EdelmanBerland: "Traditional print media is still incredibly trusted"

Submitted by: Print Power 06/01/2015

This is the first article of a series of three about consumer trust and the credibility and trust of media. Of course we will have special attention to the role of print media.

It was all a bit embarrassing. Having lost its UK court case against Samsung in 2012, tech giant Apple were forced to issue a public apology, stating unequivocally that it was wrong to suggest Samsung had copied its smartphone products. And the judge was clear: the retraction should be in Arial font of a minimum 14-point size, in several national newspapers and magazines, and on the home page of their website.


Unnecessary detail? Not as it turned out. After initially posting a tiny link on the home page, clicking through to a less than sincere-sounding apology, Apple were forced to amend their statement and put the whole of it on the home page. But even then, tech-savvy observers noticed that the new apology was resized for different browsers, meaning it was only visible if you scrolled down below the ‘fold’ of the web page. No such problems with the print apologies – there they were, in black and white.

Apple could risk making a clearly disingenuous and not-entirely wholehearted apology online because they could easily amend or replace it at a moment’s notice. They didn’t try to pull that trick in print.

Put your trust in print

Given episodes like this, is it any wonder that surveys repeatedly show that consumers trust what they read in print far more than what they see on digital media or even on television? This episode also reinforces the feeling that when a brand has something serious and sincere to share with its customers, it turns to print.

That certainly proved true when Sainsbury’s decided to apologise to their customers for stocking sub-standard meat products during the horsemeat scandal of 2013. They chose print as the medium in which to do it, and when Print Power suggested to Marketing Director Sarah Warby that this was because print is a medium that engenders most trust in consumers, she said: “You’re right; when there’s something to say, print is one of the media people reach for.”


“I think that when brands have an important statement to make they’re more likely to take out a printed advertisement,” echoes James Turner, Vice President of Edelman Berland, who produce the annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey. “Traditional print media is still incredibly trusted.” It’s perhaps only natural that print media should be more trusted, simply because the feeling that the internet and mobile communications represent the media’s ‘Wild West’ still endures. Publish a wayward statement online and you can change or remove it if anyone objects. Print an offending story or advertising message in a newspaper, magazine or book however, and you risk being forced to pulp a whole edition, at potentially ruinous cost.

That’s just one of the reasons why print publications are ‘legalled’ and fact-checked far more rigorously than most digital equivalents. And of course, you can’t inadvertently download a damaging computer virus from a magazine or direct mailing, so there’s another reason for reassurance.

Theory into practice

Across Europe, research backs up the impression that print is the medium people trust the most. A March 2013 survey by Finnish research institute VTT found that consumers continue to place the most trust in print advertising above all other media. Over 700 consumers from 13 European countries were surveyed and the results were clear: consumers gave a score of 63% trust to advertising in print compared to 41% for TV and 25% for online.  Meanwhile, 90% valued addressed and non-addressed mail above social media, and nine out of 10 respondents trusted advertising in catalogues more than the commercial messages they saw on the internet. The same results were found in a German survey for Nielsen in 2013, which showed that online and digital advertising were consistently trusted by fewer consumers than its print equivalent.


“This is another hint that information from the web or reaching out to consumers via mobile is still clearly behind classical and printed sources in terms of reliability and trust,” says Solvey Friebe, Head of Reader’s Digest’s European Trusted Brands Project. “Media such as newspapers or magazines give users a feeling that the printed information is more researched and prepared more precisely and in depth.”

All of this correlates with an growing swell of opinion among prominent figures within marketing and advertising. Marc Nohr, Chief Executive of Kitcatt Nohr Digitas, said to Marketing magazine: “When a brand wants to be taken seriously by customers and wants to make a statement, it chooses direct mail.”

Pamela Morton, Head of Acquisition at British Gas, agreed: “Direct mail is a message of how much you value your customer.”Commenting on a report last year from the Direct Mail Association that found 79% of consumers act on direct mail immediately, David Cole, MD of Market Research agency fast.MAP, said: “Direct mail is also twice as likely to engender trust than email. Post is also seen as more memorable and authoritative, whereas email provides the ease of response and the ability to share.”

The notion that younger consumers are somehow less likely to look to print for trusted information was also contradicted by Nohr’s findings when he created a campaign for the National Blood Service to get more 17-year-olds to give blood. Sending out mail packs to the target audience outperformed the organisation's usual response rates by eight to one. “That age group doesn't receive postal mail, so when they do, they are likely to open it and pay attention to its content,” he argued.

It’s not just in Europe that the print channel commands attention and respect, either. The Channel Preference Survey carried out by US marketer Epsilon in 2012 found that most respondents would rather receive important information about matters such as health through direct mail than any other channel. “Consumers don't trust the new media as much as they do regular mail when it comes to personal information, said Warren Storey, Epsilon’s SVP of product marketing and insights. “They feel more secure with direct mail because they can touch it, open it in private, and store it more easily.”

Despite this, print’s reputation for being the home of trusted information has been put in serious jeopardy in some quarters recently. The phone-hacking scandal surrounding the British tabloids in recent years understandably reduced public trust in them, according to a 2012 study. But in contrast, overall trust in the media rose over the same period, with broadsheet newspapers being among the channels whose levels rose thanks to their role in exposing the scandal. If anything that reinforces the notion that as long as what you have to say is trustworthy in the first place, then saying it in print only boosts the perceived credibility of that message.


Push the button

There isn’t just anecdotal evidence and isolated studies that back up the theory that people trust print. Neurological studies have also found fascinating evidence to support it. “The ‘engagement’ side of the brain gets a particularly high ‘affinity’ response when people read print media,” says Heather Andrew, Director of Neuro-Insight, which uses brain-imaging technology to measure responses to media communications. “That area is the area of the brain reserved for familiarity, such as recognising friends or family. And of course you’re more likely to trust someone or something familiar.”


Increasingly, more open-minded marketers are coming round to the view that the most successful campaigns in future will combine the strengths of both print and digital channels, whether that be by following up print campaigns with digital or social media campaigns, or even by combining the visual appeal of digital with the tactile, memory-retaining, trust-engendering qualities of print. Because while the eye can be dazzled digitally just as easily as it is on paper, it turns out that there’s more to actually holding a printed message

“We’ve continually found that the brain responds strongly and more directly to touching things. Your touch is a direct response to your brains, and if you can see and feel things, you feel more comfortable with them and more trusting. It’s the difference between the affinity you may feel to a celebrity you see on television, and the deeper connection and trust you get from seeing a close friend or family member in the flesh.”

Article first published in Print Power Magazine Autumn 2014

Johnny Sharp | Print Power