I’ve been re-reading the 1983 classic, “Ogilvy on Advertising” to see how much has changed — and how much has remained the same — in advertising over the years. One constant is the challenge of how to measure sales impact in advertising, and the tension of long-term brand building versus short-term direct response.
As David Ogilvy wrote (more than a decade before the first digital display ad):
“For all their research, most advertisers never know for sure whether their advertisements sell. Too many other factors cloud the equation. But direct-response advertisers, who solicit orders by mail or telephone, know to a dollar how much each advertisement sells … I am convinced that if all advertisers were to follow the example of their direct response brethren, they would get more sales per dollar. Every copywriter should start his career by spending two years in direct response.”
Four decades later, there remains an entrenched divide in marketing between long-term brand branding and short-term direct response. Exec Strategy Director at A&E DDB, Tom Roach, recently wrote an excellent essay called “The Wrong and the Short of it,” where he excoriates the false choice between long-term and short-term thinking in marketing, which he calls “wrong-termism.”
Short-term performance marketing frequently gets a bad rap, but Tom points at that blindly following “long-termism” is also flawed. As he put it:
“There’s always been a lot of magical thinking about the long term in advertising. That you can just do something big and expensive as a one-off, then close your eyes and cross your fingers and hope no one commercially-oriented asks any awkward questions for six to twelve months, until future sales start magically happening…
“And whilst short-termism may give people a bad name within certain corners of the marketing world, it may actually be long-termism that gives some marketers a bad name within their organisations and amongst the rest of the business community, perhaps because some marketers appear to act like selling’s a dirty word to them.”
A related factor I see in marketing is the revolving door of many marketing jobs. CPG brand managers frequently change brands every 12-18 months and CMO tenure continues to slip. Spencer Stuart’s latest Annual CMO Tenure study pegged the average CMO tenure at 41 months, down two months from the previous year.
Tom Roach shared this chart on the combinatory effect of long-term and short-term tactics, based on his research with Dr. Grace Kite.
Tom went on to argue:
“Brands should be aiming to create long-term communications engineered for immediate success. Advertising that, in the words of the great Jeremy Bullmore, sells ‘both immediately and forever’”
And as David Ogilvy put it, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: