Commentary

Branding or Direct Response Medium? You’re all wrong!

  • by April 25, 2002
If you’ve been part of this industry for a significant period of time, you would no doubt recognize (and groan) at the ongoing circular debate we’ve been having about whether this medium is in fact a branding or response-driven medium.

At some stage, some of the more intelligent members of this community declared, “it’s both. The term “branded response” emerged to describe a dual objective, which could be achieved with any online campaign.

Today, I’m telling you that no one is in fact correct.

First of all, this is not a medium.

We’ve done ourselves a major disservice by comparing the Internet to other media through illustrating how quickly the Web amassed 50 million viewers. You know the dreadful chart I’m referring to. When are we going to learn that this is not a mass medium? The goal is not to reach as many people as we possibly can; the goal is to reach the right people at the right time. If you really want to be technical – the 80:20 Pareto Principle: the 20% that will likely contribute 80% towards sales.

I believe in changing the frame of reference. Try comparing the Web to Steam Power, Electricity and Computers, with penetration as the yardstick. Using the widely accepted critical mass adoption rate of 50%, we see that the respective years to reach 50% were just over 100 for steam power, 40 years for electricity, 30 for computers and 7 years for the Internet. The time to reach 50% indicates the length of time for the tangible effects on productivity to truly be felt. In the Web’s case, the super-short time might actually be too quick in order for us to fully realize what we’re dealing with here.

Can you spot the common thread throughout this comparison? It’s connectivity. The ability to fundamentally transform – and forever change – the way we live our lives; the way we work and the way we communicate. Case in point was 9/11, which demonstrated the Web’s true value and promise.

In truth, the Web is whatever you, I, and the millions of consumers out there want it to be. It is part medium, part distribution channel, part tool, part connector, part friend. The nature of self-selection – oft oversimplified by the click of a mouse – is far more profound than we give it credit for.

Now let’s segue to the branding or DR part.

When I worked at a previous agency on a rather large global technology client, I remember all too well the endless debate over whether the upcoming campaign was a branding or lead-generation campaign. Almost every time, we would ask the question, the client would agree that it was a branding campaign, and then as soon as the campaign ended, the client would ask us, “how many leads did we generate?” Does it surprise you that I’m referring to a traditional piece of business, and not online?

It is so important to enter into any project with a clear, singular objective. Whenever there are too many goals, the focus becomes diluted and a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ scenario ensues.

Now let’s address the DR folk, which, if you think about it, is why we’re still debating the value of branding on the Web. I’m pretty tired of allowing these bullies to take control of these conversations, by bragging about their hard numbers and in doing so, attempting to refute the support for branding.

These so-called DR-gurus are simply glorified cataloguers, using the Web (quite well, I might add) for only one of its multitude of uses. It’s like watching a baby take its first step and excluding the possibility that it will grow up to become President, compose a Concerto or take home Gold in the Olympics.

To deny branding on the Web is to deny branding. Period.

Think about this: If branding didn’t work, why would the word “Coke” be the most widely spoken word in the world? Why would this carbonated sugar-water be the epitome of familiarity, stability and continuity? Why would a product found to be second best in independent taste tests be universally preferred?

The case for branding today has never been more defined. When there is too much clutter, consumers turn to brands; when there are too many choices, consumers look for differentiation.

There are too many illuminating case and research studies out there today to argue this point any more. So let’s not.

- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he works with clients including Kmart, ABSOLUT Vodka, Samsonite, Embassy Suites and Cunard. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit in meeting his clients' integrated business and branding objectives.

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