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Why Conventional Brand and Corporate Advertising Could Use a Little “Direct” Thinking
by David Foley

John Wanamaker, the legendary Philadelphia, PA, retailer invented the price tag, although in advertising circles he is better known for his belief that “half of his advertising budget was wasted … he just did not know which half.”¹

That reality is both the blessing and the curse of conventional “brand” and “corporate” advertising – since there is no call-to-action, there is no way to measure the audience’s reaction to the advertisement’s message – other than to conduct research which, regardless of the cost, may be critically important in evaluating the impact of a campaign beyond its numbers (CPM, reach/frequency, impressions and so on).

But, a little “direct” thinking allows you to obtain response data from your advertisements and build a prospect database.  Specifically, all you need to do is to add a response element to the advertisement. 

For example, Food & Drink, published by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, is one of the largest controlled circulation publications in Canada (over 500,000 copies per issue). It attracts a wide range of upscale advertisers – predominantly beverage alcohol products, but luxury cars, destinations and food products as well.

The Summer 2009 issue includes 72 display advertisements, excluding “Advertising Features” and house ads.  Just over half (37) of these cite a website somewhere in the advertisement. None of the advertisements offers a compelling reason to visit the website now.

True enough, on page 79, the VISA Infinite credit card invites readers to “learn more at” … on page 181, SKYY Vodka offers “more cocktail suggestions” at its website (the address is unreadable) … and on page 186, the Ontario Draft Brewers suggest you “Discover us at”  But, as lame as these examples are, they soar over the other advertisements that just publish the URL (and, with apologies to Michael Cross, probably over the objection of the art director).

One of the most intriguing advertisements in this issue of Food & Drink appears on page 43. Pitching Hendrick’s Gin, the advertisement is, well, eccentric. Ditto for the website. But, importantly, it is also well-written and entertaining. (In this sense, the website is just like good direct response copy – one derives pleasure simply from reading it!)


Since the advertisement is an extension of the website (or visa versa), the ad would be more effective if it included a single line of copy specifically directing readers to 

I like: “Surprising finds await you now at” The more usual approaches -- “Find out more at…” or “Five great martini recipes at…” -- just do not fit the character of the brand.

But, regardless of the words, a specific directive would increase visits to the website, likely enlarge the prospect list through the e-newsletter and possibly increase sales of Hendrick’s Gin.

Isn’t that the idea!

¹ While this expression was credited to John Wannamaker in this article, I later learned that it was coined by William Lever, apparently in reference to advertising Sunlight Soap in 1888. Lever later became Lord Leverhulme and founded Lever Brothers (now Unilever).


The Author

David Foley

David Foley and his team offer practical, results-oriented advice to organizations that strive to get more from their marketing budgets using proven, targeted direct and database marketing for up-sell, cross-sell and customer acquisition. A conversation to discuss your situation is always offered without cost or obligation. You can reach David in Toronto, Canada, at 416-253-1224 or by e-mail at

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Copyright 2009 by David Foley. All rights reserved.

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