What has changed in direct-response advertising over the past 40 years? More importantly, what hasn’t changed?

Viscap Media Co-Founder and Visionary Tyler Stephens has found that many of the same principles advertisers used decades ago still work in video ads on smartphones and social media feeds.

Tyler was generous enough to share his secrets at a recent Affiliate World event — although do they really count as secrets if they’re not new?

Direct Response Principles Still Work

Back to our original question. What’s different about ads today compared to 20th-century mass media?

The biggest change — some might say the only change — is the medium of communication. Forty years ago, ads played on televisions, and 40 years before that, people heard them on the radio. But the core psychological desires of why people buy have not changed, and they’ll probably never change. Only the medium is different.

With that in mind, the direct response principles that work in ads haven’t changed either. Here are a few that Tyler and his team use regularly:

  • Life Force 8 Core Desires (Survival, freedom, comfort, etc.)
  • Anchoring
  • Ego Morphing
  • Fear Factor
  • Belief Re-Ranking
  • Intensification

Tyler also recommends the books Breakthrough Advertising and Cashvertising for a deeper dive into the psychology behind direct response principles.

Leveraging Direct Response Principles

By tracking which direct response principles appeared in winning ads, Tyler and his team were able to see which worked best in a variety of campaigns:

Critical Ad Variables

Unsurprisingly, core desires led the pack. Ads that can satisfy core desires effectively will reach audiences on a deeper level than some of the other principles, especially if you consider the hyper-personalized context of a video ad in someone’s social feed.

Tyler and his team also found that there is an upper limit to the amount of direct response tactics you can use in a given ad. Cramming in too many ideas can leave viewers confused as to what they’re supposed to take away from your message, which makes the message itself less effective:

Critical Ad Variables

Nailing down the principles and creative assets for winning ads is one thing, but assembling those elements also requires some effort — as well as a mindset shift for a lot of brands.

Building Winning Frameworks

Brands that struggle with sustaining success often have ads that perform well from time to time, but the minds behind the brand don’t understand why certain ads work and some don’t.

If you don’t understand what’s working in your ads, you can’t form hypotheses to see if those results are repeatable elsewhere.

Tyler and his team have solved this challenge by flipping the script on winning ads and frameworks. Instead of using the same formula to produce content over and over, they create frameworks based on winning ads.

Creating multiple frameworks makes it easier to understand what makes an ad work, repeat those results elsewhere, and insert modular elements to maximize results, as this framework shows:

Building - Frameworks
Finding and iterating on winning frameworks also makes the component parts of a winning ad easier to assemble.