The print medium is typically used for building brand awareness amongst a wide range of audiences, and sometimes advertisers use print for generating responses to their tactical campaigns as well. 

During the past 12 months, the Reader Intelligence Unit (RIU) at The Hindu Group has systematically studied the behaviour of our readers and factors that trigger their responses to print advertisements. These studies have been based on our efforts to build saliency of our brands (established ones like Sportstar or Frontline and new ones like STEP, Young World Club, or BLoC) and to drive product sales with special offers (like a subscription to e-papers, purchase of special publications, or enrolling for our digital subscription products).

We systematically studied formats (jackets vs. smaller formats), page positions (premium vs. others), frequency (single vs. multiple), and context (main section vs. contextually relevant sub-brands). These straddled across multiple house brands as well as partnerships with some advertisers.

Through this study, we determined that the frequency of an advertisement is key to amplifying responses. While large-format ads are believed to catch the eye and have more “impact,” greater frequency helps build “top of mind” recall and a reminder to act:

  • A print ad generates responses for up to four or five days after exposure.
  • When advertisements are placed three or four days apart, they generate 15-20% more responses than when they are a week apart, and 8-10% more responses than when they are placed one or two days apart.
  • Multiple insertions of smaller format ads can generate up to 30% more responses for incremental cost. For example, two ads at 240 square centimetres placed three days apart can be more effective than one ad that is 400 square centimetres (a quarter page).
In some cases, ads that are smaller and more frequent can be as effective or even yield better results than larger ads.
In some cases, ads that are smaller and more frequent can be as effective or even yield better results than larger ads.

Contextual advertising helps place ads in front of the right audience. The newspaper caters to a wide audience with different target segments seeking information that is most relevant to their needs from different sections of the newspaper. For example, those interested in education opportunities will read The Hindu’s EDGE supplement on Mondays, while those interested in sports are likely to be more focused on the sports pages or Sportstar magazine.

We have 36 weekly supplements with our daily newspaper focused on different themes. Therefore, we have the ability to narrow cast to different target segments. The related findings from our study included:

  • An ad placed in the appropriate context helps target the right audience much more effectively. For example, The Hindu Group’s STEP (English language testing/training digital product) got 15% more responses when they placed a quarter-page advertisement in EDGE (The Hindu’s education supplement) and 20-25% more responses from Opportunities (The Hindu’s jobs supplement).
  • Supplements are routinely able to generate better responses to tactical campaigns, since readers are reading them with the intent to act. On the other hand, people typically read the main section with the intent to be informed. For example, advertisements with a specific call to action for one of our events that were placed in The Hindu’s Hyderabad edition supplements on lifestyle, education, and jobs delivered 30-50% more responses to a tactical campaign.
Targeted print products geared to certain audience segments resulted in much higher response rates in the study, compared with advertising in the main newspaper.
Targeted print products geared to certain audience segments resulted in much higher response rates in the study, compared with advertising in the main newspaper.

Content marketing in print is still an effective tool. Using the newspaper to distribute valuable and relevant content to the appropriate target audience can help build awareness on product or service attributes, especially to break myths or educate on topics that are less well understood.

Editorial articles focus on informing the reader about news and implications of current happenings and less so on educating the consumer. Creative advertisements, on the other hand, are typically used to inspire people to try a product/service using deals or other hooks. Advertorials (or content marketing) brings the two worlds together, conveying relevant information in simple text complemented by infographics and multi-media formats (photographs, audio, video).

Advertorials help build awareness or drive responses more effectively than a display advertisement or an editorial article. For example, The Hindu Group Teaching Professionals Olympiad used multiple formats — advertisements, advertorials, and editorials — of similar size over a four-month period to generate awareness about their event and get teachers to register for a national Olympiad. They consistently found that advertorials generated two to four times more responses than advertisements or editorial articles for the last two consecutive years.

One perhaps unsurprising but powerful finding in the study is that advertorials tend to yield a much greater response than typical advertisements or editorial content.
One perhaps unsurprising but powerful finding in the study is that advertorials tend to yield a much greater response than typical advertisements or editorial content.

It is well known that creativity matters in the effectiveness of advertisements; however, the extent of impact is determined by the many dimensions that go into producing the creative output. For example, many creative advertisements tend to focus on the artistic elements and originality more than simple, straightforward communication of the message.

Our research indicates that creative advertisements with direct messaging perform far better than those that expect the reader to connect the dots (or read more than the headline). For example, when The Hindu Group advertised its English testing product, a direct call to action like ‘”Improve your English” generated 60% more sign ups than a more creative headline asking “What’s your STEP score?” where the nature of the product/service wasn’t immediately obvious.

While creativity in advertising is highly valued, clarity of the message tends to be more important in grabbing readers' attention and generating the desired response rates.
While creativity in advertising is highly valued, clarity of the message tends to be more important in grabbing readers' attention and generating the desired response rates.

The relevance of the product/service as well as the gratification (amount of discount or prize to be won) determine the response rate. For The Hindu’s Weekly Challenge in the Bengaluru edition, where readers who answer a question related to an article published that day get a chance to win prizes, we see a wide range of responses, depending on the prize each week. A weekend stay at 5-star hotel had more than 1,000 responses while free ice cream got as few as 300 responses.

In conclusion, our study yielded five major takeaways:

  1. The appeal of the creative remains critical to delivering outcomes. Advertisers are advised to pay a lot of attention to language, visual appeal, and attractiveness of the offer.
  2. Impact formats certainly catch the attention and deliver consistently, but where budget or space availability is a constraint, frequency is a powerful option to significantly improve returns.
  3. Consistency in page positions when pursuing frequency options is a powerful route.
  4. Context-specific placement of ads is a compelling way to optimise return on investment.
  5. Content marketing (or advertorials) provides substantial returns, particularly in print and particularly when the copy has a high chance of being genuinely read (for example, due to a substantial premium in cover price paid).

Whether the advertising is “thematic” or “schematic,” the frequency, quality of the creative, and the attractiveness of the offer play a substantial role in generating response for advertisers.