One of the occupational hazards of being in the direct and digital marketing business is that you are continually exposed to the day job when you are trying to have some leisure time. Direct mail on my doorstep, ‘pop behinds’ during your web browsing and direct response press when you are reading the Sunday papers. You try hard not to, but you inevitably get sucked into making gloriously subjective verdicts on the creative work and the quality of the salesmanship on show.

If you are in the business of driving leads into a call centre or clicks to your site then it is worth taking a trip back in time to revisit some of the technique and salesmanship of John Caples or David Ogilvy. They remind us that it’s all about the art of persuasion. Sadly, there are often unexpected marketing cross currents that make us drift from an effective and clearly defined direct response creative strategy.

For instance, you can easily get tempted to indulge in the digital ‘art of the possible’. Typically a bleeding edge digital technique is deployed because… well… er… you can. Maybe we get off-course because we confuse retail advertising with direct response advertising. The strongest cross current is where we cannot decide if the primary purpose of the advertising is to get a response or deliver a brand message. There are many reasonable explanations for why this drift off-course happens, but it happens with alarming regularity.

Straying the course
A great example of going a little off-course is broadband operator TPG. It appears to be making a significant investment in direct response press, but is it getting value from this creative execution? The headline ‘TPG ADSL2 + TPG TV’ reminds me of a decade ago when the telcos were running ads with headlines like ‘WAP now with GPRS’. While we latte-sipping marketing folk are getting excited about Facebook and RSS feeds, most regular consumers are still scratching their heads about how to banish Viagra emails from their inbox. We all need to regularly pinch ourselves on this point, otherwise we will continue to talk tech speak to consumers. I like to apply the test: would this headline start an interesting conversation with a friend? You decide whether this one passes the test.

Laid bare
On the other hand, I like the naked simplicity of this Engin magazine ad with a simple, irresistible proposition and short copy. It takes real discipline to have so little copy in a direct response ad – yet contain enough salesmanship to get the phone ringing.

Speak to me
I once had a boss who said, “Never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.” In other words, don’t lose control of the conversation with the consumer. I was reminded of this when looking at this Aviva tower ad on the site. The headline poses a question, “Would you rather be thinking about life insurance, investments and superannuation?” It yields a big ‘No’ in my mind. It’s a long way back from ‘No’ when you are keen for a click. The interactivity of the binoculars is great, but there is no connective tissue between the messaging. I am not really sure why I should be interested in this. The reason I buy an Aviva product may not be the reason I initially respond to the advertising. The problem is I am not sure what they want me to do. I click through and it turns out to be a competition to win seats at the Australian Open. The competition is about identifying three words that are associated with the Aviva brand. At this stage I am desperate to be qualified for some sort of selling process, some product benefits or for them to at least weave in a story about me rather than the Aviva brand.

The art of persuasion
Susan Jones in her useful book Creative Strategies for Direct Marketing cuts through the waffle and defines the five options facing the marketer in telling a story that will yield a response. They are typically:

  • save time -how does the product deliver this?
  • make money – how do I do it easily?
  • self-improvement – how does it help me get ahead or look better?
  • enjoyment – how does it deliver pleasure and experiences, and
  • security – how will it make me feel good about my family or possessions?

GIO has used this last point very solidly in its magazine ad for its platinum insurance product. Starting the conversation with an emotion rather than a fact means that, like the old masters, the art of persuasion is at play, rather than something that has drifted a little off-course.