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May 4, 2005
Want a Career Marked by "Bottom Line" Creativity? Try Direct Response Television.

DRTV Gives Ad Pros the Chance to Drive ROI While Building Brands

The advertising industry has long thrived on the notion that some ads serve to build brands (the high-concept creative spots that make us laugh or cry) while other advertisements drive sales (the long-form “infomercials” that keep us company in the wee hours)—and never the twain shall meet. Serious advertising pros build careers around the former. The “creative” ads command respect because, let’s face it, they’re entertaining, while the “sales” ads are considered the ugly stepchild of the ad industry because, well, they’re efficient. In a popularity contest, entertaining beats efficient every time.

But the line between these two forms of advertising has increasingly blurred as companies look for advertising solutions that can deliver measurable return on investment while building brand awareness—a combination that direct-response television (DRTV) is uniquely positioned to deliver.

For ad professionals this translates into a wealth of new opportunities—for veterans and those just starting out—to tap into the creativity that probably drove them toward an advertising career in the first place, while at the same time building campaigns that have a measurable impact on a company’s bottom line.

If media coverage around the end of every January is to be taken seriously, you’d have to believe that one of the highest “achievements” in advertising is making people laugh during the Super Bowl. Now, this is not an easy task and, quite frankly, when it’s done right it can be brilliant. But there’s a far sweeter “high” in advertising, and most professionals go their whole careers without experiencing it—it’s the satisfaction of knowing your campaign had a direct and measurable impact on a company’s success. Those Super Bowl ads are great, and most are certainly creative, but the payoff for the brand at the end of the game is difficult to measure.

Watch a Company Grow As a Result of Your Ad

Companies large and small are turning to DRTV because it’s a direct response channel that can go beyond the “response” and actually help build a brand. I call it “brand-building direct response.” It's not late-night, flashing-number direct response or pure awareness-building brand advertising. It's a hybrid that embraces tenets of both disciplines and it can give smaller businesses a big lift while being self-funding.

DRTV offers ad pros a challenging opportunity to develop creative campaigns that go far beyond water-cooler cachet. Response-driven advertising is no longer based on just the most mathematically efficient way to get people to respond to an ad. DRTV has evolved into an emotionally sophisticated medium, using creative short-form spots—60-second spots are common today—to build brand while driving sales.

For creative ad professionals, no other segment of the advertising industry offers a more direct, measurable impact on a company’s brand and bottom line. DRTV practitioners are in the unique position of being able to personally impact a company’s success by being the architect of a campaign that literally propels that company to the top of its market segment.

Consider eHarmony. Using warm and powerful short-form DRTV spots, eHarmony.com has become one of the fastest growing brands in the online relationship category—perhaps one of the fastest growing brands in America. It came from nowhere to knock Barry Diller’s powerhouse Match.com off its pedestal, commanding twice as many new dollars in the category. The television campaign, which features eHarmony.com founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren, has driven eHarmony.com’s user base from less than 1 million users to more than 6 million and the largest market share of new dollar sales in the industry. eHarmony.com’s founders had little prior experience with advertising and yet, now, they have a phenomenally successful company driven predominantly by advertising.

A recent brand awareness study shows eHarmony is preferred 2 to 1 over Match.com and 60 percent over Yahoo! Personals in terms of “site I trust to match compatible singles,” and eHarmony is preferred by 50 percent more adults over Match.com and Yahoo! Personals in terms of “a highly credible site.” These are incredible numbers, especially considering the name recognition already enjoyed by eHarmony’s competitors prior to the launch of eHarmony’s advertising.

The bottom line: mainstream advertisers are migrating toward a more accountable way to build brands, and they’re increasingly turning to agencies that specialize in DRTV to do it. Those professionals who realize that this is the future of advertising are in a position to jump in on the ground floor of an extremely lucrative and rewarding trend for both client and agency.

As a career choice DRTV holds the most promise in terms of category growth in the advertising industry. In my opinion, DRTV is the best place for someone just entering the industry to start—it should be a mandatory boot camp, a place to learn the discipline of marrying creativity with actual sales. The exciting challenge in this career is discovering engaging, breakthrough, brand-strengthening creative approaches that manage to break the seeming compromise between brand and DR. That’s where this gets fun.

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Lucas Donat is a founding partner of Donat/Wald, a leader in direct response advertising. The agency has helped move more than a billion dollars through the economy while building nationally known brands using DRTV, with campaigns for eHarmony.com, Mattel Toys, Columbia, MGM/UA, and more. Donat was the primary architect behind the advertising success of 1-800-DENTIST, and is credited with making it a household name.

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