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Rational & Emotional Building Blocks of Effective Direct Response Advertising

The Rational & Emotional Building Blocks of Effective DRTV Advertising

Effective direct response television (DRTV) advertising typically follows a formula for one simple reason: the formula works. That formula is designed to capture prospects and push them down a transaction funnel (see Exhibit A) by following a linear storytelling path that progressively and convincingly persuades a consumer to take a specific action (e.g., “Call or go online.”) While it is common knowledge that sound advertising consists of both rational and emotional attributes, how the actual building blocks of a direct response ad work to trigger these impulses has largely been unexplored. The purpose of this article is to identify the most common components that comprise a winning formula for direct response advertising, and then to describe how they act as rational and emotional triggers to positively influence consumers and get them to do the advertiser’s bidding.

Transaction Funnel

Exhibit A: DRTV transaction funnel focuses on specific steps and outcomes similar to a traditional sales funnel.

The following identifies the building blocks and the specific role they play in moving consumers through the funnel.

Problem: Articulating a problem, often in the form of a question, is a powerful way of grabbing attention. So, for example, an advertiser might begin with a volley such as: “What if you could put an end to <insert common problem> once and for all?” This device is intended to act as a hook to capture a prospect’s focus. When an advertisement comes on, a viewer quickly decides whether a message is relevant to them or not. This weighing of whether something is applicable to an individual’s circumstances is largely a rational decision. It is the foundation that determines whether the viewer is going to pay attention to the rest of the message, reach for the remote, head to the bathroom, or rifle through the refrigerator.

Solution: Having just articulated a problem, the advertiser next states they have the answer, e.g., “Now you can <accomplish a goal> with <insert product name>!” Note that the problem and solution are communicated in a matter of a few seconds, allowing time for the rest of the formula to unfold. A well-crafted solution engages one’s curiosity, which is largely an emotional response. Such inquisitiveness will determine to what degree a viewer will give the advertisement their undivided attention. In a nutshell, does the solution have enough merit that your target audience will want to learn more?

Unique Selling Proposition (USP): This is a statement of the primary attribute of a specific product or service that sets it apart from all others in its category, i.e., the singular element that makes it truly “unique.” Note the use of the word “singular”; a USP is not a laundry list of benefits. The biggest challenge any marketer has is coming up with a product or service that truly is unique (versus a “me too” product or service which may offer a better value, but is often ho-hum in comparison to the category leader). In a perfect world, the USP will elicit excitement, which is also characteristically an emotional response. This is when the audience may go from mildly interested to sitting up straight on their couch, spurred on by the “new news” your USP has to offer.

Benefits & Features: This is a longer list of qualities that the offering being advertised possesses. Some examples are demonstrations of utility (“Use it here, there, and everywhere”), ease-of-use, cost-benefit (“Imagine how much money you’ll save!”) and countless other virtues. During this recitation of advantages, the viewer makes a personal assessment of how meaningful the pitch is to them and their situation. This is an extension of relevancy and is largely an exercise in rational thinking where one assesses in practical terms how useful the features and benefits will be to them.

Social Proof: This can be testimonials, either from consumers or professional endorsers perceived as authorities, reviews and ratings, and other evidence to suggest the claims being made by the advertiser are supported by independent third parties. The response to such proof is of an emotional nature because at its heart it is about is giving the consumer a sense of comfort and reassurance. Remember the old maxim, “There’s safety in numbers?” An impressive critical mass of favorable star ratings or one glowing testimonial after another, gives a prospect a sense of security that they can move forward with their risk mitigated. After all, nobody wants to make a foolish decision.

Offer: Sometimes also referred to as an offer build, this is a description of all that a consumer can expect to receive from the advertiser should they decide to buy or opt in. In the case of a “hard offer” a price is included, and in the case of a “soft offer” price is not disclosed. Additional items that are included in an offer such as bonuses are sometimes referred to as “sweeteners” because they sweeten the deal. A viewer’s response to this part of a direct response commercial is typically rational in nature because they go through a process of bargaining. This is typically an internal dialogue where the consumer evaluates the price (or anticipated price range) in relationship to perceived value. As the relationship between what you get and what it costs grows (also known as the value build), a consumer’s resistance decreases, and their desire increases. That impulse to take advantage of a good “deal” is a primary driver for consumer response.

Call-to-Action (CTA): This is literally the part of the ad where the viewer is asked to take specific action (e.g., “Call or go online!”) In traditional sales parlance this is “asking for the order.” Beyond the thirst for a bargain, this is where a second important lever that drives response is often triggered: scarcity mentality. Scarcity mentality is the fear of missing out on something and is a huge part of the rocket fuel that propels home shopping (e.g., “Folks, you better call now because we’re running out of product!”) The explicit nature of asking for a specific action on the part of the viewer is designed to create a sense of urgency—and an emotional response—as opposed to leaving such action to chance.

Here is a quick summary of the components of a traditional direct response spot, along with their emotional corollary and categorization as a primarily rational or emotional attribute:

It’s important to note that the formula outlined in this article does not necessarily have to rely on hackneyed phrasing such as “But wait, there’s more!” It’s entirely possible for it to be executed artfully and with sophistication. But unlike an advertiser such as GEICO that relies on humor and scenarios that are removed from the core benefits of what is being advertised to make an impression, effective direct response advertising is typically crafted in a more direct, straightforward manner with the intent of spurring consumer action. The benefit to the marketer is that they get to control more of their narrative. The opposite is using advertising to simply spark interest that then relies more heavily on a consumer journey of discovery about what they saw advertised, that the marketer may or may not have control over. Reflecting on our transaction funnel, one can argue that a sound DRTV commercial can push consumers further down that funnel, if not all the way through that funnel to a transaction. Thus, its obvious appeal: the ability to fortify consumers with knowledge that engages both their left and right brain, inspiring them to make a commitment to your brand. That commitment can manifest itself in real time, or across a longer tail, but its impact on all channels in undeniable.


Rick PetryAbout the author: Rick Petry is the CMO/EVP Client Services of DirectAvenue and a seasoned direct marketing professional and thought leader with experience spanning three decades. He has had a hand in campaigns generating over $1 billion in sales and is conversant in all facets of performance-based marketing including off-line and on-line media planning and buying, research, analytics, creative, production, and back-end management, Rick is the author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, and is a past Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and a recipient of ERA’s Volunteer of the Year award, as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’ Member of the Year award as voted by his peers.