Brand Direct

Ayear ago, dot-coms were beating down the doors of hip advertising agencies looking for the magic of “branding,” which they associated with wacky TV commercials, like my own shop’s work for

Today, these clients are leaving their agencies at the same gallop, sputtering, “We’re just going to buy numbers.” At least nine times out of 10, this is a mistake. Without a brand, a business has no future. There is no time but the present to build a brand.

To survive, dot-coms must know this: Branding isn’t a new logo or an expensive TV campaign. Branding is the core of everything you do. Period.

If all you can afford is direct, make sure you build your brand with every sale. Make sure you dramatize your brand idea, even if your only medium is e-mail. (If you don’t have a compelling brand idea, get one.)

I call the approach “brand direct,” and the advantages are many. For example:

1) You make more money right away.

2) You build your brand while you’re doing it, so …

3) You make more money later.

Here’s a guide:

1) Hire a great, experienced direct marketer.

2) Make this person the head of your agency.

3) Insist that the brand people and the direct people work together.

4) Pass all their work through one creative director with the appropriate experience.

5) Live by the results.

Interestingly, the agency founded by David Ogilvy has done just that. In fact, Ogilvy said: “Every copywriter should start his career by spending two years in direct response.”

As far as I know, I’m the only head of a creative ad agency who has had a career as a direct-response writer. I spent my first seven years in direct. Those years of living and dying by response rates were an education. I learned to create in the presence of hard data, and to love it. When I beat my first “control,” I did indeed taste blood. I learned to work for the effect I could have on a client’s business.

How did I become a successful brand advertiser? I did it the way direct people do—I tested into it.

Time and again, a great brand idea turned out to be the best response device. With my new secret weapon, we slaughtered venerable campaigns.

Why haven’t Ogilvy’s prescient prescriptions been applied at more agencies? Because there remains a wall between the direct practitioners of most shops and their generalist colleagues. It is more than a physical wall, more than a line on the profit-and-loss statement. It is a wall supported by mutual distaste. It is an artifact of ad-agency culture and history that has lost any trace of utility it may once have possessed.

Mr. and Mrs. Agency Chairman: Tear down that wall!