14 . 09 . 18

Do touch!

Words by: Print Power
It’s a stat that makes you want to pinch yourself: 40 percent of our brain is continuously preoccupied with haptics. The psychological importance of our sense of touch explains why print continues to be effective even in our digital age.
Olaf Hartmann.jpg


The power of print at a glance

  • Our sense of touch is our “sense of truth”. Haptic impressions colour our perception and make advertising more credible, too.
  • Communication that has been haptically optimised is more attention-grabbing, more memorable and more resonant.
  • Luxury brands are especially well-served by print. Magazines with premium haptics are the ideal environment for value-added advertising messaging.

Olaf Hartmann is a man with a special touch. Teaming up with psychologist Sebastian Haupt, the Managing Director of Germany’s Multisense Institute for Sensory Marketing has written “Touch!”, a marketing best seller. Small wonder he’s regarded as one of Europe’s leading experts in multi-sensory and haptic communications. We asked him why, in this digital age, people seem to yearn for a haptic experience more than ever – and how advertisers could profit from this trend.

Olaf, are people in Germany  still in love with print? After all, some magazines struggle with falling circulation while others reach millions. Why this discrepancy?

You’re right: circulation of Germany’s venerable weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” is at an historic high. “Landlust”, a magazine on country living, shifts 800,000 copies a month and mindfulness mag “Flow” is going from strength to strength. And now TV presenter Joko Winterscheidt, who has two million followers on Twitter, is launching a print magazine all of his own called “JWD - Joko Winterscheidts Druckerzeugnis”, or “Joko Winterscheidts Printed Matter”. Even purely digital players such as airbnb and online fashion retailer Zalando have discovered the communicative powers of print and are producing their own customer magazines. They’re not doing this for the hell of it, but because they’ve seen that print has an impact on people – despite or perhaps even because of the tsunami of digital media.

Still, the question remains: why are some actors successful in kindling a love of print while others aren’t?

Print is a slow medium. Whenever print tries to pop, flicker and rush like the internet, it can only lose. Print always demands content of substance, something that gives me a deeper understanding of something. If this is combined with an attractive physical feel, print products turn into a compelling proposition. Our brain loves haptics. Over 40 per cent of our brain deals with nothing else – on a permanent basis. Which explains why print continues to work so well even in this digital age.

Please elaborate.

You can sum it up in one: in a digital, fast-moving world, people yearn for things that are durable and tangible. And that’s precisely where print comes in: it’s all about taking relevant content that differs from that on the internet and then delivering it in a physical format that’s haptically appealing. Print’s added value has to be based on the strength of its content and format.

Hang on. In this digital age, we’re all fixated on our touch screens. Swiping is the new page-turning. Where does this leave the “haptic experience” promised by print?

Paradoxically, touch screens prove just much haptics matter to people. For example: studies have shown that touching a product image leads to a stronger psychological sense of ownership than merely clicking on it with a mouse. Only the touch screen has made the boom in mobile internet usage possible in the first place. So it’s not surprising that there’s intense research into ways to improve the surfaces of tablets and other screens to ensure that users have a haptically fulfilling experience. In this sense, haptics is the next big thing for the internet. Nevertheless, these digital simulations are a long way away from the experience of really touching something. There’s definitely still lots of potential in haptics.

Does that go for the digital world, too?

Absolutely, man remains a multi-sensory animal. The digital revolution hasn’t simply rendered human irrelevant. Signals that simulate multiple senses fire up the brain. They command greater attention and are more likely to be remembered. With every additional sense that is stimulated, brain activity increases tenfold. Research shows clearly that appealing to the senses offers great potential when it comes to anchoring brand messages in the mind. For a long time, marketing has not paid enough attention to this, or to put it differently, digitalisation seemed to forget this. 

Can you flesh this out for us? Which part does our sense of touch play when it comes to processing different stimuli?

Many people might not be aware that our sense of touch is our “sense of truth”. You can mishear or even “mis-see” something, but no-one would ever say, I have “mis-touched” this. On a subjective level, haptic impressions are synonymous with truth. Any message I get across using haptics gains added credibility straightaway. In this way, haptic stimuli subconsciously colour our judgment. For example, we think an applicant more competent if their material is presented on a substantial clipboard – without us ever being aware of this.

Enhanced credibility thanks to print – can advertisers benefit from this effect?

Human perception is always multi-sensory. That’s why haptics play an important part when creating powerful visual communications. There are images you can touch. After all, what do we like to look at? Of course, things we would also like to touch. When an image depicts that kind of object, it simulates the same parts of the brain that are activated by actually touching the object in real life. Good creative makes use of this insight. Take, for example, the award-winning campaign by Germany’s DIY market Hornbach – it was called “You’re alive, remember?” When a naked man falls off a mountain and tumbles across alpine meadows, forests, tree stumps and mud, our brain tumbles, too. We feel the physical pleasure as well as the physical pain. We’re touched by this, and so the message sticks.  

Digital communication picks the fruit from the tree of brand trust, but it doesn’t make the tree grow. Print is ideal for strengthening the roots of brand trust
Olaf Hartmann
MD, Multisense Institut

Is real haptics – touching paper – the reason why print and print advertising will remain important in future?

There’s no turning back the digital revolution, of course. Yes, it revolutionises processes and business models. But there’s one thing it hasn’t changed: our brain structure. The way we perceive things, how feelings arise and how we make decisions – all this happens in our heads exactly as it did 10,000 years ago. That’s why “high tech” also leads to a craving for “High Touch” – and that’s what print has to offer. For example, the front cover: here, there’s a lot of value-creation in activating the autotelic need for touch. 

Errr…the what?

