The "Madison Avenue" Myth

21 replies
Hey fellow writers,

As we've all seen - a lot of DR copywriters bash
advertising dubbed as "Madison Avenue" advertising...

...but in my research, here's what I've found:

-In DR advertising - most ads suck.

A few pull away from the crowd - and work wonders
for their clients.

-In "Madison Ave." advertising - most ads suck! (shocker...)

BUT - there are a few who pull away from the crowd - and
they too work wonders for their clients.

Therefore - I've decided that whether it's DR advertising,
or "Madison Ave." advertising - it's more the brains behind the
project that determine the success...

And not the medium.

Would love to hear your guys' and gals' thoughts on this.

David
#madison avenue #myth
  • Profile picture of the author RentItNow
    I am really looking at ads lately (DR and Madison) and asking, "What is the purpose of this ad".

    I think each has its place (Madison is more about branding, DR is attacking benefits to make up for the lack of branding).

    Sometimes I just have to stop and ask about the madison ads, "Couldn't they have just placed one URL on there that sends them to squeeze page that would have made better use of the expensive space?"
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  • Profile picture of the author Iconik
    Good observation.

    I agree that brains make a huge difference,
    but I think that without a side to side
    comparison of 'Madison Avenue' vs
    Direct Response copy, we can't simply
    say that there is no difference in the pulling
    power of each style.

    There are too many variables in play that
    can effect the response rate. Let's take
    a look...

    *Media Type/Venue (How are we reaching our prospects?)
    *Seasonality (Depending on our product, when we reach our prospects can be just as important as how)
    *Targeting (How well targeted is our list?)
    *Offer (How effective is our offer?)
    *Message (This is where the difference in style becomes evident)

    All these, have an effect on response
    and, except for "Message", must be equal
    in order to pass judgment.

    Two pieces of copy with different offers
    can't really be compared since the value
    being offered varies. This is why...

    The offer is more important than
    the copy. I'm sure you've read the
    classics which state that a great offer
    can pull regardless of weak copy, but
    even great copy can't save a poor offer.

    When you've built up your offer to not
    only include a high value product but
    also a reason to buy now, such as...

    *Premiums
    *Time Sensitive Offers
    *Limited Inventory
    *Buyer Competition (limiting the number of buyers)
    *Payment Scheduling (i.e. 4 easy payments)
    *Guarantees

    Then even poor copy will get results. However...

    All things being equal this is where DR copy pulls
    ahead, in my opinion.

    This kind of offer makes it easy for a DR copywriter
    to create control whoopin' copy.

    The 1-2 punch of a great offer combined with
    great copy makes it twice as effective, whereas...

    The Madison Ave boys can only hope to compete
    based on the offer. If they are good maybe they'll
    throw in a few benefits, but there is no way they
    can compete with a piece of DR copy in which the
    writer has taken the time to do the following...

    *Thoroughly researches his prospect
    *Extracts all the Facts, Features and Functions from
    the product or service
    *Turn those Facts, Features and Functions into
    tangible benefits the prospect can grasp

    *Creates a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). The
    copywriter, based on his understanding of the prospect,
    then takes all the benefits boils them down into 1-3 hard
    hitting selling points that best solve the prospects problem

    *Crafts his headline based on the USP
    *Tells his reader what he is offering and how he can benefit
    *Lists his benefits
    *Builds logical selling arguments
    *Overcomes objections
    *Implants buying triggers
    *Tells his customer what action to take and what they can
    expect after buying
    *Asks for the sale

    Madison Ave style copy simply doesn't do enough selling
    to get the kind of response that DR copy is capable of pulling.

    But I do think it is possible, that if the offer is mediocre as
    well as the DR copy, than it might be possible for a MA style
    ad to out-pull a DR ad.

    Otherwise I just can't see how an MA ad could reach down
    into a prospects heart and yank on enough strings to
    accomplish what a DR ad does every day of the week.

    Mike
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    • Profile picture of the author Omar Khafagy
      MA and DR operate under very different circumstances.

      DR's objective is to get you to DO something. Straight away. Perhaps not upon the first exposure, but eventually you wind up "taking action" while in the presence of the ad.

