DIRECT MARKETING: BUILDING A COHERENT BRAND - Direct response might be shunned in some quarters but should be seen as a vital piece of the advertising package, Tim Woolgar says

Advertisers still treat direct response with a certain delicacy.

Advertisers still treat direct response with a certain


While the old antagonism between brand awareness advertising and direct

marketing has been largely superseded by the search for synergy, the

’getting-to-know-you’ mood remains in some quarters.

Jeremy Whitehead, group account director at WCRS, is responsible for

producing advertising for one of the biggest direct response companies

in the UK, First Direct. The current ads featuring the comedian, Bob

Mortimer, carry a telephone number but, nevertheless, Whitehead still

distances himself from this aspect of the business. ’We don’t do direct

response advertising,’ he says. ’There are two different sets of

communication with different objectives. What we are doing is the first

part, which is creating a brand personality.’

The secondary communication identified by Whitehead, the acquisition of

customers, or business, is handled by Scope Creative Marketing based in

Sheffield. Whitehead explains: ’It’s a pincer movement. Once we’ve

created brand awareness, direct response works like a mopping-up


Charles Buddery, the managing director of Scope, says: ’We’re talking

about a relatively new brand with awareness levels rather lower than

many of its competitors. Creating that brand awareness and positioning

it in the right area for the customers we want demands a completely

different creative mentality to running a successful direct marketing


Buddery identifies price and convenience as the key elements for a brand

naturally suited to direct response.

’Nobody goes shopping for financial services,’ he explains. ’It’s a

necessity rather than a pleasure so direct response makes life


’Likewise, with direct response, you can cut out the middleman as with

the insurance market or with holidays. It’s cutting out that part of the

price which isn’t adding any value and people respond to that.’

Because direct response companies, more that most, depend on customer

loyalty, they must work hard to create high service levels. But putting

across a service message in a direct response ad is notoriously

difficult and explains the reasoning behind First Direct’s two-pronged


Buddery says: ’Your best source of new customers is by recommendation,

if you want to see that there has to be a service differential. Direct

Line once ran a campaign saying ’you’ll come for the price and stay for

the service’ and that sums it up. First Direct customers are

experiencing a high level of service but that’s not necessarily why they

joined. It may be they were unhappy with the limited options on the high


Direct Line insurance is the most well-known direct response brand.

According to a recent NOP survey, Direct Line’s television ads generated

a telephone response level of 12 per cent. Launched in 1985 as Royal

Bank Insurance, the service became Direct Line in 1990 and has blazed a

trail in direct marketing.

The company’s advertising has been handled by Mortimer Whittaker

O’Sullivan for the past year. The agency’s chief executive, Tim

Mortimer, says the campaign is putting across more sophisticated

messages to reflect the maturing brand . And while the direct response

element remains at the heart of its advertising in all media, the

brand’s personality is evolving on television.

’You can’t separate various elements and say ’that’s not direct

response’. It all works together, press advertising, direct marketing,

television. The TV ad carries a telephone number but it’s also about

maintaining the value of the brand,’ Mortimer says.

When Direct Line was launched, the brand centred around the themes of

the direct response advertising. The message was about low price,

easy-to-buy insurance. The process of developing the service message is

now the main task for the brand. Mortimer says: ’Rather than having a

price-only message, we’re telling people more about the service. We’re

also focusing more on older people who are more resistant to the idea of

buying insurance over the phone.’

Mortimer claims it’s impossible to quantify accurately the effect of

direct response ads on television with a well-established brand such as

Direct Line. ’It’s difficult to say how people use the advertising

because the brand is already in people’s minds. We know the campaign

stimulated response but are they taking down the number from the TV or

are they going to the Yellow Pages?’

Few direct response brands in recent years have been created as

successfully as the airline, EasyJet. Like the launch of Direct Line,

EasyJet’s arrival in 1995 was met with scepticism in the industry. It

was a low-budget operation, aiming for a low-budget market and, like

Direct Line, it cut out the established middlemen in the market - in

this case, the travel agents.

Tony Anderson, the marketing director of EasyJet, says: ’We knew travel

agencies were never going to be our friends. To succeed we had to find a

different approach and that meant 100 per cent direct selling. But we

still have to communicate and we spend slightly more, proportionally, on

advertising than most other airlines.’

EasyJet’s advertising is created in-house and reflects the airline’s

no-nonsense approach. ’We wanted something distinctive and that’s

reflected in the branding,’ Anderson points out.

EasyJet puts great emphasis on monitoring customer response and

establishing where it comes from. Anderson says: ’We got one person who

said he’d rushed indoors to write down the telephone number he’d seen on

one of our planes flying over his house, but the real point of putting

the number on the planes is to emphasise the importance of our direct

selling approach.’

In two years, EasyJet’s fleet has expanded from two lease-hire jets to

six wholly owned aircraft with 12 more on order. Recent NOP research

showed the airline scored second only to British Airways on spontaneous


When asked to name a budget airline, Easy-Jet scored highest with a

recall rate of 27 per cent.

Anderson believes the secret of EasyJet’s success is down to good

timing, a commitment to an approach that extends right through the

organisation and a willingness to learn from others in the direct

selling business.

He says: ’If you look at operations such as Direct Line and First

Direct, we can see how successful the direct approach can be by looking

at how many third-party insurance agencies there are in the high street

compared with, say, ten years ago. The market conditions were right for

this change. As the industry moves closer to a true market, it becomes

easier to sell airline tickets as a commodity.’

EasyJet has also confounded expectations by selling thousands of tickets

without going through travel agents. ’You have to have the courage of

your own convictions,’ Anderson says. ’The worst of all possible worlds

is to have a half-way house. For example, we looked very closely at how

to build our telephone call centre. We wanted a hard-sell approach and

the guy we got to manage it came from running the Ladbrokes telephone

betting system. He had the hard-nosed approach we wanted.’

Like First Direct and Direct Line before it, EasyJet is now facing the

task of building the service element into its brand image. The airline

is also facing increasing competition from big players.

Anderson says: ’Price is increasingly relevant to business travellers

and we are getting more travellers, especially to Scotland, on a daily

basis. You could say we are now more than just a minor irritant. But in

the big battles to come, direct response will be a vitally important

weapon in our armoury.’