Good ideas are the heart of good advertising – direct response shouldn’t be an exception

Russell Fisher and Matt Lord of Cain&AbelDDB argue that well-crafted direct response TV ads could be your brand’s secret sauce.

When you hear the words direct response advertising, what comes to mind? Price roundels and ’sale’ starburst signs? Maybe those ads on daytime TV – you know, actors trying to flog you insurance from a kitchen. With traditional direct response (DR), creative has taken a back seat, while a focus on price and left-brain rationality has done the driving. And what a dull drive it’s often been.

But good DR is grabbing the steering wheel and taking us somewhere more exciting. This is partly driven by competition for attention provided by other devices – which has forced agencies to produce more emotionally-engaging DR, or be lost in a swelling sea of always-on content – and partly because agencies are waking up to the truth that when done well, DR (particularly DRTV ads) can be emotionally engaging, as well as hold attention and prompt action, which results in big, measurable wins for clients.

Good DRTV ads need to engage the rational left brain but also excite the emotional right brain. It’s why they’re no longer condemned solely to paddle about in the backwater of daytime TV. Now they’re muscling in on primetime spots. Sure, TV advertising certainly plays a less influential role than it did, but it’s still key – even for DR. According to DR agency Fall off the Wall, 69% of website visits come via paid media, but a whopping 47% still arrive via paid TV media.

If at the heart of good advertising lies good ideas, then the world of DR should be no exception. Take ‘Big on a Christmas you can believe in’ for Lidl. It is a well-crafted DRTV ad, but it’s wrapped around the idea of a parody of the Christmas TV ad genre itself; and it manages to subvert traditional best-practice DR principles too. It’s effectively a brand ad that’s been hijacked by a DR ad.

Then there’s the series of timeless and beautifully crafted ‘Spare the act’ Christmas ads for Currys PC World, featuring Jeff Goldblum. Sure, a big budget lands a great name, but humor, style, clarity and great writing aren’t exclusive to big budgets. So with very few DR tools pulled from the toolbox, and, heretically, with each product almost casually incidental to the human story behind it, each ad nevertheless pulls off the trick of being product-focused, entertaining and memorable.

Traditional agencies that don’t have the appetite or ability to produce the harder-working DR part of their campaigns have been happy to let their clients walk across the road for another agency to handle it instead. But traditional agencies are waking up to see that not only are they letting a heap of revenue walk out the door, they’re also waving goodbye to all the creative opportunities that DR presents. And in our experience, clients are increasingly asking for and expecting a more joined-up, through-the-line approach to their comms from their main agency – to not only create memorable brand campaigns that make them famous, but also to follow up on that promise with all the other good DR stuff that flows off the back of them.

In a nutshell, we see brand and DR as inseparable from the POV of a punter. Because they don’t see brands like ad people. DR is part of a wider relationship or conversation that a brand has with potential customers. And since these conversations are happening above and below the line, what’s crucial to success for the client is that no matter where someone engages with their brand, whether that’s passively watching a brand TV ad or more proactively online, that brand should look and sound the same – wherever you meet it. So as much thought and craft needs to go into the harder-working stuff as it does to the brand stuff. Otherwise, the promise a brand ad sets up at the start of a campaign becomes a disappointing experience for the audience when they engage with it further along the customer journey.

People buy from people, as the old phrase goes. Say you meet someone at a party for the first time. They’re exciting, engaging and witty; but when you next meet them on the street, they look shabby, don’t recognize you, they’re diffident, unengaged, boring and, worst of all, they’re just trying to flog you something. Just like bad communication generally, bad DR really can damage or end a relationship.

DR is often seen as brand advertising’s poor relation, leading to hamstrung budgets, and through a lack of desire or know-how, it’s often outsourced to one-stop-shops churning one-size-fits-all creative and media placements.

Being born from Adam&EveDDB, we put as much love and craft into planning and executing tailored DR campaigns here at Cain&AbelDDB as Adam&EveDDB puts into their brilliant brand work. Because only then can a brand promise be fully realized in the way it looks and the way it speaks to customers from wherever they engage with it – be it on TV, radio, digital, social or on a 6-sheet at a bus stop. As we know, a great campaign idea, DR or not, will always have the legs to run across all these spaces.

We also always try to remove our DR goggles to look at our work from the point of view of people who don’t dwell in the adland bubble. Because with DR, it’s even more relevant to evaluate it from the point of view of a potential customer who’s further down that infamous sales funnel when they’re ready to buy (or ‘find out more’). An above-the-line brand campaign ad can provide a brilliant, insightful and memorable introduction, and DR is where we will nurture a deeper, more profitable relationship for both parties.

And that takes a bit more than a price roundel and a ’sale’ starburst.

Russell Fisher and Matt Lord are creative directors at Cain&AbelDDB.