CAMPAIGN DIRECT: VIEWPOINT - Why direct marketing must reject its status as adland’s sidekick

Last week I had a conversation with a graduate who ’wanted to get into advertising’. She had tried to get on to an agency graduate training scheme and was finally coming to terms with the fact that she may ’have to take something in direct marketing instead’.

Last week I had a conversation with a graduate who ’wanted to get

into advertising’. She had tried to get on to an agency graduate

training scheme and was finally coming to terms with the fact that she

may ’have to take something in direct marketing instead’.



It struck me that her attitude was not unique. So many people still

perceive direct marketing as a second choice, populated by people who

can’t make it into advertising. The budgets aren’t as big, the champagne

doesn’t flow as freely and time is more likely to be spent carefully

crafting a coupon rather than blowing a six-figure sum on a 60-second

epic in Colorado.



It’s not surprising, then, that direct marketers - especially direct

marketing creatives - are often patronised by the above-the-line boys

who look down their noses at anything involving more than a nice shot, a

pun-laden headline and a few lines of copy. Style is the order of the

day, content is not.



It’s not just agency people who hold on to this perception either. There

are clients who view ad agencies with reverential awe. Intoxicated by

seeing the ad they commissioned in the Coronation Street break, or the

poster on which they tweaked the copy on a 48-sheet site around the

corner from their local, they agree to ridiculous retainers and pass

work of a farcical nature. It is, after all, so much more exciting than

an insert in the Radio Times.



Anyone in direct marketing will admit that, at one time, much of the

output was cliched, formulaic and deserving of its second- class

citizenship.



Some of it still is, but the many examples of none-too-clever

above-the-line work show we’re not alone in this. Nowadays, the output

of some of the best direct marketing agencies easily matches the

creativity of the best ad agencies.



Take the recruitment work for the Army, which uses ’classic’ full-page

ads alongside tactical spots in the recruitment pages, all with a

responsive element. Or the recent Bupa campaign which ran traditional

brand-building TV spots while trawling for enquiries using a themed

series of inserts.



Look at First Direct, which has created an imposing market presence and

extensive customer base solely through direct channels. Even market

sectors that shied away from going direct - newspapers such as the Daily

Telegraph have made in-roads into the under-25s market by using targeted

ads and sampling - are getting in on the act. All of these examples are

undeniably creative. More than that, they do what advertising should do

- sell.



In Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy said his creatives should spend

two years in direct marketing before moving above the line. Well, many

of us have done a lot longer than two years, and have no desire to move

up. The job is now to convince others that below-the-line work doesn’t

have to mean below par.



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