Direct response is a type of marketing designed to elicit an instant response by encouraging prospects to take a specific action. Direct response advertisements must trigger immediate action from prospects, since the goal is to generate leads quickly. In contrast to traditional marketing, which aims to raise brand awareness and promote brand image long term, direct response shows ROI immediately.  

What is Direct Response?

Marketers can leverage direct response on any numbers of channels, including TV, print, radio, email, digital and social. Each direct response campaign should have a specific goal — sign up, share with contacts, register, etc.— and, in exchange, provide prospects with an irresistible offer.

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Key Elements of Direct Response Ads

There are a few key differentiators between direct response advertising and other types of campaigns; the main distinction being the goal of driving a specified action. In order to lead a successful  direct response campaign, your advertisements should include the following elements:

Customer Centricity

In order to get consumers to respond to your ad, they need to know that it’s beneficial to them. Focusing on the brand will not get consumers to respond to your ads. Focusing on consumer problems or on things they care about will yield better results. This could include offering a white paper on a topic in their field or encouraging them to opt-into a newsletter list with valuable content.

Personalization and Targeting

How well do you know your customers and do you know what they will respond to? Targeting your ads to specific groups so you can personalize the message will generate the best results; 80 percent of consumers say they are more likely to do business with a brand that offers personalized interactions.

A Clear CTA

Since a direct response is defined as an ad that calls viewers to do something, the offer is a crucial part of the advertisement. Effective direct response advertising may not aim to sell the prospect a good or service at the moment, but instead may be trying to encourage the next action, such as: download a white paper, sign up for the newsletter, attend an event.

Direct response ads with high conversion rates need singular, clear, easily accessible calls to action (CTAs) so that consumers know exactly what action to take.


A sense of urgency inspires consumers to act quickly, increasing conversion rates. Direct response ads should emphasize urgency by using techniques like scarcity (“while supplies last”), time limits (“discount code expires on Sunday”), and competition (“whoever gets the most social shares receives a prize.

Benefits of Direct Response Marketing

Direct response marketing delivers numerous benefits because of the quick ROI and high-volume lead generation. Additional benefits include:

  • Easily Track and Measure: Since direct response ads have unique correlated actions, it’s easy to see how many prospects and leads come from each campaign. This is key to optimizing marketing strategy; knowing which ads and media are most effective allows you to allocate resources to those techniques that translate into ROI.
  • Identify Interested Prospects: Consumers who respond to direct response ads have opted in, giving sales teams a list of prospects who have shown interest in your brand or product. This helps sales teams focus on driving interested prospects through the sales funnel instead of wasting time on cold leads.
  • Establish Direct Lines of Communication: Direct response ads help form stronger relationships with prospects and potential customers by establishing direct lines of communication with them. In successful direct response campaigns, your prospects are looking to be contacted by your brand with information they find useful. Having prospects who want to be contacted by you versus having a list of contacts you’ve collected is a big differentiator when trying to close sales deals.

Best Practices for Direct Response

Launching successful direct response campaigns requires sophisticated consumer data and analytics so that ads are personalized and delivered on the right channels at the right times to generate maximum ROI. Other best practices include:

Make the Response Easy

Consumers are less likely to fill out forms with a high number of fields to get to a white paper or wait on a phone line for more information. Thus, make it easy and quick for your consumers to respond to your ad and your conversion rates will increase.

Make the Call to Action Specific

Part of making the response easy for consumers is incorporating a specific, clear CTA. The desired next action should be immediately recognizable; let the consumer know exactly what they need to do and how to do it. For example, if the goal of the campaign is to have people opt in to your newsletter, only include a CTA button for this action, as additional CTAs (say, promoting your social channels) will distract from the goal.

Use Compelling Copy

Consumers are bombarded by advertisements— most Americans see between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every single day— and have learned to ignore most of them. In order to stand out and grab attention, your direct response ads need to use compelling copy and, if applicable, gripping subject lines.

Ad copy should be as personalized as possible, targeted strategically by channel and medium, and simple enough that consumers can quickly understand what you’re offering.      

Follow Up

Since many of these campaigns are offering value instead of focusing on the final purchase, make sure your sales and marketing teams are clear on how to engage prospects further, moving them down the funnel. Will these leads be placed into a ‘nurture’ campaign or will sales follow up directly? Establishing next steps is crucial when setting up your direct response campaigns.

Examples of Direct Response

Direct response isn’t limited to emails or social. These are numerous ways companies can engage with their audiences to encourage a response:

Harry’s Referral Program

Harry’s has been a leader in the men’s shaving space and has risen to prominence by focusing on content and direct marketing. One of their key campaigns centered around their refer a friend program. The response was simple: Refer a friend to Harry’s and receive free products and other promotions.

Land Rover’s Direct Mail Invites

When Land Rover opened its Liverpool showroom, they sent 100 customers a balloon invitation to the opening event. At the end of the balloon was the invitation, encouraging them to attend.

Proactiv’s Infomercials

In 1993, during acquisition negotiations with Neutrogena, the founders of Proactiv balked at the idea of using infomercials to bring their product to market, viewing them as cheesy. While negotiations with Neutrogena eventually fell through, Proactiv ended up adopting infomercials that advertised limited-time deals like free face moisturizer with immediate purchase. These types of infomercials have been extremely lucrative for Proactive; by 2015 Proactiv reached $1 billion in sales.

Effective Channels for Direct Response

The following channels are great avenues for direct response advertising:

Direct Mail

In the age of the internet, most people enjoy receiving postal mail as long as they don’t view it as junk. Team with your creative team to create memorable direct mailers so that when recipients open their mailbox, they’re driven to respond.

Direct Response TV

Infomercials are still an effective way to sell products. Additionally, your team could consider buying a television ad during a popular event (such as a sports game), since this will have the highest live viewership. In the digital age, you can also promote a video on channels such as YouTube to drive responses.

Radio & Billboards

Radio and billboards are effective ways to target commuters. Consider how and where your target audience is likely driving, then advertise an easy to remember landing page, which has proven to be more effective than providing a phone number to call.

Digital Marketing

Whether it’s AdWords or an email sent out to a publisher database, the online space is a great way to do targeted advertising that generates responses. With guaranteed lead programs and CPC-based pricing, you can also ensure that each dollar spent is used to generate ROI goals.

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