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Which is Better, Direct Response or Branding?

Take a minute to think about billboards…

You're driving down the highway when you look up and see one of those big signs. Before you can even stop yourself, you've already consumed its message.

But if the advertiser who's purchased the board is expecting an immediate response from you, they had better be in one of a very few businesses:

  1. Radio stations. If the ad is for a classic rock or county station, and you like those genres, you could easily tune in to their programming.
  2. Nearby gas stations, hotels, and . If you're low on fuel or tired or hungry, you could pull off at the next exit and purchase what they're .

But that's about it.

Almost any other company on billboards can't expect an immediate response because there's no way you could buy from them immediately. What's more, if and when you do buy, the advertiser won't know what compelled you to purchase. There's no way for them to know that their investment in the billboard paid off.

Now, think about . The most convincing argument for digital ads is that they facilitate an immediate, measurable response. You can read the ad and instantly click on the link to your insurance company, order a new lens for your camera, sign up for a new frequent flier program, or almost anything else.

Digital media companies use this advantage to convince less savvy that online, direct response, and point-and-click ads are all-powerful, while non-immediate advertising is not.

But think about any product or service for which you are willing to pay more.

Do you really believe the car you prefer is better equipped to get you from Point A to Point B than the other cars you could drive?

Do you genuinely believe your preferred hotel chain, toothpaste, cellphone, designer handbag, or bottle of beer is better than the competition?

Taken further, do you believe that your university mascot, political party, futbol team, football team, or religious affiliation is more qualified than all the rest?

Which is Better, Direct Response or Branding?

Those deeply ingrained beliefs have built powerful competitive advantages for their respective organizations thanks to years and years (and years!) of consistent and effective brand .

These beliefs dictate why you buy what you buy, eat what you eat, wear what you wear, drive what you drive, and live where you live. They can also determine who you vote for, where you worship, and how and where you're buried.

Or, why you don't do any of those things.

That's what do.

And looked at this way, that billboard (and its corresponding brand messages) suddenly seems much more valuable, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, as powerful as they are, the signs are no less intrusive.

Or, as Ogden Nash wrote,

“I think that I shall never see,

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,

I'll never see a tree at all.”

Which is Better, Direct Response or Branding?

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