Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Directly and to the point ... the new rules of direct response

In his latest monthly column Greg Grimmer, partner, Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer, puts his haunted memory of being booed at the recent Direct Marketing awards aside for a moment to explain the new golden rules of response advertising ...

Once upon a time in a world very different from today a recently launched Channel 4 and a still all-powerful British Telecom held a big conference to set out the rules of direct response television.

Back in this golden era there was a reason for these two companies to show an interest in such a subject. Channel 4 had set up a new sales team and had some pesky new dayparts to sell called "coffee time" and "Nighttime" - and BT was not only the one phone company in existence but it was also operating in a pre-mobile, pre-sms, pre-internet world. Its only competition for advertiser response was the humble coupon, still even today a difficult fulfillment method via television.

Fast forward nearly two decades and the first attempt to rewrite the golden rules of response advertising was made last week at the sumptuous Soho Hotel. Tess Alps and her effervescent Thinkbox marketing team, led by imperturbable research director Dave Brennan, set out to look at whether the 'rules' as written in a pre-digerati world still have any relevance to today's marketers.

For reasons of age and career history - and no doubt availability - I was invited to take part in this rewriting of the rules and enjoyed the experience perhaps more than you might expect. As a keen student of military history (can I recommend others to read 'Generals' by Mark Urban) I can spot that the 'Frenemy' tactics of Thinkbox and Google can now be likened to the entente cordiale between the French and British at the height of Empire.

Of course telephony in its many modern forms may not in this case take the place of an emerging German superpower and may be closer to a still powerful but decaying Russian imperial state. Both television and the internet still need and use phone responses to handle customers but many marketers are moving to online only customer handling techniques. In airlines it is not just the modus operandi of Ryan Air and EasyJet, BA have gone that way as well. The online insurance aggregator market (which was unsurprisingly featured heavily at the Thinkbox conference) has grown entirely through the online response channel. Although how, when and why people choose to respond and visit these sites was of course the subject of much debate before, during and after the conference.

So what are these new rules I hear you ask? Well like most things in life the conclusions drawn by the aforementioned unflappable Dave were less didactic than as set out by someone far less amusing back in the 1990's. But conclude he did and you will find this work on the excellent Nickable stuff section of the Thinkbox website.

Perhaps even more interesting was the reaction from the audience in the Q+A session . The issue of response from advertising is now an issue that effects all client side marketers . Whilst most will still have brand health measures, econometrics models and other forms of measurement in place, nearly all also try and count the immediate effect of their television advertising.

Now this should be viewed as a positive by all parties, but there will be certain constituencies that are nervous at this ever-increasing trend. They shouldn't be but neither should any of us think that immediate response is still the ten minutes immediately after a spot is aired.

The other debate that has matured and evolved and become more complicated over the past two decades is that of brand versus direct. I recounted last week how, as an advertising bloke, I was booed at the Direct Marketing awards whilst collecting a prize (a memory that still haunts me today). The warring camps of Direct and Brand have merged in many organisations only to be replaced with new silos of Online versus Offline.

As we debated the nine or ten different types of creative and media strategies on my now famous response ladder, I urged the same dedication be given to the channel in which you want response channeled through. But the biggest question of all - and the first question we should all ask - how much response does our business need?

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