From the perspective of investment by clients, below the line is gaining ground on above the line. The combined expenditures on sales promotion and direct marketing in the UK are double that of advertising. Views about the relationship between above and below the line are clearly divided on either side of the line. Advertising continues to occupy the high ground in terms of influence and theory. There are hard, accounting reasons for this – databases are not as widely valued on balance sheets as brands are. But it is at a more personal, day-to-day level that the differences are most evident. Press any direct marketing agency managing director and you will find a deep streak of resentment about advertising agencies. More than anything else, it is the creative reputation of above the line which is at the root of this – witness the decision last year by a group of DM outfits to display their work in an art gallery to prove their equivalence in skills. Given the financial shift in favour of below the line, does it matter that DM agencies are not recognised as creative? The overwhelming answer from the DM agencies consulted for this piece is yes. Rick Wright, art director of TSM, says: “The belief that only advertising agencies have the necessary skills to take any sort of creative high ground is nothing more than propaganda put out by panicky ad agencies seeing their control of clients’ budgets slip through their fingers.” Wright’s response, however, betrays the frustration among DM agencies that creative control has never been within their grasp, and appears unlikely to be handed to them. Certainly those agencies which do not have any planning function stand no chance of making any strategic input to the creative. Clients’ brands are simply too valuable to risk an ill-chosen communication that could damage consumers’ attitudes. In fact, the way clients manage their brands has a significant impact on the way marketing campaigns of any form are used. As Goldfish marketing director Grant Miller points out: “We operate using a brand book and a set of brand values which we use as the basis for our communications.” Goldfish’s set of guidelines was developed by Wolff Olins and sets down principles that have to be followed in every aspect of the marketing – from use of the logo, to tone of voice, typography and even use of white space. Both the advertising agency (Simons Palmer) and the DM agency (DP&A) have to ensure their work supports those brand objectives. Miller does believe that the conventional hierarchy of marketing communications is not always appropriate, however. “When people talk about an integrated approach, they usually mean getting out the TV first and then the direct marketing. On a number of campaigns, we have done it the other way around for production reasons. The direct mail goes into production 12 to 15 weeks before the TV, because there is a lot of data involved,” he says. Creative independence Both Goldfish’s above- and below-the-line activities are free to develop creative solutions independently of each other, since the brand book will ensure consistency. However, Miller adds that, for example, Billy Connolly has never been used in the direct mail work. “Above the line used to drive everything because it was thought to create the marketing environment. That is not a fair way of treating agencies,” he says. Instead, all parties to the Goldfish marketing account meet once a week on an equal footing. However, some barriers to the equal development of creative work do remain. “We don’t do a lot of pre-research in direct mail. People are good at commenting on something real, but when you try to research concepts, you see strange results coming through. People want to see the final thing,” says Miller. The Goldfish direct mail campaign has been widely hailed as among the most creative, especially in the context of the financial services sector, and has picked up many awards along the way. Similar success has followed the Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) relaunch, which used direct response and brand work. Last year’s DMA/Royal Mail gold award went to the CWC direct response television campaign created by Rapier. The work clearly communicated the CWC brand but also delivered the required response levels – more than 600,000 at a cost per response of £10, which was half the target cost. The creative work was just as strongly developed for the direct mail, created by Joshua. Its “Let’s simplify things” campaign proved that using emotional triggers – in this case, clarity, control, savings, waste – could also create a response. The full campaign generated 3.5 million calls and 104 per cent of target sales, at a return on investment of 7.7:1. Brand awareness also rose from 88 per cent to 93 per cent. The way marketing campaigns are carried out at CWC may explain the effectiveness of these combined brand and response objectives. “We have a fairly unique set-up,” says CWC head of brand Alex Butler. “We have a team responsible for the whole organisation’s branding. We also manage the agency roster.” Branding through direct mail Although the brand unit does not manage the budget, it works with the four key business units – consumer, business, corporate, and customer solutions – at every stage, from briefing to reviewing finished work. Butler says: “It is not just a question of looking at where the logo sits, but the fit of the brand proposition with marketing message. “The brand is responsive. It is about value and accessibility. That has to be integrated into every marketing message. It is not just what we say, but how we say it – the lay-out of ads need to be clear, simple, and give the facts very quickly. That is what the brand is about.” This is a new approach for CWC, which has come into being in the wake of the merger which created the company. Having a “brand cop” such as this can take some getting used to, both for the client and the agencies. Butler recognises the concerns that can arise: “Sometimes brand management is about telling the marketing department what it can’t do. We’re here to help them get it right. It does work very successfully.” Mergers often require important marketing communications to be carried out to customers before formal brand guidelines or management structures are in place. Although rebranding is often trumpeted through above-the-line advertising, DM is increasingly being used as an effective tool. Its prime advantage is the ability to deliver brand imagery and positioning to a very targeted audience. Paul Tullo, creative director of DM agency Tullo Marshall Warren, says: “We were commissioned to communicate the new brand of BT Cellnet where the sole aim was brand building.” Although there was a response device intended to gather data on customers, the main purpose of the direct mail pack was to communicate the brand values of the newly-merged business. “We designed it to convince people that the brand was interesting. Because it was new, there was no brand bible, so we had to set the agenda,” Tullo says. The look and feel of the pack is similar to a brand commercial put down on paper – the interplay between the visuals and the headlines sets up questions which are answered at the back in the explanation of the merger and what it means for customers. The pack also introduces a subliminal reference to Orange, whose brand work is heavily oriented to the future. The creative approach has been picked up for point of sale and promotional material. But Tullo says this does not imply the work will become the basis for future brand communications or TV advertising. Tullo believes the main factor preventing DM agencies taking more of a creative role has been economics. “Most brand expressions in above the line last about three to five years. If you find a successful direct mail pack, it becomes a banker and can go out unchanged for ten years,” he says. Clients and agencies are recognising that below-the-line activity does not consist only of generating response and sales; it can also impact on brand perceptions and attitudes. That means the scope for divorcing a mailshot from brand values is no longer as great as may have once been assumed. In some cases, clients have been building their business and brand simultaneously using only DM. Land Rover is the best example of this, with its much-lauded work through Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel. When launching the Freelander, it relied solely on direct mail to condition the market, generate prospects and create test-drive opportunities. David Watson, chairman of Craik Jones, says the agency’s approach allowed a campaign of this type to be considered: “At the heart of the way we work is a pivotal planning function.” As in any advertising agency, planning drives the whole process and has to recognise the impact of direct mail activity on a brand. Watson explains: “A lot of people do not respond to a direct mail pack, but it remains an opportunity to move the perception of the brand forward.” Watson says that so far, none of the agency’s creative ideas have been picked up for use in above the line. “There is some prejudice because a lot of DM is poor, especially in financial services. It singularly fails to do anything to support the brand.” Realising DM’s value Agencies which feel frustrated by having their creative ideas spurned by above-the-line colleagues are perhaps missing the point of the debate. Rather than trying to prove they can measure up to one another, advertising and DM agencies need to focus on what they do best. If the overwhelming desire to make TV ads could be set aside, the underlying ability to express brand values and generate response could emerge more fully. And in the long term, it is this which brand owners are increasingly coming to value. The answer is not integration, it is self belief.