Your Campaign Failed? GREAT!

by Scott Martin

Last updated on February 14th, 2018

“The problem with most copywriters is they don’t think in terms of selling,” says David Ogilvy in his video titled We Sell or Else. “They’ve never written direct response. They’ve never tasted blood.”

When Ogilvy says, almost enthusiastically, “they’ve never tasted blood,” he’s talking about failure.

Ogilvy founded one of the world’s most successful ad agencies, Ogilvy and Mather. His first love was direct response advertising even though his agency built some big brands like Rolls Royce and Hathaway Shirts.

In case you don’t understand the difference between branding advertising and direct response, here’s a quick primer.

Branding advertising strives to create “feelings” and “thoughts” about a product or service. The advertising you see on TV during prime time is almost always branding advertising. This type of advertising rarely asks for a direct action and the results are never accurately measured.

Direct response advertising persuades readers, listeners, or viewers to take a very specific action that leads to a sale. As such, the results are ALWAYS measured. You see direct response advertising in your mail, on late night TV, and on the Internet where a web page has a big button saying “BUY NOW!”

Let me show you a couple of examples

Here’s a branding print ad.

The Who

In this ad for The Who, you see a clever ad and concept. But notice something very important about the ad. There’s no call to action, no direct way to measure its effectiveness. You cannot link sales of the album to the ad.

Here’s another branding ad, this time from Michelin.


It’s a little better because the ad asks the reader to visit a website. But it’s not really a direct response ad. Michelin asks me to visit a website. But why? What’s in it for me?

Here’s a pedal-to-the-metal direct response print ad.

turn wood and concrete into money

The ad asks for very direct action from the reader.

I fully understand the need for big companies to work on image and branding—and to get their name out there, everywhere. But there’s no way to measure the ROI accurately from this advertising.

So now you have a decision to make with your advertising

Do you want to generate “brand awareness” or do you want to sell stuff?

If you want to sell stuff, you want to use direct response principles. You can find books and videos showing you how to apply these principles. But here’s something extremely important about direct response marketing before diving in.

Remember what Ogilvy said? About the “blood.”

What he’s really talking about is failure. You see, there’s nowhere to hide with direct response advertising. You run some advertising and then you measure the response. And you measure it in terms that everyone can understand: dollars and cents.

Every single direct response copywriter has written copy that fails. And every direct response copywriter will (or should) fully admit they really don’t know if the copy will work until it goes live—or hits mailboxes or the airwaves.

I have written failing copy. In fact, for one company, I wrote a TON of copy that failed to improve conversion against a control. Fortunately the client fully understood something extremely important: failure is a time to rejoice. You discover what doesn’t work so you don’t try that again.

For the client, I wrote 10 advertorials. Nine failed to beat the control but version 10 increased revenue by 30%. Quite frankly, I had no idea version 10 would work but everyone was extremely happy with the result. I then wrote several versions of new advertorials based on the successful copy and increased revenue even more.

Yes, it can be extremely difficult to deal with total failure when you’ve invested time, money, and energy into a campaign. But it’s vital you taste that blood so you start to understand what your potential clients and customers do not want to see.

There’s no need for a long post-mortem. But ask yourself these questions.

  • Was the offer crystal clear?
  • Was it irresistible?
  • Did the campaign really focus on what’s really important to the potential client or customer?
  • Were you asking too much of the customer?
  • Did you provide enough information about the benefits of the product or service?

The fact your campaign failed may answer most, if not all, the questions above. But most important, were you really running a direct marketing campaign? Or was it a lukewarm branding campaign? If it’s the latter, then you won’t even know if the campaign worked.

But if you really ran a direct marketing campaign and it really failed, it’s a time to get really, really excited. You know what doesn’t work and you can try a different approach. You will likely have more failures but, eventually, because you’re testing, you will find the approach that resonates and generates huge response.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Scott Martin.



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Scott Martin

Scott Martin is a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has also written or edited 18 books including The Book of Caddyshack: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Greatest Movie Ever Made. Scott provides free resources for marketers including direct response checklists.


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  1. Anonymous says:
    April 22, 2016 at 4:35 am

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm within the article you write.
    The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    All the time follow your heart.

  2. Anonymous says:
    December 5, 2015 at 11:53 am

    I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This piece of writing posted at this
    web site is in fact nice.

  3. Gary Victory says:
    April 25, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    A very refreshing article Scott and I appreciate you honestly.

    Life is all about “where did I go wrong” and “how will I not make the same mistake again”. Easier said than done, but the learning process at very least begins.

    Most of our great leader’s (past and present) have made plenty of mistakes, but this is what makes them great! Their ability to test themselves against the very best makes them even greater!

    • neil says:
      April 26, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Gary, great points. It’s all about having the confidence to try things out. Thanks for the feedback! We look forward to hearing much more from you 🙂

  4. Freddy says:
    April 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

    Hey Scott!

    Thank you for these eye-opening tips. They are indeed great tips for direct response marketing. Failure is a time for rejoicing as you said as it helps you know what doesn’t work, so you can concentrate on creating copy (as well as solutions) that work. When I started as a copywriter, I had a difficult time selling myself to clients, and it was really frustrating until I compared my pitches. I compared the pitches that failed and the few that got me through the door, and there I found my saving grace. From that day, I have never looked back and selling myself to clients has never been any easier.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      April 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Freddy, congratulations! It’s a rare skill to be able to analyze your own approach and find the solution. Keep up the good work!

    • neil says:
      April 25, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Freddy, thanks for the feedback. It’s all about learning from our past and a/b testing for the future 🙂

  5. Scott Martin says:
    April 24, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you, Jacob, for the feedback.

  6. Shanika Journey says:
    April 24, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Wonderful article. on explaining the difference in direct respone and brand awareness. Many people online get them both mixed up when advertising. Because of the bury line so many do and teach, it’s causing lots of marketing to be lukeworm online. Awesome points! Great article! And thank you for sharing the Ogilvy video.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      April 24, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Glad you liked it, Shanika! Thanks for your input.

    • neil says:
      April 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Shanika, glad you found the article helpful. Looking forward to hearing more from you 🙂

  7. Jacob McMillen says:
    April 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Great stuff. One of the biggest keys to sales is getting over the rejection hurdle. If they never have the opportunity to say “No,” you’ll never learn how to elicit a “Yes.” Taste the blood – haha love it.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      April 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Agreed, Jacob. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

    • neil says:
      April 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Jacob, great points. Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing more from you 🙂

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