Does TV advertising influence viewers? The question has been a vexed one, especially in the early Nineties, when brand advertising for packaged goods could not point to a direct uplift in sales, and often did not influence attitudes. Direct response TV (DRTV) entered this debate with its hard evidence of an effect – if the phones ring, it must be working.
Like any effective technique, dogma soon developed around how DRTV should be done to achieve the required effect. The mechanical imperatives are simple – put the phone number on screen for a minimum of 15 seconds and repeat it in the voiceover three times. With a clear call to action, a single product message, and the longest spot that the budget will allow, the client should benefit from a healthy response and sales.
There is no doubting the success of this approach for many companies. If it did not work, 25 per cent of terrestrial ads would not carry a phone number (rising sharply during the day). But what this technique-oriented view of TV advertising does not take into account is the other effects ads might have. What of the collateral impact on a brand, for example? If all you do is ask consumers to call, what values will they ascribe to the company?
These are the issues that have helped give rise to brand response television (BRTV), which simultaneously promotes brand values and solicits a phone call from the viewer. A growing number of BRTV campaigns are proving effective in both areas, so is it time to rethink the way in which television motivates the viewer?
“As long as an ad is creative and motivational, there is little difference between being inspired to go to the shops and dialling a telephone number,” says MBA creative director Graham Kerr. His view is that drawing a distinction bet-ween brand and direct response will limit the creative brief. And as it is interest and emotional involvement that stimulates action, BRTV can get people to ring as effectively as DRTV.
“We did a campaign for the Harry Simons Trust aiming to fund a chair for research into a genetic disease. The concept was based on a group of children playing musical chairs, culminating in one child left without a chair. Then came the phone number and a request to donate money for a research chair to study the disease,” he says.
A conventional DRTV charity ad would have applied the rules more strictly, yet Kerr says response was still good. He says that many pure brand ads have such huge emotional appeal that the addition of a phone number could readily convert them into BRTV.
“Take the latest ad for Lynx. There is no way I’d be seen dead buying the stuff, but if there was a phone number at the end of the ad allowing me to buy it, I’d be on the phone like a shot,” he says.
The product demo is a staple feature of TV ads and one that is common to both types of commercial, whether for a car shampoo selling off the screen, or a hair shampoo sold retail. The only difference is that branded haircare products have not historically invited response. This is changing. Elida Gibbs and others have recently begun to do so, while in the US, Cover Girl make-up has been driving viewers to its Website for online sales.
When Barclays Bank launched b2, it had clear objectives in mind from the start, according to Chris O’Shea, creative director at Banks Hoggins O’Shea. The first was to create a brand where none had existed before, the second was to drive response.
“Branding is useless if punters don’t ring at the end, because there is no physical manifestation apart from the phone number,” he says.
Even within BRTV terms, the b2 launch took a more brand-oriented approach, to the extent of using teaser ads. “Financial advertising is traditionally a low-interest thing. In research, it came below a loaf of sliced bread,” says O’Shea. Add to that anxieties about investments – fuelled by BCCI, pension mis-selling and the problems of Lloyd’s names – and you have the explanation for why the brand communications are set in an open location.
The campaign was rolled out in three phases. Initially, short ads with just the logo appeared, followed by ads explaining that b2 was a financial company, but with no phone number. Finally, the brand response ads appeared. “You couldn’t put the phone number on the first two, because where are you starting from? What would viewers be ringing up for?” says O’Shea.
While response was intended to be chiefly driven from poster and press ads, the TV work still pulled more than 130,000 calls.
The same kind of thinking underpinned the launch of the Goldfish credit card, with ads by TBWA (then called Simons Palmer). “One of the key things we considered when developing the work was that Goldfish was a direct brand with no high street presence. It relies on direct response channels for business,” says account director Philip Holliday.
TV was used to develop the brand imagery and to “create a climate” in which other media would drive response, especially direct mail. “We had a good response to the ©
TV campaign, but we don’t use that as a measure of success. To have developed it through classic DRTV techniques would not have achieved the objective of overall awareness of the brand,” he says.
When brand advertising had its crisis of confidence in 1990, Gordon Brown of Millward Brown International tackled the issue head on. In “How advertising affects the sales of packaged goods brands”, he developed a hypothesis to explain why TV ads did not seem to make anything happen. Crucial to his argument was the idea that consumers resist ads when they see them because they want to simplify their purchase habits and so do not want to be challenged. This hurdle can be overcome through novelty, relevance and credibility – but it is hard to keep saying something new about shampoo. However, if a consumer is ready to switch, an ad can channel that change.
This is the key area – probably the only one – in which DRTV can claim to have had a significant impact. It dramatically gets the consumer out of the chair and onto the phone, usually within 15 minutes of the spot running. What direct response advertisers do not know, however, is whether the sales they make are to those who would have been in the market anyway. If so, they have simply bought market share from a competitor.
And what effect will pure DRTV have on viewers who are not in the market, but who might be at a future date? In his book, Brown describes how advertising enhances brands with “interest status”, and has a powerful influence at the point when a consumer actually experiences the brand. Hence, shoppers describe an instant coffee with vocabulary from a TV commercial.
How would those same shop- pers describe a product that they have bought from DRTV? In almost no cases do these ads att- empt to provide an emotive lan-guage that will deepen the product experience. Yet even a car shampoo could be regarded as “creamy” or “luxurious” if the ad worked on those dimensions.
So DRTV has done little to build brand values, leaving the path open for advertising agencies to bridge both objectives. Increasingly, brand response ads are revealing a willingness among consumers to respond, even if it has no real benefit for them. When HHCL & Partners relaunched Martini and ran its Beautiful People ads, 35,000 viewers called in the hope of being in the next spot. Its ads for Tango have shipped hundreds of thousands of units of branded, consumer paid- for merchandise.
The Automobile Association is a direct marketing organisation par excellence. Yet it is using HHCL for BRTV work. “We are working to fairly clearly defined costs per response and member acquisition targets, but doing it in the way that Direct Line has been doing it – building a brand and developing response, not using DRTV ads,” says account director Hugh Eaton.
Within the objectives of membership recruitment and cost-effectiveness, the agency does not answer simply to the number of times its ads make the phone ring. “There are a number of brand dimensions we measure as well, such as agreement with statements like, ‘they get to your car quickly’, or ‘they are the fourth emergency service’,” says Eaton.
Few DRTV advertisers or agencies measure those kind of brand attitudes. Yet this would seem to be an increasingly important aspect of response TV advertising. If as Brown discovered you can’t always create an immediate effect, but you can leave a long-term impression, response might well be triggered at a later date by another medium. But it will only happen if the brand attitudes created by the advertising are positive. BRTV campaigns are showing this can be done. The question is whether DRTV can respond to the challenge.