The Essentials: Mastering brand advertising vs direct response advertising

One of the most important concepts to understand when promoting your business is the natural tensions between brand advertising (branding) and direct response advertising.

When you receive a mailer telling you that your local Ford dealer is having a year-end clearance sale, that is direct response advertising. After the sale is over, the dealer can review receipts and quantify consumer “response” to the advertisement.

When you’re watching a Sunday afternoon football game and Ford runs a commercial showing its trucks slashing through mud puddles and ends with the announcer solemnly intoning, “Built Ford Tough,” that’s brand advertising. Over the long term, Ford management can look at truck sales and see if their brand strategy is working, but truck sales won’t spike after the commercials that run during Sunday NFL games.

Here’s a comparison of some of the purposes and features of brand advertising and direct response advertising:


The important point to understand is that direct response advertising won’t work unless it is preceded by brand advertising, and this principle becomes increasingly important as the value of the product or service increases.

Many consumers may be willing to take a chance on an “off-brand” box of pencils that are on sale, but few will make major purchases without first having some confidence and understanding of the brand.

Branding – or “marketing” – is a continual process. You must always be making your brand increasingly familiar to your market as well as teaching your prospects the important differences between you and your competitors.

Sales and the promotion of a specific product or service come and go. In fact, a time-limiting attribute in advertising is your best friend:

  • Hurry, sale ends Friday!
  • For the first 100 shoppers…
  • New clients get 10 percent off their first visit all month

These kinds of “hooks” are never part of branding.

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners can make is to think that by blasting a group of prospects with an ad that touts a low price, they can make sales. Unless the prospects have been convinced of the general goodness of the product or service before receiving the low-price offer, the advertisement will fall on deaf ears.

And here’s the tragedy in this scenario: The business owner may conclude that the offer was bad when in fact, the problem was that they hadn’t done enough good brand advertising to prepare the way for the special offer.

Take a moment to review the chart above and consider the differences between brand advertising and direct response advertising. Then consider how you can use both of these promotional strategies together to grow your business.