Your Campaign Failed? GREAT!


“The problem with most copywriters is they don’t think in terms of selling,” says David Ogilvy in his video titled We Sell or Else. “They’ve never written direct response. They’ve never tasted blood.”

When Ogilvy says, almost enthusiastically, “they’ve never tasted blood,” he’s talking about failure.

Ogilvy founded one of the world’s most successful ad agencies, Ogilvy and Mather. His first love was direct response advertising even though his agency built some big brands like Rolls Royce and Hathaway Shirts.

In case you don’t understand the difference between branding advertising and direct response, here’s a quick primer.

Branding advertising strives to create “feelings” and “thoughts” about a product or service. The advertising you see on TV during prime time is almost always branding advertising. This type of advertising rarely asks for a direct action and the results are never accurately measured.

Direct response advertising persuades readers, listeners, or viewers to take a very specific action that leads to a sale. As such, the results are ALWAYS measured. You see direct response advertising in your mail, on late night TV, and on the Internet where a web page has a big button saying “BUY NOW!”

Let me show you a couple of examples

Here’s a branding print ad.

failure 1

In this ad for The Who, you see a clever ad and concept. But notice something very important about the ad. There’s no call to action, no direct way to measure its effectiveness. You cannot link sales of the album to the ad.

Here’s another branding ad, this time from Michelin.

failure 2

It’s a little better because the ad asks the reader to visit a website. But it’s not really a direct response ad. Michelin asks me to visit a website. But why? What’s in it for me?

Here’s a pedal-to-the-metal direct response print ad.

failure 3

The ad asks for very direct action from the reader.

I fully understand the need for big companies to work on image and branding—and to get their name out there, everywhere. But there’s no way to measure the ROI accurately from this advertising.

So now you have a decision to make with your advertising

Do you want to generate “brand awareness” or do you want to sell stuff?

If you want to sell stuff, you want to use direct response principles. You can find books and videos showing you how to apply these principles. But here’s something extremely important about direct response marketing before diving in.

Remember what Ogilvy said? About the “blood.”

What he’s really talking about is failure. You see, there’s nowhere to hide with direct response advertising. You run some advertising and then you measure the response. And you measure it in terms that everyone can understand: dollars and cents.

Every single direct response copywriter has written copy that fails. And every direct response copywriter will (or should) fully admit they really don’t know if the copy will work until it goes live—or hits mailboxes or the airwaves.

I have written failing copy. In fact, for one company, I wrote a TON of copy that failed to improve conversion against a control. Fortunately the client fully understood something extremely important: failure is a time to rejoice. You discover what doesn’t work so you don’t try that again.

For the client, I wrote 10 advertorials. Nine failed to beat the control but version 10 increased revenue by 30%. Quite frankly, I had no idea version 10 would work but everyone was extremely happy with the result. I then wrote several versions of new advertorials based on the successful copy and increased revenue even more.

Yes, it can be extremely difficult to deal with total failure when you’ve invested time, money, and energy into a campaign. But it’s vital you taste that blood so you start to understand what your potential clients and customers do not want to see.

There’s no need for a long post-mortem. But ask yourself these questions.

  • Was the offer crystal clear?
  • Was it irresistible?
  • Did the campaign really focus on what’s really important to the potential client or customer?
  • Were you asking too much of the customer?
  • Did you provide enough information about the benefits of the product or service?

The fact your campaign failed may answer most, if not all, the questions above. But most important, were you really running a direct marketing campaign? Or was it a lukewarm branding campaign? If it’s the latter, then you won’t even know if the campaign worked.

But if you really ran a direct marketing campaign and it really failed, it’s a time to get really, really excited. You know what doesn’t work and you can try a different approach. You will likely have more failures but, eventually, because you’re testing, you will find the approach that resonates and generates huge response.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Scott Martin.

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