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12 . 09 . 19

Print plays the long game

Words by: Ulbe Jelluma
This year’s powerful Cannes Lions proved that print really packs a punch. Especially in this age when Millennials are demonstrating a thirst for it. Why then, are marketers shunning long-term brand building with print and favouring short-term results from digital metrics?
Print Power Long Game.jpg

We know that ink sings off the page. It’s an engagement goldmine. And the winning print advertising winners at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2019 proved that print is the wake-up call for marketing effectiveness. But why is there this breach between print media’s impressive status and what marketers are investing in?

At a time when younger generations under 35 years are reading more print than any other age group, it’s no surprise we’re increasingly seeing successful indie magazine launches. The recent Rethink Inkresearch by Delineate for Wardour Content Marketing agency demonstrated the upturn in interest in print magazines. The reason? Print is engaging, trustworthy and more memorable. It leaves its mark.

‘The recent Rethink Ink research by Delineate for Wardour Content Marketing agency demonstrated the upturn in interest in print magazines. The reason? Print is engaging, trustworthy and more memorable. It leaves its mark.’
Ulbe Jelluma
Managing Director, Print Power

And yes, print is disrupting digital. But not at its expense. It’s more a step back and a re-evaluation on the part of consumers. They still want a mix of media to suit their lifestyles and situations.

Print has a proven pedigree in long-term effectiveness. So how can we convince CMOs to include print in the marketing mix?

Results in an instant

There seems to be a growing reliance in advertising plans on short-term thinking. And in this quick turnaround, data-driven culture, brands are turning to short-term results at the expense of long term creative campaigns that take time to quantify. But with that comes a depressing slump in media effectiveness. A recent survey launched at Cannes by the Financial Times and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) bears this out. The Board-Brand Rift finds that marketers are focused on performance marketing as it’s easier to measure. In fact, 33 per cent of those surveyed globally revealed that marketing reporting cycles are getting shorter.

So online channels are getting the bulk of the spend.

‘It may not be surprising that senior management cite the need for more data to support decisions for long-term investment in brands,’ explains the report. ‘The ever-greater availability and speed of online channel data, means decision support for sales activation marketing activity has, in theory, never been easier. Whilst there is now abundant evidence to support the commercial benefits of brand investment, the C-suites are likely to be looking for similar levels of evidence as that available for short-term marketing. This is challenging as linking valuable brand health data to sales is more complex than shorter-term direct response campaign performance metrics. It takes time and the analytics involved are multifaceted.’

The measure of it

The impediment to the balance between long and short term? It seems to be the lack of brand health metrics in a print media plan. Only 27 per cent of boards use brand health KPIs that measure salience, distinctiveness and favourability and that get buy-in at senior level.This lack of understanding of the value of brand health metrics is putting a spanner in the works for a more harmonious short/long-term balance.

‘One solution might be to focus business leaders’ attention away from the creativity of the message itself and towards the brand health metrics they actually say they are looking for, which demonstrate what the message is doing for the brand and for the business,’ advises the report. ‘Some of the most successful brands now do not “show the ad campaign” in board meetings, but show “what the ad is doing for the brand” – arguably a much more appropriate way to use board time.’

‘Some of the most successful brands now do not “show the ad campaign” in board meetings, but show “what the ad is doing for the brand”
The Board-Brand Rift report
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

Perception v reality

This tallies with the fact that over half of business leaders (including 30 per cent of senior marketers) rate their knowledge of brand building as average to very poor. And in the top five of channels held in high regard for brand building, over half of business leaders rated social media and digital display advertising alongside word of mouth as top. While print advertising lags behind in fifth place. But marketing industry evidence places social media firmly at the bottom of the list of media for effectiveness. With newspaper and magazines coming in at number two and three. The evidence favours print after TV at the number one slot.