      MA's objective is to get you to REMEMBER to do something when the circumstances are right. Branding is no more than aiming a repetitive message to a targeted audience to have them associate certain feelings with you. Ideally, these feelings will influence you when the time to make a purchasing decision comes.

      A Coca-Cola ad does not require you to immediately purchase coke. If you do not buy a coke the very instant the ad is over, that does not mean the ad has failed. You're on your couch, at home. If you don't have coke already in your house, the odds are pretty good that you can't buy one the second you see a Coke ad interrupt your weekly episode of House M.D.

      To me, the value of DR comes from its ability to be readily quantified and analyzed. You can tell which ads are doing well, and which ones aren't because the numbers are clear. A copywriter who has never written direct response will not know what it means to have his or her copy rejected by the market.

      Fundamentally, DR advertising is about as close to face-to-face sales as you can get... without being actually face-to-face. The chops you gain from that experience carries well into doing MA-style ads.

      The idea is analogous to one my old guitar instructor explained to me: A person trained on the classical guitar can pick up an electric and transition with ease. A person trained on an electric and moved to a classical guitar is going to struggle to form even the most basic bar chords.

      DR is classical advertising. MA is the electric guitar of the advertising world. They're both useful, but as far as earning your wings is concerned, DR's going to give you the feedback your CLIENTS will care about: feedback from their customers' wallets.
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  • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
    Originally Posted by dtendrich View Post

    Hey fellow writers,

    As we've all seen - a lot of DR copywriters bash
    advertising dubbed as "Madison Avenue" advertising...

    ...but in my research, here's what I've found:

    -In DR advertising - most ads suck.

    A few pull away from the crowd - and work wonders
    for their clients.

    -In "Madison Ave." advertising - most ads suck! (shocker...)

    BUT - there are a few who pull away from the crowd - and
    they too work wonders for their clients.

    Therefore - I've decided that whether it's DR advertising,
    or "Madison Ave." advertising - it's more the brains behind the
    project that determine the success...

    And not the medium.

    Would love to hear your guys' and gals' thoughts on this.

    David
    Like you say, it's the few, on both sides. That's why it's a generalisation.

    The reason MA id picked on is that there's more of them, so when you generalise with them you have a bigger number of people who are wrong than right.

    There's relatively less people doing DR, so the ones who are wrong are in smaller numbers.

    That's my personal take on it: Not saying I'm right or wrong.
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    • Profile picture of the author colinjoss
      I reckon it comes down to ROI.

      With DR it's easier (at least if you do it right) to see if your ad is making money.

      With MA it's harder to track.

      Colin
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  • Profile picture of the author purpleman87
    The funny thing about a "myth" is that if enough people think that it is correct...then it will be! Perception always outperforms reality. Bank!
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  • Profile picture of the author MouseandMice
    As Omar said-- It is apples to oranges.

    Do you expect Ford to sell cars using direct response?

    "They laughed when I bought a Ford-- but when my car didn't zoom at 90 miles and hour down the freeway without the brakes working, they perked up!"

    With like seven pages followed by an order form to buy a Ford Focus?

    No.
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    • Profile picture of the author Hesaidblissfully
      All advertising is ultimately designed to get people to buy a product (or an idea, a belief, etc.). So any advertising that fails at it's job is sucky advertising. But because the results from direct response ad campaigns are more tangible, it's easier to tell when DR isn't doing doing its job.
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    • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
      Originally Posted by MouseandMice View Post

      As Omar said-- It is apples to oranges.

      Do you expect Ford to sell cars using direct response?

      "They laughed when I bought a Ford-- but when my car didn't zoom at 90 miles and hour down the freeway without the brakes working, they perked up!"

      With like seven pages followed by an order form to buy a Ford Focus?

      No.
      Yes. If you have any idea what DR is.

      And who says DR copy has to be seven pages long?

      Direct response copy means copy that elicits... direct response. The length of copy has nothing to do with it.
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      • Profile picture of the author MouseandMice
        Originally Posted by Rezbi View Post

        Yes. If you have any idea what DR is.

        And who says DR copy has to be seven pages long?

