What I learned in One Week about Direct Response Advertising

After a decade-long career in higher education, I have leapt into the advertising industry with a job as a radio advertising copywriter. After an exciting—and overwhelming—first week, here’s a quick peek at some things I’ve learned.

To start off, my company differs from other advertising agencies in that it specializes in direct response advertising. What is direct response? Unlike other advertising (such as brand advertising, which focuses on establishing a recognizable brand), direct response is designed to generate an immediate response from consumers. Whether it be calling a number or texting a promo code or visiting a website, each response can be measured and attributed to individual advertisements.

So, those radio ads with calls to action (known as CTAs in the ad industry) are examples of direct response. It seems people actually do respond to those ads—and those responses are carefully tracked.

How? With spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of mind-boggling data arranged in pivot tables with cryptic column headers like “CPO” and “CPI” and “CPM.”

SOS! My life in advertising looks a lot less like Madmen and a lot more like a girl with a highlighter hunched over pages of acronym definitions.

To further complicate matters, each ad campaign has its own metrics (results spreadsheets are like snowflakes, no two are the same), but the company’s analysts and Client Services Assistants each focus on a small number of campaigns, making them experts in their retrospective realms. They gather such extensive ad performance data that they can report daily performance results to clients.

Knowing that any spot’s performance can be so easily tracked adds an element of pressure to copywriting. What if a campaign starts to tank after a spot I wrote airs? If results are attributed to poor creative, then the ad would be tweaked accordingly and performance re-evaluated—or the spot would be removed from circulation.

Admittedly, writing for ad performance is a new challenge for me, but one I am happy to accept. I’m looking forward to combining my creative and analytic sides (because I do have both, I swear!).

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