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How a Diet Brand Grew its Audience

Lucas Donat
How a Diet Brand Grew its Audience Lucas Donat

The idea that advertising needs to either build brand or drive an immediate response seems as ridiculous to me as the idea that to lose weight one must choose between either more exercise or a healthier diet. 

Clearly, both are necessary. In years past, brand advertisers would stop me right here and say, "No way; everything begins with brand." Likewise, direct response (DR) advertisers have had their own arguments: "We're bringing in the money; who cares about brand?"

I think we can all agree the environment has changed. Consumer attention is fractured across a multiplicity of delivery channels, many of which we're only just beginning to understand and wrap our heads around. Meanwhile, the internet has introduced levels of measurability never before seen in advertising. Now that there are so many places to spend ad dollars, along with an increasing ability to track results, advertisers of every stripe are clamoring for more accountability, more numbers, more proof that what they're doing is working. As well they should.  

DR marketers, of course, are used to the numbers. Their campaigns always have been designed to inspire a specific action, and they're built with methods that enable accurate measurement: dedicated phone numbers, internet landing pages, et cetera that indicate exactly which campaign drove the consumer's response. 

But as more and more brand advertisers crave this accountability, the question becomes: must they sacrifice their allegiance to creative, brand-building advertising to achieve this higher level of accountability? And my answer to them is no: no sacrifice necessary. It is possible to achieve both, and all while driving positive return on investment. 

Brand drives response
The lines are fading between what used to be very different advertising techniques with separate, but related, goals: building brand versus driving response. Those at each end of the advertising spectrum are moving toward the middle in an effort to combine the strengths of each to gain new customers. Brand advertisers want the accountability and measurement abilities of traditional direct response, while DR stalwarts see the value in moving beyond flashing toll-free numbers to create a brand that inspires trust and loyalty. 

This combined approach is a strategy that transcends both brand-building and direct response advertising to deliver a measurable, positive return on investment. Known as ROI-positive advertising, it merges creativity with accountability: high-concept creative ads with an immediate call-to-action.

This strategy has fueled a wildly successful campaign for SouthBeachDiet.com, the online community that accompanies the popular book, "The South Beach Diet."

Using television advertising to sell a diet program is nothing new. It almost always involves a mixture of the classic DR ingredients: testimonials (including specific weight loss numbers), "Before" and "After" shots that visibly demonstrate results, and a phone number flashing at the bottom of the screen throughout.   

But executives at Waterfront Media, the company behind SouthBeachDiet.com, were sensitive about protecting what was already a strong brand. The company made history in 2003 with the launch of The South Beach Diet website, the first time a self-help book and website were marketed simultaneously. Waterfront wanted to stay as far away from the DR stigma as possible while still creating a campaign that honored the legacy of the South Beach brand and also driving measurable response. 

It seems almost counter-intuitive, but the key to success here was to rely on the established brand to drive response in a DR campaign. My agency worked with Waterfront to create a national cable campaign that communicated the brand's unique personality to the public. The ultimate goal was to drive subscriptions to SouthBeachDiet.com without cannibalizing the book market. The spots put the brand front and center, and successfully eschewed many of the DR diet commercial conventions mentioned above: no flashing 800 number, no "Before" and "Afters," no specific weight loss mentioned. 

The results? SouthBeachDiet.com has experienced approximately 2.5 times as much site traffic since the TV rollout, when compared with the previous seven weeks. While there are a few other variables at work here, the most significant difference has been the addition of television advertising. But just as important, the campaign was faithful to the spirit of a wonderful brand and a superb product. 

This is just one example of how companies are learning to combine the best of the creative and response-driven advertising strategies to enhance brand while increasing sales, all with an ROI-positive approach.

Lucas Donat is a founding partner of Donat/Wald. .


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