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08 . 10 . 18

Print media and data, sitting in a tree…

Words by: Mark Hooper
When you’re looking at ways to bring data and insights to life, you’d be daft not to consider the power of print media… as these compelling, effective case studies show
AA Hitchhiker.png

The power of print at a glance

  • Data isn’t just the preserve of analytics geeks anymore – even creatives should embrace it if they want to produce great work
  • Print media help to refine audience insights down to their purest form of expression
  • We need to be able to track the modern customer journey across all media – including print

This year’s IPA Effectiveness Week explores the roles of data and insight in developing powerful creative work. And it got us wondering… about the ways in which data and insights have been leveraged to deliver clever, engaging  print media solutions – or at least integrated campaigns with a strong printed component.

Because, let’s face it, print probably isn’t the first channel planners and creatives think of when they decide that they’d like to do something ‘cool’ with data, even though print-led initiatives are often far more complex – and draw on many more data points – than one might imagine.

To be fair, you’d be hard-pressed to find many creatives that think about data – period. As Jason Gonsalves, CEO of Mcgarrybowen, points out: too often creatives dismiss data as “not their department” – something to interfere with their artistry or muddy the message.

But the former head of strategy at BBH – who describes data insight as his “pet subject” – insists creatives shouldn’t feel threatened by data. “It’s just an exciting new tool. Blending data with empathy and humanity provides a richer way to understand real people. And that’s better inspiration to surprise and delight them.”

Print marketing is, of course, a way to refine that understanding down to its purest form of expression – brand messaging which, when done well, is concise, clear and trusted. In other words, trust in print translates to trust in content.

Because while it might be borne out of the same ‘cold, hard stats’ that inform, say, a digital-first approach, print today still offers a refreshing transparency – while acting as an antidote to the data leaks that have bedeviled some of the world’s biggest brands in the past 12 months.

Ask a customer – particularly someone in the elder, more data-wary demographic – to tick a box online, and they’ll ask justifiable questions about where that information ends up.

But ask them to tick a physical box on a piece of printed card and they’re more likely to feel comfortable. They may know just as little about where their data ends up, but it’s something they feel they have made an informed decision on.


RNLI: Communication Saves Lives

This was the insight that lead to Proximity’s DMA award-winning ‘Communication Saves Lives’ campaign for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a UK charity that saves lives at sea.

Faced with research revealing only six percent of people would actively renew permissions, an RNLI target of 22%, plus recent scandals surrounding the unethical use of data by other charities, the work refocused the perspective on what giving consent actually means in this instance.

Beside a close-up face shot of a lifeboat crew member, the copy read: “He braves waves higher than houses to save lives… All we need from you is one tick.” And, for once, the small print had no hidden agenda, simply a reiteration of the simple point: “One tick means we can continue saving lives together.”

Instead of consent being presented as a shadowy marketing trick, tucked away behind a drop-down menu, Proximity put the message – which spanned broadsheet print advertisements, radio and targeted Facebook videos, and was supported via a digital hub –front and centre: the consent box became the campaign.

And supporters were reinvigorated by the simplicity and authenticity of the approach, understanding how little was actually asked of them in order to make a real difference to the business of saving lives at sea: the RNLI’s target of 255,000 supporters was smashed, with 450,000 giving their consent.

Google Cloud: Biography of Tomorrow

Matthew Kershaw, MD of Content at Iris Worldwide, admits that the vast majority of campaigns he works on are digital-first, if not 100% digital. But, asked to cite some inspiring examples of print-led campaigns that have taken their cue from customer insight, he is positive about the quality of the creative that resulted.

Herezie’s ‘Biography of Tomorrow’ for Google Cloud, for instance, involved creating a highly personalised book designed to approach 10 “unreachable” business leaders. Not only was this created using data from Google, but the research also pointed to the fact that a physical book had greater cut through for its audience than any digital solution could offer.

