Advertising vs. (rather than plus) Direct Response Marketing

The distinction between advertising and direct response marketing is made clear by the near-impossibility of seeing the virtues of one from the frame of the other.

With brand advertising, as Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier explain in “The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works,” whole populations are made familiar with a brand, whether or not any one individual buys that brand, or responds at the time to an ad. Besides causing familiarity (through what media buyers call reach and frequency), brand advertising sends a strong economic signal of seriousness and sufficiency. It says “we can afford to do this.” From the perspective of brand advertising, annoying people personally with calls to action, especially when only a tiny percentage will actually respond, creates no brand value and has other negative externalities, such as associating the brand with annoyance.

Direct response marketing not only can’t comprehend the waste that brings value to brand advertising, but also excuses the vast majority of its own personal messages that get no response. But direct response marketing does float a lot of boats. For example, post offices make good money in the junk mail business.

The problem online is that brand and direct response marketing messages are both called advertising, and look pretty much the same. But the worse thing is that nearly all of advertising is framed by the purposes and metrics of the old junk mail business from which direct response marketing is descended.

Not sure what this says about strong and weak ties, or negotiated meaning, however.

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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