Branding Versus Call-To-Action Advertising

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Just because something is tough to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. And just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it did all the work by itself, either.

There have long been two main schools of thought about advertising, and both still exist today: the idea of branding advertising versus call-to-action.

Let’s define these first if we may.

Brand advertising is primarily about driving awareness.

Call-to-Action is primarily about driving action, preferably now.

Branding is also called “Top of Mind” advertising. Branding proponents like to cite the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” meaning no advertising = no top of mind awareness. The idea is that the higher the mindshare, the higher the market share.

Walmart is one example of a branding advertiser. Their commercials emphasize well-known goods with low pricing, but that isn’t in and of itself a call to action. Walmart wants you to believe you can get the products you want at the best possible price. That’s their brand.

This approach works well with the retailer’s “Every Day Low Pricing“ (EDLP) marketing and pricing strategy in which there are seldom if ever traditional ‘sales.’ With EDLP, prices are supposed to be as low as possible all the time. Even as prices are being advertised for different products, they are always called, “Rollbacks,” reinforcing the idea that Walmart is a low-price leader... all the time.

This is a branding message, pure and simple:

Save money, live better. Walmart.

There’s nothing in the above to try and motivate someone to visit immediately. The message is more along the lines of, “When you’re ready, we’ll be here to help you save money and live your life better.”

A Call-to-Action ad is different. It seeks to drive a certain action right then and there. Classified ads, coupons, pay-per-click digital advertising and most ‘sale’ oriented advertising qualifies as call-to-action.

Usually there’s a limited-time offer which is intended to create urgency. If you want to hear or see lots of call-to-action ads, just listen to the radio or watch local TV around any holiday: the Labor Day bedding sale; the Furniture Blow-Out! Fourth of July; the big President’s Day Mattress sale—all these types of campaigns are typically call-to-action ads. Tying to the holiday makes it easy to drive a ‘shop now,’ and ‘limited time availability’ motivation.

You’ll see the difference between an ad from a product manufacturer and the local retailer who carries that product. Think about Samsung TV, for example. Chances are the last ad you saw for them was a branding ad.

Samsung wants you to think about the quality and reliability of their TVs, as well as their TV’s features like Ultra High Definition (UHD), built-in Smart TV functions, and Quantum Light Emitting Diodes (QLED). All these features help make that Samsung TV “Made for Football.” And sure, Samsung may even advertise a sales event, like the “Samsung Shopping Event,” but if so, you can count on the pitch and ‘buy now’ pressure being relatively soft.

The important thing to take away from the branding ad for Samsung is this: Samsung is a good television. I’d like one. Sometime.

But the local electronics dealer wants sometime to be now. The retailer makes it their business to give you good reasons to get that Samsung TV as soon as possible—preferably today, if not then tomorrow, but certainly no later than this weekend because otherwise this terrific price/deal/sale just… won’t… last!

You’ve seen the "shop now" appeals in thousands of call-to-action ads. ‘Limited inventory,’ or ‘employee pricing event,’ ‘sale below invoice,’ or ‘clearance deals for new arrivals…’ “THIS WEEKEND ONLY!”

The idea is to drive action today, now, right now, can’t wait.

Many advertisers believe in call-to-action. They use it often, and note that when it works, they can see it, feel it, and measure it-- in their bottom lines. Their mantra is: make a strong offer. Make it for a limited time only. Blitz the market with ads saying how strong it is, and why it just can’t last. Then, measure the sales and profit from the people who show up and buy against the advertising investment. Upside, good. Downside, not good.

Simple. And there’s no doubt it works. Too many advertisers keep doing it for it to be otherwise.

Budgets are tight today, so, it’s easy to question branding ads, and justify call-to-action. That branding ad not only doesn’t demand action right now, it’s also very hard to measure.

But just because something is tough to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. And just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it did all the work by itself, either.

Let’s look at a classic advertising example:

“Back in the day” Yellow Pages advertising consumed a big portion of many ad budgets. It was the ultimate in call-to-action advertising, because who in their right mind is looking in the Yellow Pages unless they need something now?

