Go to jail, go directly to jail...
The always excellent Ad Contrarian has a quote on his homepage, pointing to where the problem starts.
"All ad campaigns are branding campaigns. Whether you intend it to be a branding campaign is irrelevant. It will create an impression of your brand regardless of your intent."
You can't run a 'Direct ad' in isolation. Give people a phone number using a low production value 10" spot in daytime and it might well generate low cost responses but it also generates a brand impression. That you're a bit cheap.
I've come across good few different blurred distinctions of Brand and Direct that make life even more complicated.
- We can measure direct, but not brand, so brand advertising is everything we can't measure
- Direct sells product but brand drives awareness and consideration
- Direct means cheap airtime
- Brand means expensive, peak airtime (but using the same daytime creative, obviously...)
- Direct means black and white press. Colour press is 'brand' because it costs more but doesn't seem to generate any extra response
- Our ad is a 'Direct ad', because it's got a phone number on it
- Our ad is not a 'Direct ad' even though it's got a phone number on it
There's only one useful definition of direct advertising and it's not related to branding. Direct advertising can be measured with a response rate - to a phone number, to a website, via coupons returned, whatever.... Crucially, this has got absolutely nothing to do with what effect the ad is supposed to have on consumers; it's a technical distinction about how we track response that has unhelpfully been blown up into some kind of model of consumer behaviour.
If your campaign will work harder with a web address in it, then put one in it. This doesn't fundamentally change the way the campaign works, it just makes it easier for people to find you.
An ad that is expensive doesn't suddenly start doing a miraculous unmeasurable 'brand' job just because it cost more. Peak time is just like daytime, only with different people watching the TV.
Of course there are benefits in consistency and there are benefits in high production values and these things are hard to measure, but they're just as true in your 'Direct' ads as they are anywhere else.
* Overused metaphor as a metaphor... I'm quite proud of that.