The advertising world is made up of two groups with very different philosophies.

There is the “branding” group (mostly traditional ad agencies) which believes that advertising must be designed to leave an impression – so that your product is remembered when a purchasing decision is being made. This form of advertising – still the most common form especially for packaged goods – is impossible to measure.

And then there is the “direct response” group which believes that advertising must be designed to generate a measurable and immediate response – either in the form of a sale or sales lead. This form of advertising is measured to the penny.

I like branding. I think it’s a good idea for every business to create an identity, establish its position in the marketplace and be consistent in its messaging with all of its communications.

But branding takes a long time – years, not months – to have an impact. And unless you’re Nike or Coca-Cola or McDonalds, branding is a luxury that few businesses can afford.

Direct response, on the other hand, is directly linked to your sales effort. You can see results from one ad, one direct mail campaign or one email campaign. You can track response to evaluate the effectiveness of different media, different lists, different offers and different messages. Pretty much everything. And you can do it all on a shoestring.

As a side benefit, if you use direct response long enough and can stay consistent with your message, you will, in time, achieve some branding success as well.

Mention direct response to most people in advertising and they think you are talking about direct mail. In fact, though, direct response is a multi-media discipline that is used on TV, radio, print advertising, on-line and yes, direct mail.

Direct response is also a sales philosophy.

Let me give you an example …

It’s the story of the two financial planners who decided it was time to start their own businesses. In preparing for the big move, both decided they needed to read up on advertising and marketing.

One read several books on branding. The other read several books on direct response.

Both decided to attend a local chamber of commerce meeting to introduce themselves to local business owners who they thought represented prospective clients.

When the branding guy arrived at the meeting, he quickly worked the room handing out his business cards to anyone and everyone who would take one.

When the direct response guy arrived, he also worked the room – a little slower though, taking time to ask questions of the people he met. He also made a point of collecting business cards from the people he met.

The next day, the direct response guy spent his time on the phone and writing letters to the people he met the night before.

The branding guy, meanwhile, sat his desk waiting for the phone to ring.

Branding vs. direct response: Are you kidding?


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."