Branding campaigns tend to be more general in nature, promoting the general visibility of a company. In addition, the primary goals of these campaigns tend to be rather basic; a branding campaign is generally not evaluated on advanced metrics such new accounts or memberships, time on site, or item downloads.

Branding vs. Direct Response

There are two general types of display ad campaigns:

  • Branding: The focus is on getting relevant ads in front of as many qualified viewers as possible. In many cases, branding campaigns will have messaging that promotes the company in general.
  • Direct Response: The focus in on driving visitors to a landing page, and often on generating new accounts, leads, members, or some other additional step beyond simply clicking on an ad. Direct response campaigns will often promote a specific product or service, or at least have a specific objective.

The screenshot below from CNN Money includes an example of both types of display ad campaign:

Examples of Branding and Direct Response Campaigns

The smaller ads near the top for TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE are classic direct response ads; the goal is to get visitors to open a new account. Clicks on these ads that don’t lead to new accounts are ultimately worthless to the advertiser. These campaigns are likely evaluated on one key metric such as cost-per-new account; the company may be willing to pay up to $100 for every new account opened. Sites that don’t meet that threshold will be cut from the campaign.

The medium rectangle ad for Gucci on the other hand, is likely part of a branding campaign. Though the advertiser obviously wants visitors to click through and complete a purchase of Gucci apparel, the primary goal is to build brand awareness that may lead to purchases down the road. As opposed to the direct response-focused TD Ameritrade, every ad impression shown is valuable even if it is not clicked because it helps to familiarize visitors with the brand.

Gucci likely generates a relatively small percentage of total revenue from online sales, and uses web-based ads to build awareness of its brand and products. As such, it will be pretty difficult for the company to directly associate future revenue (which may come at a bricks-and-mortar store) with an ad impression served weeks earlier.

Direct response campaigns tend to be more intensely managed, analyzed, and optimized than branding campaigns. Direct response campaigns also involve a higher turnover among partner publishers, as agencies test potential partners and quickly cut those that don’t perform. Branding campaigns tend to return to the same sites over and over.

If a site is not performing in line with expectations using key metrics such as cost per lead or cost per new account, the advertiser or agency is likely to shift the spend. This may involve reallocating dollars within a campaign to different line items or cutting a publisher site entirely.

There tends to be a very high hurdle for direct response campaigns; if ads on a publisher site are not meeting the minimum metrics needed, that spend will be eliminated. Branding campaigns, on the other hand, tend to be much more forgiving. Advertisers often see value in maintaining a presence and high share of voice on certain sites even if metrics such as click-thru rate or cost-per-click are high.

From a publisher and ad seller perspective, branding campaigns are appealing because the advertiser has limited interest or ability to measure impact. While all spends are carefully planned and budgeted, the mid-campaign changes and optimizations are relatively rare in pure branding campaigns. Publishers have a lower risk of underperforming and seeing their spend cut.