Direct response or branding?

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Do you also find new media people a bit distracted when they talk about branding? Remember, they set themselves up by dividing media into online and offline. Now they're obliged to pretend they're offline like all the other media.

That's what their preoccupation with branding amounts to. They want us to focus on awareness and persuasion, the soft non-transactional benefits of Web advertising. That's like Playboy trying to hide the Bunnies. Why be interactive if you don't want clients to look at response?

Name an advertiser that wouldn't like to be online with his buyers and prospects? You can target based on behavior, evaluate creative in real time, specify frequency and measure response. Sounds pretty good. The terror for Inter-net sellers is it sounds like direct mail.

Why terror? Direct mail is a $45 billion business, so there's plenty to go around. But the Internet can't usually compete for direct response. "Lists" aren't as good and privacy concerns may keep them from getting better. Creative isn't as disciplined. Offers aren't as well tested. Units aren't as flexible. And there's the big downside. Nothing in advertising is as obvious as direct response with no one responding.

Today a short history of the Web would be titled "The Un-seemly Flight to Branding." It would tell how a genuine response medium fled from response, instead of learning to use it.

The Web people have it right. You can't be both a direct response and a branding medium. Branding media don't target well. Direct response focuses in. It looks only for high-probability buyers. Branding reaches out. It targets all potential purchasers. "All" is an ill-defined group. The Web is somewhere between the two.

Sure there is a conflict between branding and direct response, but there is no conflict between branding and selling. Today's advertiser assumes advertising should do both.

The planning model divides potential purchasers into those ready to buy (a small group) and those not (a much larger group). Advertising sells by nudging the brand choice of the buyers, and it brands by building awareness with the others. The process snowballs. Higher awareness makes it easier for advertising to sell the brand.

The Web shouldn't run away from click-throughs. They give it the best measurement options in the business. The advertiser can measure exposures and response. Click-throughs signal interest, a precondition to making the sale.

Because many buyers will not click-through, it can't be the ultimate test of Internet advertising any more than short-term sales can be for TV. But a differential click-through rate may tell the advertiser, in real time, how well the campaign is working. That is infor- mation to kill for.

As to low click-through levels: When TV becomes a response medium, what do you think its click-through rates will be?

Mr. Ephron is a partner at Ephron, Papazian & Ephron, New York, a media consultancy ( E-mail at [email protected]

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