The Challenge of a (Really) Short-Form Direct Response Ad

It’s challenging for direct response marketers to fit all of the key elements of a good direct response ad into the space of a Facebook ad, Instagram ad, or Twitter post.

It’s challenging for direct response marketers to fit all of the key elements of a good direct response ad into the space of a Facebook ad, Instagram ad, or Twitter post.

Students in my direct marketing class at Rutgers were tasked with finding direct response advertisements in different media and detailing what made the ads direct — as opposed to general awareness advertising. Things like targeting, personalization, call-to-action, specific offer, etc.

Because their media consumption is almost exclusively online — social media, SMS, YouTube, and sometimes email, it’s not surprising that their examples showed the limitations of the media they consume.

The unlimited palette of the traditional direct mail kit, where repetition could be used to hammer home benefits and stimulate response, is all but extinct for this target audience. Even the traditional short-form, 120-second commercial has given way to shorter YouTube pre-roll ads that can be skipped after 5 seconds. (Make sure you get your main benefit and CTA out quickly.)

The examples students provided came mostly from their Instagram or email accounts, and many were limited to a simple illustration of the product, a brief description, and a “Shop Now” button. Although one student did provide a link to a classic DR spot for Flex Seal that made me laugh out loud (that’s long-form for lol). Over the course of two

direct response ad example
Credit: Chuck McLeester

minutes, Flex Seal was described as liquid rubber in a can, handyman in a can, and last but not least, the Hoover Dam in a can. There were several demonstrations, including one where the bottom of a small boat was replaced with a screen door coated with Flex Seal — no leaks, at all. This tried-and-true formula for DRTV sales doesn’t work in 280 characters; although, the ability to embed video into a tweet can overcome that limitation. The content of this short-form broadcast ad might make an interesting series of Instagram ads, but it would take four to five different episodes to include all of the content and demonstrations.

Reaching a young audience with direct response advertising is challenging, but not impossible. The best example of incorporating all of the essential elements of good direct response was provided by a female student from her Instagram feed. All of the elements are there: targeting, benefits, offer, and call-to-action — Girls Night. Delivered.

Shout out to Amazon Prime.