Is General Advertising A SCAM? What About Direct Response Marketing?!

is direct marketing a scam and fighting on the internet featured image

Is Direct Marketing The Only Way?

A few weeks back, there was a furore over at Reddit’s entrepreneur section. A direct response copywriter had outspokenly decried general advertising as a scam and direct marketing as the one true way. You can read the ensuing argument at this link.

The thread – and subsequent retaliations – are pretty interesting for numerous reasons. Not really among them is a discussion about direct marketing versus general advertising. Still, that’s an interesting point in and of itself.

I’ll give you my thoughts on the whole thing, starting with the point I just made.

Every Internet Discussion Is One-Step Away From Serving No Purpose Whatsoever

If I were to tell you, “A guy showed up and says Method A is better than Method B, and some people have been talking about it” you might expect certain things from the conversation:

  • What is A?
  • What is B?
  • Is A better than B?

Unfortunately, you rarely get that in a discussion. You’re only one step away from “He disagrees with me, therefore he’s full of shit.”

The Reddit thread above is no different.

For what it’s worth, I think there are some pretty interesting points raised in the original post; words sell better than pictures, there’s dubious assessment of ROI in general advertising, long form is better than short form, etc.

When I read the replies though, it’s interesting to note that absolutely nobody addressed those arguments.

Instead, we had:

  • This guy writes for financial magazines… he’s a liar
  • This guy disagrees with me… he’s a liar
  • Many, many instances of “This guy is full of shit” without any explanation
  • “Yeah, but, Coca-Cola have brand awareness!” without any actual argument
  • This guy SELLS STUFF!!! This must be a tricky way to SELL US STUFF!!!
  • This guy says he earns X but that’s a lot so he must be lying!
  • Generally, all the snark, passive-aggressiveness and crabs-in-a-barrel self-loathing that seems to permeate Reddit

Now, let’s divorce the argument from this for a moment. I’ve not said whether I agree with the original premise or not. The point is that none of the above does anything. It’s bad arguing (or not really arguing at all) and it probably turns people off your side of the argument moreso than it would ever convince them.

Let’s use an easy example.

“The Sky Is Blue”

  • I think the sky is green… you’re full of shit.
  • Yeah but you’re not a meteorologist, you’re full of shit.
  • Oh my god Jamie you’re a copywriter you’re obviously trying to subtly convince me of your argument using this stupid example!
  • Yeah but Obama said that the sky is grey so it can’t be blue
  • Trump said the sky is blue but he’s a racist so that can’t be true

You know, all of these arguments are fun and games, but the way to actually win an argument is to say:

Direct Response Marketing Is Great.

  • Direct marketing comprises of sending leaflets, letters and other ads that have a direct response intended to make the person complete an action.
  • Direct response has been around for 100+ years.
  • Direct response marketing shows that you can track every visitor, customer and sale.

And… General Advertising Is A Scam:

  • Branding exercises are worthless
  • You can’t measure the ROI on general advertising
  • Many advertising campaigns aren’t profitable

You get the picture. You break down the opinion into arguments which are true/false/unfalsifiable and then you weight those arguments against each other.

You get your answer, everyone gets their answer and can weigh the statistics against each other and we can all stop arguing on the internet.

Instead, what we learn is this:

Some People Love To Fight

Both sides of the above thread; original poster and guys who agree with him versus guys who don’t agree with him love to fight.

There’s no other way to describe people who throw thousands of words at each other when they could be doing something more (or less) productive.

As a copywriter, the original poster must have known when he wrote the title that it was going to cause this reaction.

“Why you should never…” is a great way to get moths to a flame.

The original poster, we can deduce, likes drawing moths to a flame – and it’s not like it’s a troll thing here. The guy didn’t cut and run. He responded to pretty much everyone with hundreds of words and detailed examples.

Some people like to fight.

People dragged up this poster’s personal info, scrutinised his work and personal life and drew all sorts of conclusions about his past, present and future… remember the section above: none of that has anything to do with the argument. It’s simply because people like to fight.

It’s like the people who go to war on Twitter hashtags and rustle up controversy. They like to fight.

Interesting enough as that is, I’m not one of those people, and so I can’t give much info on the why or how of picking fights/debates online.

I’d rather be doing something else.

Is General Adverting A Scam and Is Direct Marketing Great?

Let’s answer the question then.

The short answer is: find out yourself. (Running theme of this blog… find out yourself.)

Does direct marketing work, or is it, like the commenters say – a means to dupe poor gullible idiots into buying penny stocks through an ebook sale? I mean, the evidence is there and it’s staring you in the face, but if you really want to find out, why don’t you try it?

Is general advertising a scam? Can branding really add to your bottom line? Again… try it.

See if you can generate a positive return based on branding exercises.

As for my opinion: Direct response marketing is clearly not a scam. It’s been used in multiple industries all over the world across multiple different media. People who think it’s just e-book sales and Clickbank products simply have a naïve idea of what the term direct response marketing actually means.

As for general advertising, I don’t have enough personal data to say. I’d refrain from doing anything that isn’t measurable though. The reason for this is that “general advertising” isn’t a goal in and of itself, and neither is branding. There’s no point in having a household name brand if you don’t sell anything.

That said, to draw a conclusion about that, you’d have to look into the evidence and see if you could find figures demonstrating that brand awareness adds to the profitability of a company. I’m not sure if those figures are out there and how reliable said figures are should they exist… but I don’t really care enough to find out.

I’m of the opinion you should try stuff and see, and if you’re offering services to clients, then you should probably know and be able to demonstrate that you can get a return on their investment.

Final Thoughts

This article really came out of nowhere, and is secretly a call to arms to do the following:

  • Stop wasting time on the internet arguing
  • Learn how to distinguish information from noise and use the information
  • Finding out for yourself whether a position is correct is almost always better than relying on second hand evidence
  • If you’re a fighting type, then make sure you’re fighting logically
  • If you’re not a fighting type, then you’re best off avoiding getting roped into internet discussions with people who fight for the enjoyment of it
  • Before you have an opinion, make sure you know what you’re talking about

I’m sure this is preaching to the choir with the readers here, because you’re all pretty smart. However, it’s easy to get suckered into this sort of stuff online while you’re looking for useful information.

As always, I recommend skimming for what’s useful, ignoring what isn’t and putting everything you find useful into practice to test its truthfulness.

About the author

Jamie McSloy

My name is Jamie McSloy. I'm a writer from the UK. This site is about the business of being a writer. Copywriting, Content Marketing, Publishing and all forms of writing will be discussed here. Learn More About Me

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