The Yellow Pages pitched potential advertisers like this:

Yellow Pages are a directory of goods and services. Someone looking at your product category means they need your product now—otherwise, why are they looking? So, you can, in the Yellow Pages, catch a potential customer ACTIVELY LOOKING for the very product or service YOU OFFERED right now, this very minute.

It’s interesting to note just how similar this pitch sounds to how search engines like Google and search engine marketing (SEM) works today. And the similarities don’t end there. With the Yellow Pages—just as with a lot of SEM ads today—businesses often put a special phone number in the ad so that when that number was called, there could be no dispute: the advertising worked.

But let’s think critically about this for a few moments. A consumer looking through the Yellow Pages would see literally every competitor in the category listed together. And while it is true that the one with the biggest ad stands out the most—is that always going to be the one chosen?

No, it’s not. Same thing with Google Search Engine results today where an inquiry is met with a long list of competitors all clamoring to fill the need that produced the search.

It’s a fact: People don’t always choose the top listing, or the biggest ad.

And there’s a very solid reason why: What is already in your brain and associated with a brand is hard to get around.

For instance, if you know the Quicker Picker Upper is Bounty, you know that because your brain picked something up along the way. You may not realize you knew it, but you do know it: Bounty’s branding message has somehow snuck into your brain. It makes you feel good about that product. It's there, ready to help you feel good about Bounty when picking a paper towel brand. And at the end of the day, this is what makes people select certain brands. They select the brand that makes them feel the best about their decision and themselves.

Branding ads sow seeds for buying decisions in the future. Branding advertising can cause potential consumers to gain brand familiarity and learn the positioning of a brand before they have a need for the service, even before they are thinking about making a buying decision for that product category.

What’s more, many times the potential purchaser doesn’t even realize they are learning about the brand. Most people never know they have learned the phrase “Quicker Picker Upper” and associated it with Bounty. But a little aided recall in the form of seeing the product on the aisle or a prompt to “Name the best paper towel brand” will trigger many consumers to cite, “Bounty.” This is very interesting from a branding perspective, perhaps especially because paper towel purchases are a fairly low-involvement decision. The branding that the consumer didn’t know they’d been exposed to and never consciously thought about pays dividends in mind share and sales in the store.

Brand advertising doesn’t focus on dropping prices and trying to get anyone to buy today. And because brand advertising doesn’t have to focus on driving any action today, it gets more freedom to focus on key brand attributes.

So, the consumer who was looking in the Yellow Pages or searching online today may already have a positive brand association with Business A because of their brand advertising. And Business B—who never did any kind of branding messaging—well, Business B better hope their call-to-action ad’s offer is absolutely irresistible.

It is possible—and sometimes smart-- for one advertiser to do both branding and call-to-action messages. It’s tough to do both on the same medium. However, a lot of companies now rely on online digital ads—especially search-- to help drive immediate response as people search for a particular product category. And at the same time, the company utilizes branding advertising on other more traditional media (like radio and TV, or digital display advertising (which is more about branding than ‘clicks’) to build their brands prior to decision making time.

One final thought:

Think of your potential customers over the next year, and arrange them in your mind like a target. Those who are buying today are in the very center— the smallest group, but proportionately very important. However, notice as you go out from the center, each ring of the target represents a larger and larger pie of potential customers. Focus only on the ‘today’ and you risk losing positive brand building with the rest of the target—which is the big picture part of the target.

Delivery of a positive branding message to someone who isn’t buying today does something remarkable: it builds share of mind ahead of time, which is tough for a competitor to take away when the time to buy does arrive.

Redline Media Group knows call-to-action and branding advertising, and how to make them work. It’s what we do. We’ll also warn you upfront: there are no shortcuts.

But our Client-Partners who work with us on communicating their successful brand attributes to the minds of consumers build up Mind Share that is enormously powerful at decision time-- and serves as an accelerator for call-to-action advertising as well. These are the kinds of things we love to talk about, and we’d be honored to discuss them with you about your business.