Research reinforces effectiveness of print advertising

By Bob Provost

Rutgers Business School

Newark, New Jersey, USA


I’ve been reading a number of articles recently on the “epiphany” that many marketers and researchers are experiencing regarding the continued efficacy of print advertising.

This is not to discount the value of digital marketing. Rather, it is to better understand the interaction between the consumer and the media ecosystem. (I like the phrase “media ecosystem” because it implies ongoing, evolutionary change and development. We should all be aware that the one constant in the marketing world is change.)

Readers are more accepting of advertising in print publications.
Readers are more accepting of advertising in print publications.

Recognising that print advertising continues to be remarkably effective is not the same as claiming other forms of marketing communications are not.

Digital marketing has displaced print in many cases by providing more value in many applications. Equally, if not more significantly, digital marketing has provided/created many opportunities that aren’t even feasible in a print-only world.

A recent article on Target Marketing addressed the strength of print in marketing to Millennials. Various studies were cited, but the fundamental findings are that Millennials:

  • Use coupons (49%).
  • Shop grocery circulars (three out of four).
  • Generally tend to be far less digitally oriented when it comes to shopping versus being socially connected.
  • 83% are using Facebook to stay connected, and many other social media sites are also in use.
  • But fewer than one in 10 made a purchase based on social media activity. Just 1% made a purchase from a social media site. 

Observation alone should provide the evidence you need to assume print advertising is effective. Open a newspaper or magazine and see the ads. Look at the volume of print circulars and direct mail. Then ask yourself why all those businesses are spending money on print advertising if it doesn’t work!

Particularly telling is the fact you will find most, if not all, of the leading marketers of the digital age among these print advertisers. You’ll find Apple and Amazon as well as DirecTV and Dell computers right along with major retailers and local merchants. They’ve done their homework, and print has a place in their marketing game plan.

Part of the reason for the continued efficacy of print is the experiential aspect. People engage with each media differently, and different people engage differently.

Look at the statistics for news consumption:

  • The typical news media Web site visit is measured in five minutes or less and with fewer pageviews than the fingers you can show on two hands.
  • The average engagement with a print magazine or newspaper is 20 minutes or more and generally involves several dozen pageviews.

It’s the experiential equivalent of a quick stop to pick up food at the drive-thru (Web site visit) versus enjoying a meal at a full-service restaurant (reading a newspaper or magazine). There may be fewer people at the restaurant, but the experience is richer and more rewarding.

Some marketers are also pointing to digital fatigue. Unmanageable volume and the abundance of irrelevant content have mitigated some of the value of e-mailing, texting, and digital ads for many consumers.

Print has always had an advantage over radio and TV when it came to intrusiveness and perceptual screening. It appears this advantage had some relevancy versus digital media as well. Consumers continue to welcome advertising in the print environment and are inclined to resent and avoid it in other media. The rise of native advertising and content marketing is, in part, a result of this reality.

For those of you involved in selling print advertising, I urge you to consult with your clients. Document their thinking on why and how print advertising works for them and where it best fits in with their overall marketing strategy. I am sure you will gain insight that will help you in being even more effective in bringing your entire portfolio of print and digital communications tools to market successfully.

About Bob Provost

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