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
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
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.