        Direct response copy means copy that elicits... direct response. The length of copy has nothing to do with it.
        I was talking about the DR that the OP seems to be talking about.
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        • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
          Originally Posted by MouseandMice View Post

          I was talking about the DR that the OP seems to be talking about.
          It's either DR, or it's not.
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  • Profile picture of the author John_S
    You'll find many of these companies used direct response when they were new and unknown, and now use Mad Ave creative to keep top of mind awareness.

    (Some are quite adept at direct response, and still use DR. You just don't see where.)

    The lines could blur. But mostly, it's a different mindset which still isn't compatible. A Mad Ave creative will use pointless flash gimmicks sooner than they'll use a direct response mechanism. It's all about getting attention.

    Finally, what works for a giant company, in business for decades, with an established customer base, isn't going to work for a new business. However, when small businesses do image and awareness advertising, they don't make big inroads on the bigcos. And many go out of business.

    Part of the effectiveness of Mad Ave is companies who think that's how big companies got big. If you were to look at the Direct Response example everyone cites -- Domino's Pizza -- what would you find? You would not find a USP today. They dropped it.

    Domino's doesn't have the same concerns now as then. Their major concern is competition, or more to the point, that competition self-destructs. Other bigcos aren't the problem, the innovative startup coming out of left field is.

    Mad Ave creative is ideal for dealing with copycat startups -- because it works to best effectiveness when you've saturated the marketplace.

    By and large Mad Ave is designed for start-uips to copy.

    Why is it every so often you get a post here about some guru advertising to their customer base? You know the posts that complain the guru is "lazy," and it looked like the pitch was done in all of ten minutes. Same thing.

    Mad Ave advertising "works," just not in the way you're talking about in this thread. Its ineffectiveness for anyone but the bigco is its major strength. Just like you're not going to do much with the DR gurus soft pitch to their own customer base.

    Domino's would like nothing better than start-ups do what Domino's is doing today. That insures there will not be a major threat to their business tomorrow.

    DR is effective for getting big. Mad Ave is effective for staying big.
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  • Profile picture of the author John_S
    With like seven pages followed by an order form to buy a Ford Focus?
    How about a Myers Motors NMG positioned against Detroit?
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  • Profile picture of the author cfarmer
    I agree it does take brains to advertise and creativity. The advertisement must hit some key points to get a good response. If they don't they are really wasting a lot of time and effort on what they are trying to promote. Things like targeting your consumer, product concept they must believe and understand the product they want to market. Communication media, the advertising message and the copy are just a few things that need to be considered. And they need to use their brains creatively to be unique and stand out to be effective. Kinda starting to go on a tangent here but yes it is definitely Brains.
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  • Profile picture of the author Zentech
    David,

    I think you're absolutely right.

    Part of the motivation behind bashing the "Madison Avenue" mindset is simply positioning. It makes sense from a marketing perspective to try to set oneself apart from the competition and offer a unique selling proposition - especially when the competition is as formidable as Madison Avenue.

    Most of us do not have Madison Avenue jobs. Many of us do not want them - but at the same time, we have to explain to people why they should go with us rather than these large, established agencies. Creating informative and persuasive distinctions between our services and those of the Madison Avenue guys is one way to do that.

    I personally feel that it it shouldn't be necessary to knock down another mode of service in order to promote my own, so I'll be phasing that sort of thing out of my own pitch soon - but I can understand why it it is often seen. Although Madison Avenue is rarely our actual competition, they are often envisioned as our competition in the prospective client's mind.
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  • Profile picture of the author John_S
    Ogilvy used to track the average time it takes a Mad Ave agency from winning the Clio to losing the client they won the Clio for.

    A Wall Street Journal article detailed, as Chiat won the Clio for the Nissan "Toys" ad, Nissan sales plunged 30%. In that article the agency came right out and said sales aren't the point.

    Sales do not factor into Clio awards. Axel awards for direct response do factor in sales. A point to consider when distinguishing DR from Mad Ave.
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    • Profile picture of the author Mr. Subtle
      Originally Posted by John_S View Post

      Ogilvy used to track the average time it takes a Mad Ave agency from winning the Clio to losing the client they won the Clio for.

