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Search at Chase: Direct Reponse Or Branding Medium?

Congratulations to AvenueA for winning the 2007 Yahoo Search award. Having spent years as a direct response marketer, I admit I'm frankly mystified by the award writeup (emphasis mine):
This year Avenue A | Razorfish demonstrated that search campaigns can be used to build brand awareness, and that the message in search creative matters. This campaign made the case for developing “branding” search ads for high-volume keywords. Avenue A | Razorfish proved that a campaign building awareness around their client’s credit card program through search could be just as useful as one that drives users to sign up for the program. Furthermore, the search creative reflected the branding messaging that was used in other media, both digital and analog. This is an incredibly powerful lesson, as the credit card acquisition space has historically been laser-focused on direct response metrics. The winning Avenue A | Razorfish campaign “shines a light” on a new strategy for measuring the power of search marketing as an awareness-building medium.
"Building awareness around their client’s credit card program through search is just as useful as one that drives users to sign up for the program"?!? Sure -- there might have been four or five target customers who weren't aware of Chase before this marketing blitz, and this might have slashed that down to two or three. The credit card space has historically been laser-focused on direct response metrics -- because credit cards are perhaps the purest direct response business there is. The entire industry hinges on response: getting the most folks with the right credit risk to sign up for yet another card. I've run financial services direct campaigns. I ran a direct mail team at Signet marketing investment and deposit products via direct mail, right after CapOne split away. Just like the catalog industry, we lived and died on response. We were laser-focused on direct response metrics, and because of that, we made our numbers. The award commendation also praised Chase for matching search copy with their campaigns in other media. 70 characters isn't all that much space, folks. I'd wager a fine dinner that ad copy focused on the benefits of the product would easily outperform corporate branding copy, whether measured by signups or by awareness metrics. For example, here's CapOne's current copy on Google for credit card: "Great rates and flexible rewards. Earn miles or cash back. Apply now." CapOne stresses the benefits of the card to the prospect. That's not branding copy; it is selling copy. (And probably my colleague George Michie will chime in here loudly with our firm's experience on the relative importance of ad copy in search campaigns. Bad copy is to be avoided, yes, but the improvement going from good copy to great copy is clearly a third-order effect, compared to the big levers of search -- economic based portfolio bidding and fanatically comprehensive terms lists. But I'll leave that full topic for George.) This post is not a criticism of AvenueA -- their client Chase wanted a certain marketing objective and the agency fulfilled the client's objectives. Kudos to AveA. Happy clients are the crucial metric for a marketing agency. I'm just dubious that brand awareness is the right metric for Chase.
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