As Gonsalves points out, there’s no “delete” button for a book that has been physically delivered. The example also reinforces Kershaw’s point that print marketing can often be the ‘disruptor’ in an integrated campaign.

AA Hitchhiker.png

AA: Hitchhiker: London

Sometimes, the data itself can lead directly to an elegant creative solution.

The AA’s ‘Hitchhiker: London’ campaign by Wunderman, for instance, took what is now a tried and tested personalisation approach – using customer address details from its database to regionalise the creative content of the campaign – to dramatise the AA’s core proposition (“the best way to get you home”) with wit and style.

The solution – a hitch-hiking card featuring the customer’s home town printed on the reverse of the mailout – also made the physicality of the creative a core component of the idea. It’s the perfect example of something that simply wouldn’t work in any other channel.

What3Words: Addressing the Problem

A similarly inspired use of customer location data can be found in OgilvyOne’s ‘What3Words: Addressing the Problem’. This new global addressing system transforms complex mapping co-ordinates into three simple-to-remember words, meaning anyone can give their exact location.

The concept was artfully brought to life by a mail drop print marketing campaign, with intricate graphic details on where the letter should be despatched to – demonstrating how mail can be delivered to anywhere in the world, even when there is no address available.

The campaign had a wider social narrative: not only are three major African postal systems in negotiations about using the system, it also means practical issues such as monitoring water points, pinpointing hospitals and delivering humanitarian aid are all addressed.

Spotify: Weird Year

Sometimes, of course, data can work against print: Spotify’s internal creative team devised the hugely successful ‘Weird Year’ campaign in which the more “unique” customer habits that they had identified over the year were crunched to produce billboards with amusing messages to their audience. E.g. “Dear person who played ‘sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day; what did you do?”

Although always intended as a physical campaign, one seemingly obvious channel – the music press – was ignored. Why? Because, as a digital music supplier, customer insight revealed that the audience preferred Spotify’s own highly-evolved recommendation software and online reviews than music magazines.


UN Women: The Autocomplete Truth

In other cases, however, the reverse is true: a campaign that seems purpose built for digital can prove far more effective in print. UN Women’s ‘The Autocomplete Truth’, by Memac Ogilvy and Mather Dubai, used Google’s autocomplete function to reveal telling prejudices about women. But, as powerful as the moving image is, the ad was particularly impactful when shown in print.

ING: The Next Rembrandt

Sometimes, data crunching can lead to truly beautiful creative: take ‘The Next Rembrandt’, a collaboration between Rembrandt House Museum, Microsoft, TU Delft, The Mauritshuis and the banking group ING, who have a long history of sponsoring Dutch art. Using data from analysing Rembrandt’s 346 known paintings over a period of 18 months, a ‘new’ Rembrandt was created by 3D-printing 13 layers of ink. The painting was exhibited alongside genuine works by the Dutch master, while a film at delves deeper into the process.


The Times: JFK – Unsilenced

Perhaps the best outcome for a campaign is when it crosses the boundary from advert to newsworthy event. This was most dramatically seen in Rothco’s ‘JFK – Unsilenced’ execution for The Times.

The ingenious idea – using the data from President Kennedy’s voice patterns in order to create the speech in Dallas that he never delivered, essentially giving his actual voice to the unread notes – was a dramatic demonstration of data driving digital creativity. And yet the most traditional of print solutions (a front page splash) is what gave it gravitas, elevating it from mere marketing stunt to a story worthy of editorial support for a discerning audience that is wary of being sold to.

The point of this piece, though, is not to bang the drum – ad nauseum – for print media. Data isn’t simply about informing a single-channel solution. It’s about giving agencies and advertisers the insights they need to be effective across multiple channels.

As Deborah Powsner – head of brand narrative and content strategy for YouTube Ads Marketing – notes in an article for Think with Google: “It’s becoming harder for marketers to make sense of all the intent signals people leave behind. Because as people look for what they need, they switch between channels and devices.”

We therefore need to be able to track the modern customer journey across all media including print.