Do You Want Money or Love? Getting BOTH with Modern Advertising (Part 2)

In part one, we covered the tension between brand and direct response marketing. 

While tradeoffs must be made when deciding where you are on the spectrum, modern digital media allows you to reap the benefits of both.

Let’s go back to our annoying Times Square popup guy who’s aggressively peddling comedy show tickets.

Why would anyone employ a tactic that’s disliked by 99.99% of the population?

Because perhaps he approaches a group of tourists walking around Times Square and looking for something to do. That 0.01% of the population is all that he needs for the tactic to be worthwhile.

What is the difference between an audience that’s turned off by aggressive advertising and one that converts?

The answer: Relevance.

In the example above, the key descriptor–tourists looking for something to do–makes them a relevant audience.

Our guy has to walk up to thousands of people every day to find a relevant audience, but the Internet has been able to match products and relevant customers since its early days.

In fact, it’s one of the most successful business models ever known to man.

Search and Contextual Marketing (Prior to 2015)

In a nutshell, Google’s business model is “serve ads for products and services that people are searching for.

It’s so simple that we probably take this mechanism for granted.

Before the days of Facebook and TikTok (more on them later), there were two major types of ads, search and display. They performed very differently when it came to direct response and obtaining conversions (spoiler: display ads sucked).

Search ads are served after someone explicitly searched for a phrase. Because the user searches on their own volition, search ads have a “pull” mechanism.

Display ads have a “push” mechanism, meaning they’re pushed to visitors at various points when they’re browsing the Internet.

When it came to direct response and achieving sales, search ads far outperformed display ads. Why? Again, because of relevance.

Pretend you’re an online merchant selling flowers and you want to get sales using search ads. If someone searches for “flowers near me,” you are absolutely certain that he, in fact, wants flowers. 

What if you wanted to go about obtaining sales using display ads?

Perhaps you could “push” display ads to certain websites–jewelry websites (someone might be shopping for an anniversary gift), a website showing information on funerals. That might get you closer to a relevant audience, but to a degree you’re still playing a numbers game.

The advent of search advertising unlocked direct marketing’s potential; one could optimize for sales without taking a brand hit.

Have you ever seen a supplement website that looks something like this?

You might wonder why it’s so…well…hideous.

Well, the design is a feature, not a bug. Perhaps you think it’s an eyesore, but it’s targeted towards someone who’s searching for weight loss products that clicks on this page.

Up until 2015, search was the only way to achieve a good Return on Ad Spend (RoAS) at scale for your advertising dollars. That is, until Facebook completely changed the game.

Social Media Advertising

In 2015, Facebook revamped its “Facebook Pixel” (now called Meta Pixel). 

The pixel is a piece of tracking code that advertisers include on their website. It communicates to Facebook when an event–such a user adding an item to their cart or making a purchase–has occurred.

Facebook has something that no other advertising platforms had–a near infinite number of datapoints on users across all of their devices.

For the first time, an ad using a “push” mechanism could be targeted at someone who’s highly relevant and likely to purchase a product.

The Facebook pixel was immensely successful and one of the reasons that direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies surged over the last few years.

Where We Are Today and Final Thoughts

Today’s digital age doesn’t mean that advertisers no longer need to choose between brand and direct response marketing. The tradeoffs we talked about in part one still exist.

However, many of the negative consequences are eliminated when direct response is used on a relevant audience.

As far as social media platforms go and their ability to find audiences likely to convert, Facebook is unparalleled, with TikTok quickly catching up. Our recommendation is that if you want to grow your business, focus on direct response marketing as well as search (Google, Bing) and conversion-focused social media campaigns.