A wise advertising practitioner once observed, “80% of all advertising dollars are wasted … if only I knew which 80%.”

As a marketer and media executive, I have myself often wondered about the effectiveness of advertising in general. I have seen brilliantly conceived campaigns go waste. I have also observed very pedestrian advertising ideas create buzz around new launches.

The business of advertising is not an easy one. You must create an idea that stands out among others. You must find an effective way to reach the target consumer. And then, of course, is the big moment of truth: Will the consumers finally “vote with their wallets.”

The business of communication thus depends on some key elements: the idea, the execution, and, of course, the choice of the medium used to effectively reach the final consumer. This, of course, assumes that the other elements of the marketing mix are at least as good as, if not better than, the competition.

Bad advertising may actually manage to sell a good product, but good advertising will almost never sell a bad product.

Let’s examine one key piece of the jigsaw puzzle: the choice of medium and what it does to the effectiveness of a campaign.

I am often asked how a “static” medium like print can ever compete with television, with its whole range of colour, sound, and movement, or indeed with digital, with all its possibilities of personalisation and the almost “mass customisation” ability the medium offers.

I struggle to “brand” any medium as static, dynamic, personal, etc. A medium is only as good as the mind that uses it. As far as consumers are concerned, their media consumption habits are inclusive, more than exclusive.

Every medium has a place for a consumer, a time in her day, and a role in her life. So the 25 odd minutes spent with the newspaper in the morning do not clash with drive-time radio, or Internet and smartphone usage, or even the two-hour TV viewing window in the evening.

Each has its advantage.

A newspaper is probably the most engaging for many reasons:

  • It’s the most cognitive of all media.

  • It’s the medium that lends itself to the least multi-tasking during its reading time.

  • Content and advertising co-exist.

  • Advertising is not intrusive to content. (Nobody forces you into a break and makes you watch commercials just when the most important scene of the film is about to happen.)

  • It is a physical product, which can engage all the senses via sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste.

These factors drive a greater engagement with the medium than any other. Several consumer studies in various markets have shown engagement to be the key to attitude change and action in most “response hierarchy” models that marketers use.

The key to the use of a medium is the creativity and thought that goes into it, combined with the possibilities the medium offers. The best campaigns are done when both of these are optimised. There are advertisers who understand and appreciate the unique possibilities of the newspaper and what it can do with their creative idea and its delivery.

Newspapers can make the reader crave a morning cup of coffee, since it makes the aroma come alive in the morning. It can wake a consumer up to the “buzz” of excitement on behalf of a car manufacturer. It can sing the national anthem for a consumer on August 15 (India’s Independence Day) and deliver the seeds of a tomato plant for her to take the first steps for growing tomatoes in the kitchen garden.

It can help a reader test drive a new car launch through the use of Augmented Reality, and even allow her to instantly book a test drive. It can make the reader look twice at something that looks distinctly 3D staring at her from Page One.

The fact that a newspaper gets put together every day makes it the “least standard” of all media. It’s probably used the most of the “mass customisation” technologies available today. The content and advertising messages can be personalised to the reader by the area in which he lives.

All these are real life examples that have been done in the last 12 months at Times of India. None of this is far-fetched. The products that succeed do so based on the ability of the marketers to create breakthroughs and not follow the standard “reach frequency build up” media models being hawked everywhere.

In sum, print media is probably the most dynamic and engaging medium available. It lends itself to being shaped and formed to best deliver a punchy message and have the quickest build up of awareness and credibility for a product.

Ultimately, its success depends on how the marketer seeks to use the medium and what his or her objectives are. Print probably delivers the greatest and most effective bang for the buck on advertising spends if the marketers and creative agencies look to use its strengths and deliver a message that uses its innate advantages.