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Research helps SPH Magazines make an ROI case for print advertising


Two questions:

  1. How do I tell if my magazine advertisement works?

  2. Why should I include a magazine in my overall media plan?

These two questions lie at the heart of the magazine industry today as they continue to plague brand owners, advertising agencies, and publishers.

The first question is an accountability question. It is a perennial issue, once again thrust under the limelight as media options grow exponentially and the quest to choose the right medium that gives maximum returns becomes more challenging.

In Singapore, the existing print industry metric — readership — no longer suffices.

Title readership does not connote ad viewership within, and the wide range of print ad options means that some ads are likely to be more memorable than others even within the same issue. To justify advertisers’ return on investment (ROI), we need a rigorous measurement tool that zooms into ad-level analysis.

The second question is a role question. Magazines needs to define their role in brand owners’ media plans to help the latter develop integrated cross-media strategies that optimise the strengths of each medium.

There were incorrect assumptions that magazines are only effective on top of the sales funnel, namely for branding and awareness-generation purposes, but perform poorly in driving consumers to act.

What can magazine advertising do to push brands up their value chain — from awareness to action?

Justifying the place of magazines in marketers’ media repertoire

To plug this knowledge gap, SPH Magazines collaborated with GfK Singapore on a study that seeks to justify advertisers’ magazine ROI and, along the way, understand readers’ relationship with magazines. This is the first study in Singapore that employs GfK StarchMetrix, a global measurement standard to understand print advertisements.

The study looked at the December 2013 issue of 10 key women’s lifestyle magazines in Singapore and analysed a total of 874 ads in the monthlies. It garnered a robust response rate of more than 3,500 readers, screened on title and copy readership.

These readers were then measured on their brand perceptions, advertising attentiveness, and advertising responses, specifically actions taken upon noting the ad.

Magazines are highly engaging and trusted as a source of information

By looking closely at readers’ reading behaviour, the study reaffirms that magazines offer two main value propositions.

First, magazines as a medium command high consumer engagement. This is measured by two metrics — time spent reading and extent of reading.

In this Singapore study, we found an average reader spends about 49 minutes reading a magazine, with almost 50% of respondents reading more than half of the magazine.

These readers are not merely browsing dispassionately. They perceive magazines’ content to be valuable, trustworthy, and highly relevant to their lifestyles. In fact, on average, approximately 60% of readers consider the content of magazines to be valuable sources of new information.

What is even more interesting is the fact that Singapore readers perceive magazines’ ads to be almost as valuable as editorial content.

On average, 63% of respondents deem articles to be valuable and 60% agree that they are trustworthy, signifying a high confidence in magazines’ editorial credibility. In comparison, receptivity toward ads only trails slightly behind, with 61% of readers considering them valuable and 58% trustworthy.

Magazines are perhaps the only medium in which ads are consumed, even welcomed, as an integral aspect of the message.

Magazines command readers’ attention, leading to high conversion/action

Additionally, building on their strengths of being engaging and trustworthy, magazines lend themselves readily as a medium for brands to command readers’ attention and, with the right trigger, convert this attentiveness to action.

The study found that, on average, a magazine advertisement is remembered by 58% of respondents (“ad noting score”), and out of them, 72% of respondents take specific actions after seeing the ad (“actions taken score”).

These figures compare favourably against magazines’ performance in the United States, where 52% of readers take note of ads, out of which 62% take follow-up actions. In this context, “actions” range from looking up more information about the brand and recommending the particular product/service to others to actually purchasing them.

Key drivers of magazine ROI

The versatility of magazines allow for a wide variation of ad types and creative executions. Zooming in on ad-level analysis, the study highlights the efficacy of each ad type and, from there, further distills key factors that determine the kinds of ads that leave stronger impressions and are more likely to trigger readers into action.

Five such high-yield factors are size, position, invitation, theme, and creativity.

  • Size and positioning: Ads on double-page spreads are 16% more likely to leave an impression on readers, as compared to single-page ads. In fact, the more extensive the ads are in size, the more likely they are to be recalled by readers.

    Also, premium positions, namely the inside front cover, back cover, and inside back cover, are keenly remembered by readers. Readers are up to 38% more attentive to these premium-position ads compared to the average run-of-book ads, which subsequently leads to a higher disposition to purchase. 

  • Invitation to action and themed ads: At its core, an advertising campaign either aims to build a brand or inspire immediate action. Ads featuring a clear call for action (such as time-limited discounts/promotions or gift redemptions) are almost 20% more likely to trigger follow-up actions from readers.

    The follow-up is largely dependent on the nature of the invitation, which ranges from making a specific sales inquiry, redeeming gifts, trying samples, and making an actual purchase.

    In particular, we note this works especially well during the festive season in which this study’s fieldwork was done: Christmas-themed ads perform 25% better than average ads in prompting readers’ actions.
  • Creative executions: One of print magazines’ key value propositions to advertisers is their physical attributes. The physicality of print allows for a wide range of customized creative executions that appeal to readers’ visual and tactile senses.

    For example, advertisers’ gifts and samples garner 28% more attention from readers, while booklets have a 19% attentiveness edge over average magazine ads.

    Both of them also yield higher persuasion scores compared to run-of-book ads, which compels readers to act.

The power of magazine advertising: Engagement, trust, attention, action

This study attempts to plug the knowledge gap in the area of print measurement and accountability in Singapore. Addressing skeptics who spell the doom of print media in the digital era, it proves, with concrete and locally contextualised numbers, the strengths of the magazine medium — engagement, trust, attention, and action.

These unique value propositions continue to be relevant to brand owners, especially in the context of an increasingly cluttered media space today.

The greatest added value, perhaps, lies in the best practice formula to maximise advertisers’ ROI. In the spirit of collaboration and co-creation, publishers have the opportunity to engage brand owners and agencies at every level, including providing insight on how to best utilise their paid media space to boost brands’ return on investment and generate maximum mileage.

SPH Magazines is committed to producing research-driven insights that add value to our advertisers and agencies partners. For the study’s full findings, download the entire report for free. For further clarification, please contact SPH Magazines Insights and Intelligence Unit at

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