The Swinging Pendulum - The World's Most Powerful Ad Man Comes Out in Favour Of Print

Submitted by: Print Power 04/01/2016

Sir Martin Sorrell's recent comments about the 'engagement' virtues of traditional media have helped re-ignite a debate about the merits of print as an advertising medium. But just how significant was his intervention?

At a WPP results presentation in 2013, Sorrell said that clients were spending too much on print and not enough on online and mobile. He pointed out that print has 25% of advertising spend but only accounts for 7% of consumers' media time. Conversely, mobile devices account of 10% of media time but get just 1% of ad spend. Then, speaking during a panel session at the Cannes Advertising Festival back in June, Sir Martin said he'd had a change of heart, now believing that if there's a correction to be made, it needs to be in the other direction. He explained "I think actually we are starting to see with traditional media, particularly newspapers, a bit of a pendulum swinging back because the market will realise they are more powerful than people give them credit for".  This caused great excitement in some parts of the media industry - and rightly so. As always though, Sorrel's words should be read carefully. Some observers noted with interest his caveat that, although print's engagement with consumers may be strong, "its not measured properly". And of course, it's true.

This is, at first sight, a perplexing omission, but the truth is that many media owners, particularly magazine and newspaper companies now pursuing 'digital-first' philosophies, have not been as energetic in this area as they might have been. Despite its continuing contribution to revenues and profitability, print, at some media owners, has become merely the heritage component of a cross-media sell. Advertising agency sources, both on the creative and media sides, point out that you can only get a big-picture feel for the contribution of print advertising by immersing yourself in dozens of individual case studies. Only a small fraction of this data ever makes it into the public domain. And the irony is that some of the advertisers who know most about the engagement power of print are the ones least likely to want to talk about it.

So will Martin's comments galvanise new research initiatives? We asked three senior figures from the marketing and advertising worlds to share their views:


Pablo Del Campo, Worldwide Creative Director of Saatchi and Saatchi

President of the Press Jury at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Pablo Del Campo says that the experience made him believe that we should talk not of print but of a new concept: Ink in A Blink.

"Serving as Jury President at Cannes reignited at my respect and love for print advertising". There's been a lot of talk in our industry about how new media has transformed everything, but print still represents the toughest creative challenge in the business. If you can do great work in print you can do great work in any other media. That's because print - the oldest form of advertising - is a creative exercise in simplicity and distillation. You have one page, one frame, one shot to tell a story. Print engages a sole sensory dimension so your insight has to be sharper, your creative idea has to work harder. Originality, simplicity and surprise need to combine in print to create a singular emotional moment. What a challenge! What a puzzle! What an opportunity! There's a romance in print. In a highly audio-visual world that can sometimes be ephemeral, print work is substantive, its tactile, its permanent. I know im not alone in loving the feel of print and the exotic appeal of a glossy full-page magazine ad. Being captivated by a print ad is similar to looking at a great painting or photograph in a museum. In a busy, crowded world, it's a moment of silence, stillness and communion of ideas between viewer and artist.

Perhaps it's the category name that needs a rebrand? Let's consider replacing fusty, clunky, mechanical old 'print' with more fluid, graceful and contemporary 'ink' suggests flipping through a copy of Vanity Fair - each ad looks like it has the production value of a small movie. Despite the explosion in electronic media, the magazine industry continues to grow, and ink remains especially strong in luxury products, beauty, technology and finance. Advertising is the commercial art that is most in touch with human nature. As such, it lives in a biological world of adaptation and reinvention. But the medium is never a zero-sum game; its a continually additive. Advertising always has been, and will continue to be, 'and-and' not 'either-or', and ink remains the foundation of the craft. Let's leave the angst behind, roll up our sleeves and do great work".


Shiona McDoughall, Executive Strategy Director at Rapp

"While traditional above the-line agencies may have to accommodate swinging pendulums, there are still those of us who have been quietly getting on with the best channel for the job at hand, which is as likely to be print as any other mechanism. Whether we're talking about letterbox marketing or press and magazine advertising, print is still very much a key part of the mix. In the world of direct marketing, measurement has always been our thing. We know there's a time and place for digital engagement and a time and a place for print because we've measured the relative impacts. As digital consumer behaviours have increased - either through search, website or social media - it would be easy to focus on the vast amounts of new data produced by these and spend a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money on generating more of that data. But if you dig a little deeper, you can see that print is often at the heart of the story it tells. Techniques such as 'search as call-to-action' mean it's been possible to make a linear case for print media as part of the mix for some time. Econometric modelling also helps marketers understand the relative return on investment of the different components of their marketing mix and plan more effectively.

Of course, data and logic is only half the story. The craft of print communications is where smart brands can find a role and harness the real value of print. Engagement with any communication is driven by the magic of the creative craft. Print media is where that craft has been honed, iterated and developed for 50 years. There are known techniques for getting attention in print, and they don't involve getting in the way of what the consumer is doing, as is often the case with digital. And there are established techniques for soliciting an action from consumers using print, with no need for garish flashing 'buy now' buttons. Just look at the persuasive power of long copy in campaigns such as Harrison's Fund, where a desperate father wishes his son had cancer. And see how Lidl's recent 'Money On'  coupons subvert expectations completely, eliciting a response while taking the mickey out of the genre they are riffing on. Of course print media works best when it reflects real-life behaviour of consumers, and that means seamlessly in conjunction with all other marketing channels together. Whether using online redeemable coupons as a call to action, or reinforcing key TV advertising messages, print media is tangible, intelligent and likely to remain a part of our everyday lives."


Matt Stockbridge, Head of Analytics at Mondelex International

Matt Stockbridge says that advertisers tend not to have generic attitudes towards print - or traditional media in general for that matter. The company assesses suitability on a campaign-by-campaign basis. But it's no secret that Mondelez has, in the recent past, been keen to pursue scalable, global, real-time event-based opportunities in social media. The best-known example is its activity in the power cut during the 2013 Super Bowl.

"In the recent past, we have not invested significantly in print media" says Stockbridge. "It's trust that, like many of our peers, we have tended to invest more in new media channels than more traditional channels such as print or radio, with levels of TV investment remaining reasonably consistent. If, however, the requirements of a specific campaign suggested that investment in print media would make sense then we will do it." The best recent example is its Oreo Eclipse partnership with The Sun newspaper. On the day of the most recent solar eclipse over Britain. Oreo produced an opaque cover wrap for the UK's biggest-selling daily and two special eclipse-themed translucent Oreo ads also appeared within. This initiative dovetailed with outdoor and social media activity that tracked progress of the eclipse. In effect, the activity allowed the brand to become a 'sponsor' of this celestial event and delivered a sales spike of 59% making March 2015 Oreo's highest-ever UK sales month. Stockbridge concludes: "Internally we were very happy with the results"

Source: By Alasdair Reid - Print Power Magazine Autumn 2015