I’m touching something – not because I’m looking for more information, but because I simply enjoy and like doing it. If you’ve ever ever caressed a soft cashmere sweater while shopping, lost in thought, or traced the grain of a beautifully-finished wooden surface, you’ll know what I’m talking about. What’s interesting: the more I like touching something, the longer I will touch it and the less I’ll want to give it back again. Studies show that touching something leads to a higher price and a higher readiness to buy. For example, the rate of spontaneous purchase leapt by 40 per cent when people were invited to touch oranges in a supermarket. So if by making a magazine or a product look and feel more premium, and you succeed in getting people to touch it more often, that will reflect in sales figures straight away.

So if something feels good, I not only want it: I simply have to have it, right? And what does this mean for the print market?

Haptics clearly enhance readiness to buy. The strategy in print should be to make print more sensuous – using structure, shine, weight, texture and especially interaction. Put succinctly, use everything the brain finds sensual. One example is the German women’s magazine “Flow”: it’s all about happiness on a small scale, free from hurry but with a quality of mindfulness. This is reflected in the use of three different kinds of paper stock in the same book, a front cover that feels warm to the touch, handicraft supplements and things like a mindfulness diary. In this way the experience of the print edition is markedly different from the same contents on a screen. 

Okay. Upgrading print is quite impressive in itself. But there’s much more to the world of print. Looking at haptics, can tabloids, with their thin paper, ever come across as credible? Or is the yellow press not a suitable advertising channel?

Yellow press titles do have a chance. A high-gloss finish would be entirely out of place in their case. These papers are designed for fast consumption. And so it’s precisely the thinner, cheaper paper stock that makes them more “credible”. But usually the problem happens the other way around, when premium paper stock isn’t used for cost reasons. However, if a publishing house doesn’t understand that the paper has to match the message of the print product, it doesn’t understand the influence haptics have on perception. Often, a title’s potential advertising impact and selling power goes to waste at the point of sale.

 Looking at the readership. In Germany, this is dominated by female readers – German women are magazine junkies. Is this something one should take into account when thinking about haptics?

Absolutely. Women tend to have a greater “need for touch”, and that’s why they’re more discerning consumers. Based on the haptics factor alone, I see greater possibilities in the print market when it comes to female-oriented and beauty magazines than in other segments. 

Let’s return to the idea of the sense of touch as a “sense of truth”. Whatever feels good and is in line with the overall concept is considered credible, as you said. To which degree can ad buyers make use of this when advertising in print?

Print advertisers and their creative and media agencies basically need to pay attention to the same things as the producers of printed products. As a general rule, form has to correspond to content. The quality of the product should correspond to the perceived value of the advertising medium. After all, it makes a difference if an advert for a bank appears as a pre-roll to kitten vids or in the financial section of a serious news magazine. Such magazines are the ideal psychological frame for value-added advertising messages. The literally feel-able credibility of the print product reflects on the brand. Recall the experiment with the clipboard I mentioned earlier. What many currently forget: digital communication picks the fruit from the tree of brand trust, but it doesn’t make the tree grow. For the reasons mentioned above, print is ideal for strengthening the roots of brand trust.

Marketeers who don’t want to pass up on advertising effectiveness clearly need print in their media mix
Olaf Hartmann
MD, Multisense Institut

Where else does this fit between advertising message and advertising environment work well? More than working well, perhaps, where is it more efficient, thanks to haptics, than pure online advertising?

All products which, for example, speak to buying reasons such as status and security are ideally suited to print advertising. The haptic perception underpins the advertising message – in contrast to the fleeting nature of the internet. But products requiring more explanation also benefit strongly from print, as haptics lead to information being stored more deeply in our long-term memory. Turning this on its head, it’s also true that if I want to connect attributes such as fun, excitement or efficiency to my brand, digital platforms are more attractive. At the same time, it’s important to carefully evaluate the advertising promises of digital suppliers. For example, many people are unaware that more than 60 per cent of advertising spending just trickles away along the value chain. It’s no wonder that marketeers have in recent years lamented that campaigns are becoming less efficient. As Mark Pritchard at Procter & Gamble correctly pointed out, a disproportionate amount of money has been invested uncritically into digital channels, so that a great deal of advertising budget has gone up in flames.

Is this true of all industries?

Fortunately not. After all, not everyone blindly followed the digital hype. Some producers of premium products – such as shirtmaker Olymp – even make print the focus of their advertising spend. Not because they’re nostalgic, but because print leads to success. Thanks to this advertising strategy, Olymp has seen its turnover increase from €74.2m to €237m, elevating the company to the position of undisputed market leader in Germany.

Does this mean all industries and all advertisers should exclusively put their faith in print alone?

Of course not. The best ROI is delivered by cross-media campaigns. The results of a recent study by Analytic Partners, which analysed 3,200 international campaigns, are unequivocal.  If the same media budget is spread over multiple channels, ROI increases by up to 35 per cent. So it’s always a question of combination. The challenge for marketeers is to understand the strength of each single channel well. And this is exactly why we’ve been asked by Creatura Initiative, the trade body for media production, to carry out a meta analysis on the advertising effectiveness of print. To this end, we’ve processed over 300 studies. We asked what influence print has on attention, retention and credibility, and which role print has to play in a digital dominated media-mix. We’ll publish our findings this September. But we can already see that in media planning, a targeted combination of digital and “tangible” assets is ideal. Marketeers who don’t want to pass up on advertising effectiveness clearly need print in their media mix.

 A second edition of „Touch! Der Haptik-Effekt im multisensorischen Marketing“ has been published by Haufe Verlag. 

The Creatura meta-analysis on the advertising effectiveness of print appears in September 2018.

Copies can be ordered from the trade body of media production on [email protected] 

For more information on the Multisense Institut visit