Direct response (DR) is not exactly known for its subtlety. With limited time and the sole endgame of prompting a desired action, DR marketers call in the big guns to get the responses they’re looking for. CTAs like “while supplies last” and “for a limited time only” with the oft-repeated phone number have been their bread and butter, yielding clear measurables for calculating the efficacy of a campaign. Why? Because in the good old days, the process was linear: Consumers would hear your CTA, pick up their phones, and call. 

But then it — the quintessential wrench in the works — happened. Consumers got “smart” and calls dropped off. Does this mean DRs’ days are numbered? Not so fast. Here’s why.


New Game, New Rules?

When we talk about smart consumers, we’re not talking about Mensa membership and rocket science. We’re talking about “smart” technology and its massive impact on how consumers react to DR calls to action. 


Even though people have their phones in their hands now more than ever, they’re actually less likely to pick up the phone and call. Why? Because in this instant access era,  a disrupter has entered the equation. Its name is Google, and it’s caused a paradigm shift — not just in terms of key performance indicators, but also in how we interpret them. 


Whereas pre-smart technology days would have seen consumers immediately dialing their way to deals, they now stop to google the brand or product before taking action.This extra step mandates a new way of thinking among DR agencies and advertisers — at least among those  paying attention, that is.  


DR advertisers have spent billions on radio, TV, and print ads asking people to “call now;” invested thousands of dollars on vanity numbers like 800 NEW-LOOK or 888-888-8888 (many even going so far as to name their companies after a vanity number — 800-FLOWERS, anyone?); and philosophized endlessly about when and how best to optimally mention a phone number during 30- or 60-second spots. (Our conclusion? Three is the magic number.) Are these concerns all made moot by the changing DR landscape? We’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon over the past year that says otherwise. 


The Cost-Per-Call Conundrum

When we begin a new radio or TV advertising campaign, the initial cost-per-call is usually low. Phones are ringing off the hook and clients are naming their first-born kids after us. (Okay, we may be exaggerating — but only slightly.) During this phase, we also begin to see a web traffic baseline emerging which corresponds with the ad’s air time.


However, as more frequent airings occur, calls-per-airing start to decline, and panic ensues among clients who believe that cost-per-calls should be dropping rather than spiking. As it turns out, there’s an explanation. We’ve realized that roughly 70 percent of consumers use the phone number to learn about a company compared to 30 percent who use the web at the onset of a campaign. 


As ads continue to air, however, the percentage of people who make contact online increases due to rising brand awareness. In other words, the more familiar consumers are with a brand, they less phone-number dependent they become. Instead, they simply remember the company’s name and Google it.


The takeaway? While the cost-per-call may indeed be rising, these numbers don’t fully reflect what’s happening. Not only do DR campaigns gain traction as brands become top-of-mind with consumers, but calls also become better qualified. 


And here’s the really troubling part: We’ve seen our fair share of advertisers kill broadcast campaigns at the first uptick in cost-per-call only to see web traffic tank in the process.


DR Gets a 21st Century Reboot 

So given this emerging trend in consumer behavior, here’s the big question: how do advertisers best use their limited time and budgets to build a more compelling case for consumers?  


What about if viewed through the lens of trading initial low cost-per-call for eventual brand recognition? 


Or if you could determine the exact point at which a cost-per-call strategy starts to drive web traffic, increase brand awareness and yield more qualified calls?


Leveraging Cross Channel Attribution Into Insights

It’s our business at Wingman to help clients more easily and accurately navigate these uncharted waters by matching web traffic with specific broadcast airings — whether TV or radio. Our innovative cross-channel attribution model gives advertisers a complete, 360-degree view of how their media dollars are working in order to precisely pinpoint where web traffic and cost-per-call rise and — ultimately — intersect. This protects advertisers from pulling their campaigns when they’re still growing by acknowledging that cost-per-call is just one small part of the “big picture” in today’s “Google first and ask questions later” world. 

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