TV Advertising Blog

What Is Direct Response Marketing? DR 101 - Part 1

November 4, 2016
4 minute read

The beast of marketing can be simplified into two categories: brand marketing and direct response marketing. Direct response marketing is refined messaging intended for a specific audience. Brand marketing is what we think of when we see Nike’s “Just Do It” campaigns or listen to celebrity endorsements for everything from cars to credit card companies.

Brand marketing seeks to shape the perceived image of a company or product. Essentially, it tries to create personality. It does not have a direct call-to-action. It rarely, if ever, has a direct ROI attached to it. Brand marketing may be selling many products or services under one corporate umbrella at different times.

Direct response marketing, on the other hand, presents a real-world problem and offers the product as the easy, effective solution.

But wait, don’t all companies want a response to their campaigns?

Yes, but brand marketing seeks to increase sales without knowing which marketing efforts worked and which failed. While it may raise band awareness, increase viewership/audience reach, or build upon other campaigns, it’s unable to provide marketers with precise data to help them make future decisions.

Direct response, however, is focused on driving to a specific, trackable action. At the end of the day, marketers know which ads performed the best and which performed the worst. How’s that for return on investment?

Response-Driven Channels

Direct Response Marketing.png

Direct response marketing is not limited to only print or only digital. Some direct response advertisements feature URLs. Others use 1-800 numbers, and some use both. It depends on the demographic and fit for your offering.

Direct response marketing has been used to connect with consumers for decades. Last year’s movie Joy is a prime example of its accessibility and profitability. Joy Mangano, an inventor and entrepreneur best known for the Miracle Mop, is considered a pioneer in direct response marketing due to her presence on the Home Shopping Network and subsequent number of mops sold.

How did she use direct response marketing rather than brand marketing?

She presented the product rather than the “idea” of it. She demonstrated firsthand the convenience of her mop. She didn’t expand upon her brand, the company’s history, or how she wanted the mop to make you feel. She didn’t repeat a catchy slogan or use jargon to entice you to buy. She showed the use of what she was selling so the consumer could decide on the spot if they wanted the product or not.

She told you how to buy the product. During her spots on HSN, at the end of her demonstration, she told you how to buy it and what action to take. Multiple times, in fact. She didn’t want you to come see her at a store opening. She didn’t lead you down a long and ambiguous path. She told you how to buy it NOW.

She told you to buy the product rather than insinuating it. She didn't skate around a vague intention of her goal. The words out of her mouth were “buy now.” Can’t get much simpler than that.

Main Characteristics of Direct Response


Following Mangano’s model, you can start to get an understanding of what makes a direct response marketing campaign different than other marketing strategies. Although brand marketing may encompass some facets of direct response, remember there is no confusion when it comes to a direct response campaign. It either is or isn’t.

There is a direct call-to-action. “Call now,” “Sign up,” and “Buy today” are all examples of the kind of direct messaging used for direct response campaigns. Since the purpose is to sell the product or service, the CTA isn’t subtle or worse, missing. It provides clear direction. When a consumer sees or hears your ad, will they know what you want them to do? If not, it’s not direct response.

There is response-driven copy. Brand advertising uses a lot of descriptive words or sums up an idea in a way that is catchy or tagline-driven, which in some cases, could miss the mark among consumers. There is not a risk of misinterpretation from direct response marketing. A successful campaign ensures every consumer knows what their next action must be.

There is A/B/C/D testing and beyond. Since direct response marketing is highly trackable, you can test different channels to see which brings in the most leads and optimize (and optimize again) accordingly. One campaign may be served across different channels based on the demographic. For example, an older demographic may be more inclined to buy from a commercial they’ve seen on TV or heard on talk radio versus a younger audience who’d prefer to get a limited time offer through email or on their favorite online audio stream. But both audiences get the same clear action steps.

Audience or channel testing is just the beginning. The options for testing are endless and include creative concepts, offers, headlines, talent, and much, much more.

The Bottom Line

An effective direct response ad generates revenue at a profitable cost. Direct response marketing requires action. How are you going to get someone to pick up the phone, visit a site, fire off a text, place an order, and become a new customer? You have to know how to ask.

Still wondering how it works? And how it can work for you? We’ll touch on that in part two of this series.

Stay tuned.

Chuck Hengel

By Chuck Hengel

Founder & CEO

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