Outlook 2005: The Changing Face of Accountability in Advertising

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Branding advertisers increasingly are embracing direct response advertising principles. Their movement toward accountability comes while the economy is unstable and advertising and marketing budgets are being monitored closely.

The adage, "I know half of my advertising works, but I don't know which half," is no longer acceptable in the age of accountability. Marketers are under pressure to deliver programs that yield a proven return on investment. By placing greater emphasis on acquiring a measurable response, they can quantify their ROI more accurately.

ROI was the theme of the recent Association of National Advertisers annual conference, which illustrates this issue's importance to the industry. Also, the advent of the Internet has made a vast array of data and consumer information easily accessible to all marketers.

Branding advertisers use this information to better identify the lifetime value of their customers. Once this is determined, they can better target their advertising and marketing to those customers who are most likely to deliver the most bang for their buck.

The rise in more accountable ad programs is illustrated by the rapid increase in response mechanisms in magazine ads. Ten years ago, 35 percent of all magazine ads carried a direct mechanism. Today, nearly all ads are primed for response.

Toll-free numbers, Web addresses and call-to-action elements are just a few of the response mechanisms being incorporated into ads to quantifiably evaluate their effectiveness. Most, if not all, marketers want to know the who, what, where and why of every ad placed.

According to my Meredith colleague Dan Lagani, vice president and publisher of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, branding advertisers are demanding more accountability from ad programs.

"We build accountability into as many programs as possible," he said. "Through programs like our Better Home Better Living Contest, which The Home Depot sponsored in 2004 and will again appear in 2005, we've had great success in demonstrating how responsive our readers are. In fact, what attracted Home Depot to the program was our success in 2002, when [the] contest generated over 30,000 entries and over $272 million in verifiable product sales. The 2004 contest offered even more consumer touch points in-book, in-store and online, which led to an 83 percent increase in entries."

Direct marketers have a long history of effectively selling products through magazine print ads. As a result, magazines often are a core component of a direct response acquisition campaign. Ninety percent of readers pay complete attention when reading magazines, a recent Magazine Publishers of America study found.

As all marketers today are vying for the consumer's attention, traditional direct response marketers are going to great lengths to continue to stand out in a changing environment. DMers are skillfully merging the aesthetic attributes of brand advertising with ROI disciplines in order to meet the dual goals of branding themselves while also tracking response and generating sales.

Creative testing has always been the hallmark of an astute direct marketer. Whether it is mail, print, television or online, testing is critical to maximizing response and forecasting ROI. Direct marketers find that unique, high-impact print units lead to greater response and help achieve their goals of both branding and selling product.

Patti Follo is director of direct response marketing at Meredith Corp., New York. E-mail her at patricia.follo@meredith.com

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