool (fail), edgy (fail).


The team that wrote it, the creative director that approved it, the account director that sold it, and the client that bought it should all hang their heads in deep, deep shame.