Direct Response Copywriter on The Big Idea

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to introduce a “big idea” into something that you’d probably think is totally unrelated to direct response copywriting.

I won’t go into the precise details here, because they’re not totally salient, but the person I was working with asked, “what’s a ‘big idea’?”

It’s an excellent question.

The big idea in copywriting is, essentially, a theme.

In branding advertising, examples are the famous Ogilvy ad …

The Man in The Hathaway Shirt.

Then there’s the now extinct ad … The Most Interesting Man in The World for Dos Equis beer.

It’s not a coincidence I’ve mentioned these ads. They’re really quite similar. Hmmmm.

In the world of the direct response copywriter, you’ll see a lot written about “the big idea.” I'm not a huge fan of the tactic. Why? Because the prospect isn’t interested in your big idea. They’re interested in themselves and how the product/service can help them get where they want to get.

When I’m writing direct response copy, I’m focused on communicating, with intense clarity, how a product or service will help the prospect. I’m not so interested in a big idea.

The big idea is the foundation of a branding ad campaign. Right now, you’ve seen these ads for Bud Light. They’re built around the idea of people from medieval times enjoying Bud Light. I’m not certain I get the concept but it’s an example of a big idea.

A lot of big-time direct response copywriters like the idea of the “big idea.”


It’s a way to get, and more importantly, keep, the attention of the prospect. It can also be a way to provide clarity and maintain focus.

So … instead of blabbing away with a lot of features and benefits, the big idea keeps everything together.

I use a big idea more than I think, without really ever thinking about a big idea.

Here’s an example. Click this link now.

A lot of golfers hit good shots on the practice range then fail to take them to the golf course. This applies even to the top golfers like Tiger Woods.

So I built a promotion around this theme. It’s the big idea.

If the big idea works for you in your advertising, and you can measure a jump in revenue through your testing, then use a big idea. But a big idea isn’t always vital.

People in the branding world LOVE big ideas. But they’re not measuring results. Things are very different in the world of direct marketing and the direct response copywriter. We’re measuring everything to the penny and if an ad with a big “big idea” is outpulling an ad without a big idea, then the big idea is big.

But I’ve written plenty of direct response ads that don’t have a big idea. These ads give the prospect plenty of reasons to try a product or service.

Remember … the prospect is more interested in THEMSELVES than your big idea, however brilliant it might be.

Direct Response Copywriter on Branding and Building a Brand

Serious veteran direct marketers, and direct response copywriters, like this one, get headaches when they hear the word 'branding.'

I've been told by potential clients that my direct response copywriting, which has helped my clients generate over $400 million in revenue in the last 5 years, is a bad fit for their 'brand idendity' ... whatever 'brand identity' means. I could help these prospective clients generate a lot more revenue if they hired me. But the potential client believes that focusing on 'brand identity' instead of paying for direct response copy, and testing, must provide more revenue. Some people are on the bus. Some are not. Oh well.

Most of the action and talk in the advertising and marketing world, especially when it comes to advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments, revolves around ‘the brand.’


Here’s a guess. Business schools teach branding and not direct marketing. You won’t find a serious direct marketer teaching classes in a business school. Plus there’s a general aversion to the raw accountability of direct marketing in corporate marketing departments. They’ll take credit in those departments when things are good and blame the economy when sales are down.

I’m not totally brand averse. It’s good when a company, however small, has a well-designed logo and a consistent ‘look.’ A well-known name can help when people are choosing products or services. Big companies with big budgets, and I mean HUGE, can afford to spend tens of millions on branding advertising. It’s basically an exercise in name recognition. That’s it. And there's no way to measure its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, there’s a bevvy of consultants, advertising agencies, and others who tell their clients to focus on the brand.

That’s a huge mistake.

I have potential clients talk about “brand voice” and I tell them, “that’s irrelevant.” I've written copy based on how I always write copy, based on proven direct response principles, and not worrying about 'brand voice' and the client has said, "you did a great job capturing the voice." I'll say thank you and ask about what really matters, capturing the revenue.

Advertising agencies work with EVPs of marketing and get all gushy about ‘brand authority’ and such. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money for all but the world’s biggest companies. And I mean Fortune 200.

Here’s my biggest problem with branding.

In direct marketing, we know something that’s absolute. THE CUSTOMER IS NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR BRAND. THEY’RE INTERESTED IN THEMSELVES.

That’s so important, I’m going to paste it in again, using my pasting skills.


It’s why ugly advertising from companies nobody knows about works … when the company uses direct response tactics and focuses exclusively on the needs, goals, dreams, and desires of the client.

I’ve worked extensively with two clients who have built super-successful companies. One company is a huge 'brand' in the sports space. The other is a huge ‘brand’ in the health space.

Six years ago, when I started working with these companies, nobody knew who they were. But now they’re big. NBC Sports just bought one company. Another has sales in the $400 million range by now and is on TV all the time.

What built these brands? Was it hours spent talking nonsense with branding agencies and branding consultants? No.

DIRECT MARKETING built these companies. The people who run these companies are direct marketers.

Joe Sugarman built a huge name in sunglasses with his famous Blue Blockers. A big brand, a big name, if you like. He built this through the rigorous execution of direct marketing principles.

Ditto David Ogilvy who started his agency with direct mail to marketing directors. Want proof? Go here to this famous video. It’s a video branding people hate.

Want to build a successful brand? Use direct marketing and hire a direct response copywriter. Direct marketing brings you revenue, precisely measured. Branding brings you awards and kudos but little else.


I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][2] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.