So, the skill of brand building takes a nose dive as there’s a discrepancy between what is perceived to be effective and what is really effective in the marketing mix. This bears out the McKinsey & Company study that identifies the allure and gratification of short-termism to CMOs. And goes some way to explaining the boardroom blinkers of the Accenture report’s Pioneering CMOs when it comes to long-term campaigns in the media mix. Ironically, all at a time when there’s a trust issue with online channels. And when ‘digital detoxing’ is a thing.

This is all occurring despite the existing, and growing, body of evidence that shows optimal growth and profitability come from implementing a different balance between short- and long-term marketing.

‘We believe that as a result of this, the skill of brand-building, a fundamental creator of value, has been declining,’ says the report. ‘In turn, the effectiveness of creative work is diminishing. Commercially, this is likely to mean businesses across a wide range of sectors are not performing to their potential.’

Again, it comes down to print media producing an evidence bank of credible brand health metrics. We need to show these CMO innovators how print media effectiveness can make a considerable commercial contribution. And that an effective marketing campaign is at its most dynamic when print is integrated alongside digital solutions. And of course, that the best results take time.

Giving print short shrift

Is the link between creativity and effectiveness broken? For years, creativity has been a sure-fire marker of commercial success. The Cannes Lions presentation Creativity Mattersbears this out. Leading brands like McDonald’s and Heineken who have all won the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year all saw ROI and share price value spike on the run up to their claiming the award. There’s no doubt – to be effective, creativity does matter.

Creativity in free-fall

Or rather, it did. And the reason why it’s taking a back seat? Well it’s back to the shift to short-termism. Effectiveness takes time to measure. And this obsession with rapid, data-driven results to the detriment of long-term brand building means the importance of creativity in a campaign is collapsing. The proof? It’s in a report launched at Cannes Lions by consultant Peter Field and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). It shows the effectiveness of creatively awarded campaigns has plummeted to its lowest level in 24 years. For champions of creativity, his Crisis in Creative Effectivenessreport makes for a bleak read. It shows that in a 12-year period until 2008, creatively awarded campaigns were around 12 times as efficient as their non-awarded counterparts. But that’s dropped to four.

And the blame lies squarely with the infatuation with short-term sales activations and metrics.

‘This is the report I hoped I would never have to write,’ mourns Field.‘The misuse of creativity has continued to grow and the effectiveness advantage has continued to decline. Creatively awarded campaigns are now less effective than they have ever been in the entire 24-year run of data and are now no more effective than non-awarded campaigns. We have arrived in an era where award-winning creativity typically brings little or no effectiveness advantage. Creative best practice is currently being overwhelmed by poor practice, and yet there are still campaigns showing how it should be done and delivering impressive effectiveness as a result.’

‘Creative best practice is currently being overwhelmed by poor practice, and yet there are still campaigns showing how it should be done and delivering impressive effectiveness as a result.’
Peter Field
Independent Marketing and Advertising Professional


IPA data shows that under-allocating budget to brand building is to blame.‘Under-allocation is a central reason why effectiveness levels have been falling: we are allowing brands to weaken and, with that, we are losing the valuable choice-priming benefits of brand building,’ says the report. ‘For effectiveness, this is very destructive behaviour.’

And as we’ve touched on already, short-termism almost always points to the bulk of marketing spend being allocated to digital channels. ‘Probably the chief culprit for the declining effectiveness of creatively awarded campaigns is the growing trend by creative awards judges to favour short-term ‘disposable’ creativity,’ deduces the report. ‘Creative awards judges have been entranced by short-term ideas, many of which were relatively low-budget, digitally focused campaigns.’

And this short-termism is a major factor in underperformance. ‘High performers choose long term,’ says the report. ‘They are half as likely to be short-term as low performers. This is reflected in the average duration of high-performing campaigns; they are just over twice as long as those of low performers. Creativity delivers very little of its full potential over short time frames and this is something we have known for much of the last ten years, yet the trend to short-term ‘disposable’ creativity continues.’

This ