Direct-to-Consumer Ad: How to Use the CAP Model to Frame Your Paid Media Campaigns

Josh Zhang
April 20, 2022

Most successful DTC marketing is done as full-funnel marketing. Full-funnel marketing is an approach that transforms the consumer into a customer through one singular campaign. The objective is simple: sell your product to someone who’s never heard of you, in one shot. Successfully executing this, however, can be more difficult—especially without the proper framework.

Nearly a century ago, advertisers used the AIDA model, a framework outlining the customer buying journey, to guide their campaigns. However, a lot has changed within the last hundred years. Marketers need to take into account evolving consumer behaviors and technological advancements that can inform their campaigns and adapt their strategy.

In this post, we’ll introduce the CAP model, a new framework for DTC marketers to use for their campaigns. But before we dive in, let’s take a look at the AIDA model and why a newer, modernized framework is needed for structuring your campaigns.

What is the AIDA model?

In its prime, the AIDA model was a basic framework that highlighted how consumers arrived at a purchasing decision. It mapped out their evaluation process as they moved through each stage and eventually decided to buy a product.

With this information, advertisers could figure out campaign objectives, plan out their creative, and see where their efforts exceeded or fell short. To understand each stage of the buyer’s journey, let’s examine each step.

AIDA stands for:

  • Attention - The consumer becomes aware of your product.
  • Interest - The consumer learns about the features and use cases for your product and becomes intrigued.
  • Desire - The consumer thinks your product can add value and wants to purchase it.
  • Action - The consumer converts and purchases your product.

While the consumer still goes through the same stages, the way in which they do has changed.

Why the AIDA model is outdated

The AIDA model isn’t dead. However, when it comes to structuring your ad flights, it’s outdated. The audience and creative should be the driving factors in your campaigns. If your agency is telling you, “awareness, interest, desire, and then action” as the rationale for setting up different ad sets, they’re stuck in 1908.

The AIDA model is still beneficial to guide your ad creative, but it is outdated for structuring your flights. Sure, customers still need to be aware and interested in your product in order to desire it and make a decision. But structuring individual ad flights based on each of those intents is an archaic way to approach DTC marketing.

Changes in buyer behavior and the introduction of new technologies have contributed to the need for a new way of thinking about how marketers approach DTC ad campaigns.

The new era of impulse buying

Today, consumers can see a product for the first time and immediately purchase it in less than three clicks. This has shaken up the way advertisers approach their ads. Instead of building out different ad flights based on the AIDA buckets, DTC marketers need to understand consumers' new psyche and plan their ad flights accordingly.

In some cases, DTC markers will adopt a full-funnel marketing strategy by launching an ad with the objective of converting the customer right at the point of discovery. This strategy may be effective because impulsive shopping has become the norm. Approximately 88.6% of Americans have bought a product immediately after discovering it online, with each person spending on average $81.75 on their impulse buys.

Ad-tech’s enhanced capabilities

Attribution tools, website pixels, and tracking have been introduced since the initial concept of AIDA even surfaced. With these features, you can know immediately which campaigns are working and driving value for your company. The AIDA funnel was literally invented when you had no attribution, website ad-tech pixels, or tracking so you had to spend everywhere and hope some of it worked.

Now you can deploy awareness campaigns to target new, unknown customers and use retargeting campaigns to drive conversions. Unlike in the olden days of using an AIDA-first approach to campaign structure, these campaigns should be primarily driven by the audience and the creative—not necessarily about which purchasing stage the buyer is in.

With these changes, it’s time to reinvent the funnel and adjust the way we approach digital ads.

Introducing the CAP model

The DTC customer acquisition secret sauce is the CAP model. The CAP model focuses on the consumer, ad design, and path that they'll take to make a purchase.

  • Consumer: Define and understand the exact consumer you want to target.
  • Ad Design: Test 100s of creatives to see which resonate best with audiences.
  • Path: Test landing pages, offers, and bundles. Enhance and optimize.

Let’s break down each step to see how they all work together.


To start, you need to understand exactly who you are targeting. Unlike the old way where you think about the objective first, you need to understand the exact customer your ad will reach. Unique customer data can be used to create custom audiences or lookalike audiences, targeting those who will be likely interested in your product.

For example, you might run an ad with copy and creative that's targeting an audience with a higher household income. Perhaps those with a higher HHI will be more interested in some of your higher-priced bundles or year-long subscriptions. This would change your approach for the creative and targeting for that specific flight.

Ad Design

With the audience you’re targeting in place, you can start designing your creative for that specific flight. You should have hundreds of different creatives that you constantly test and rotate in for each ad set. This will help you understand what type of content your audience engages with and what type of ad is leading to more conversions.


Finally, you need to take a deeper look at your pages beyond the ad. Your landing pages, checkout experience, offerings, and more play a factor in the consumers’ likeliness to convert. You need to test, enhance, and optimize the purchasing journey beyond the ad to ensure that there is no friction in the way of the purchase.

Evolving the ad framework

While the AIDA model is useful to understand the rationale happening in a consumer's mind, there are more modern, applicable approaches that marketers can take when structuring their ad campaigns. The buyer’s journey hasn't changed, but the way consumers purchase and the technology we use to reach them has evolved.

Marketers need to take into account the consumer, ad design, and the customer purchasing path to ensure their ads are effective. DTC companies that adopt the CAP framework will be positioned well to ensure their ad campaigns succeed.