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Marketing 360® Blog

What is Brand Response Advertising?

Post By Scott Yoder | Design & Branding

Brand response advertising is a hybrid strategy that combines the storytelling techniques of brand marketing with the call-to-action focus of direct-response advertising. Here’s why it’s the wave of the future.

Small business owners are confused – with good reason.

They understand direct-response advertising. That’s a traditional ad that has a clear offer and call to action. It looks like what it is: an advertisement designed to sell a product.

But they also hear about the importance of brand marketing, particularly with online content. Branding makes an emotional connection. It humanizes advertising by telling a story that goes beyond the product’s features and benefits.

Direct-response advertising seems straightforward, but then business owners learn it doesn’t work well for top-of-funnel lead generation on most online platforms. The problem? It’s difficult to get people to pay attention to a “salesy” ad when they’re surfing the web or connecting on social media. You need a more creative strategy to catch their attention.

But something seems to be missing. You need an interesting angle to get people to notice you, but that attention isn’t worth much if you’re not motivating them to become a customer.

There must be a better way.

The Brand Response Advertising Hybrid

Brand response advertising is a form of advertising that integrates the call to action goals of direct-response advertising with the storytelling tactics of brand marketing. The goal is to catch attention with a compelling spot and make an emotional connection that sparks interest in buying the product.

brand response advertising

The blend of a direct-response sales pitch with a narrative that evokes an emotional response requires deft execution. You have to go beyond product/solution with an actual story, yet interwoven into that story is the reason someone needs the product.

Brand response advertising has two crucial elements.

#1. An Aspiring Storyline

In direct-response advertising, it’s long been understood that benefits to the customer are more persuasive than product features. The old adage is that people don’t buy drills (features), they buy the ability to make holes (benefit).

But there’s a deeper level where benefits are connected to people’s lifestyle aspirations. For example, a father owns a drill to complete jobs around the house, which makes him feel like a strong provider for his family (aspiration). He may want the drill with the best features because he’s comparing himself to other fathers in the neighborhood, and owning the best tools makes him feel like the best dad.

The aspirational story is the basis for the branding message of a business. It taps into the emotional drives of the audience, which is what actually motivates the decision to act.

#2. Call To Action Transition

Brand response ads must define the exact action you want to generate. This is what sets these types of ads apart from brand marketing with clever but arbitrary storylines or slogans that fail to inspire action.

Brand response ads use insights into the aspirations of the audience to develop the story. The challenge is to create a nuanced connection to the product that triggers buying intent.

These aspirations are often general and based on archetypical characters. For example, this Subaru spot uses the archetype of a great parent or caregiver.

This ad has strong storytelling elements. The happy family journey. Suddenly, tension as an accident is about to occur. The archetypical idea of “your life flashing before your eyes” at the moment of death.

Then the story transitions from the family trip to the features of the car. In this case, the pre-collision braking product saves the family. All is well – if you’re driving a Subaru.

A story doesn’t have to be fictional. Kardia Mobile uses real doctors and patients to tell a story so effective it makes the product sound almost indispensable:

At the end of the spot the woman says “I don’t think I could live without my Kardia device now”.

That’s a fantastic example of having the call to action blend into the story, which is the core of brand response advertising.

Grove Collective uses the family archetype in their spot, and also does an exemplary job of connecting their brand to the lives their customers aspire to live:

Videos are a choice medium for brand response advertising because so much detail can be included in a short spot. But brand response advertising isn’t limited to video. Check out these examples of effective brand stories using other types of content.

Thematic Call To Action

As we said, it takes deft execution to tell a compelling brand story where the guiding thematic consideration is actually a direct-response sales goal.

The way to accomplish this is to start with advertising and call to action elements, then build the story around them.

It’s often tempting to do the reverse. You come up with an amusing but arbitrary story then stamp the brand on it. You usually end up with a memorable but unpersuasive ad.

Brand response ads need a call to action, but the call to action is not as direct as in traditional direct response ads. Instead, the action you motivate is contained in the theme that guides the piece.

For example, what is the call to action in this Dollar Shave spot?

The direct call to action is to visit the website. But the thematic call to action is to stop paying drug store prices for razors.

Bille, which sells razors to women, created the idea of the Pink Tax. The story suggests people “join the Pink Tax rebate”. But in reality, that’s a call to action to buy their razors.

pink tax

That thematic call to action guides the story, which takes it from amusing to persuasive.

Brand Response On Your Website

Brand response copywriting is something many small business websites need to implement.

The problem most SMB websites have today is they lean too much into brand copywriting, which is meant to convey brand attributes in a unique, memorable way.

This works for Apple and Nike, but it’s a total flop for most small businesses. The problem is brand copy isn’t meant to motivate action; its job is to create an impression. So if your website’s goals are conversion-based, having an obscure brand message with no practical clarity on what you offer is a serious problem. Here’s the traditional breakdown:

source: CXL

For example, the dog food service Ollie uses a lot of brand story elements on their website, but also uses a direct-response pop-up to motivate first-time buyers:

Apply the Venn diagram from above. Communicate personality and be memorable, but don’t sacrifice conversion elements to do it. Start with the action you want people to take, then weave that into your brand story.

Spin a Sale

Gather around a campfire with the family or sit in the pub with friends and somebody will spin a tale.

Listen to an effective minister, teacher, or politician. They weave their main point into a storyline.

Telling stories is part of our social fabric. They capture our imaginations and connect our experiences. Life, it could be said, is an unfolding story, unique to each of us.

Brands have long known the power of the story and with their resources, they’ve used that power to their advantage.

But smaller businesses didn’t have the resources – or communication channels – to leverage storytelling. After all, a Yellow Pages listing or spot in the newspaper wasn’t a fit for brand storytelling.

Then along came the internet. Websites, blogs, and search marketing. Social media, review sites, and YouTube.

Today, businesses have the opposite problem. The tools to communicate a story – in almost any form you can imagine – are there. They’re affordable (even free) and increasingly DIY. The boundaries that prevented smaller organizations from publishing content on multiple channels are gone.

You have the means to tell your business story. But the challenge is not just spinning a tale, but spinning a sale. Direct response advertising is most effective when we leverage the story’s ability to captivate and persuade with a message that matches a business goal.

Direct response ads convey a lot of information in a brief spot. This makes them challenging to develop, but effective at connecting with digital consumers.