      A Wall Street Journal article detailed, as Chiat won the Clio for the Nissan "Toys" ad, Nissan sales plunged 30%.
      Since you mentioned Chiat... TBWA/Chiat/Day has been Apple's ad agency for over 25 years since winning a Clio for the 1984 (Super Bowl commercial). They helped take Apple from a nobody to the largest tech company in the world (beating Microsoft a few weeks ago).
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  • Profile picture of the author John_S
    Chiat -- and every other agency -- shopped the 1984 based theme to everybody on earth. (Because the year 1984 was fast approaching, and ad agencies are just that creative) The one version Apple approved was "Why 1984 Won't Be Like 1984."

    What sold computers was the 1984 multi page Macintosh Introduction advertorial.

    Most agencies have direct response arms. A great many campaigns are mixed image/response, so it is exceedingly hard to tease out what worked and what didn't. Rest assured, where there is credit to be grabbed, the branding/image folks will grab it.

    And the direct response people will be treated like a redheadded step child.

    You all have a video swipe file ...right? Here's
    Never heard of it? That's no surprise.

    Why? Because you talk about how great image ads are. Even if you buy from response ads.
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    • Profile picture of the author Mr. Subtle
      Originally Posted by John_S View Post

      What sold computers was the 1984 multi page Macintosh Introduction advertorial.

      Most agencies have direct response arms. A great many campaigns are mixed image/response, so it is exceedingly hard to tease out what worked and what didn't. Rest assured, where there is credit to be grabbed, the branding/image folks will grab it.

      Why? Because you talk about how great image ads are. Even if you buy from response ads.
      You talking 1984 and I'm talking over 25 years of image ads. Please show me any Apple DR ad in the last 10 years.

      Show me a DR ad for the iPod. (Betcha everyone still remembers the silhouettes dancing against a brightly colored background to some "today" tune.) They sold a ton without a single DR ad.

      Show me a DR ad for the iPhone. They sold a ton without a single DR ad.

      Show me a DR ad for the iPad (where over 2 MILLION have been sold in 2 months). They are selling and will be selling a ton without a DR ad.

      Show me a DR ad that has pulled in sales of over $1 BILLION in 2 months (like the iPad)?
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  • Profile picture of the author John_S
    Actually no. You brought up 1984. I had no intention of talking about Apple or the "Why 1984 Won't Be Like 1984" campaign.

    Frankly this is the second thread somebody else brought up Apple out of the blue. But, anyway...

    Presenting the Apple iMac about 2002

    iPod+iTunes -- Gives a slight nod to the silhouette campaign, then plunges into something more akin to the DAK catalog than hipster drivel. Absolutely saturated with columns of copy, and teeny tiny pictures.

    Doesn't Apple know Nobody Reads.

    If you want to debate me, you may want to hire me to make your case for you. I'll do a better job. Does anyone even do research?

    iPhone Version four -- made with the same kind of glass used in helicopters! Five Times Stronger Than Steel! Sheesh. That Sugarman **** doesn't work on the young people. Page after page of -- yuck -- words and sentences and punctuations and .... and ....

    It's about the product!!!! Where's all the ******* Cool Vapid Creative?! Where's the Apple vs PC Dude?!


    Where the **** is the Swedish Bikini Team when you need them?! Dancing raisins? Where's a cute miniature dog saying cute **** with no product in sight?

    People's ******* hands holding a ******* computer? What the **** is Apple thinking?

    If Chiat had a hand in the example above, it came with a thumb screw and ball gag.

    Now this, this smells of Chiat...


    Guess who's product? Guess What product? No fair looking at the title -- that's not part of the commercial.

    What do you do after seeing this mess? Call the 1-800 number? No you either go to Apple.com or Google Apple's product where you get the pages listed above. Yes, the image ads might get some attention -- the more DR components of the Campaign step the curious visitor through the sale.

    That is a best case scenario. Mostly people seeing this do nothing.

    Apple image ads are for Apple customers. Not prospects. They do foster word of mouth. They do give some ammunition to Apple customers to influence PC people to check out an Apple or visit a site. They do not close the sale.


    Sales plunge 30%. This ad was deemed by (guess who) as a branding success. People came into dealerships asking about the Nissan model in the commercial only to be told that model went out of production years before.

    Those people did not go on to purchase a Nissan.
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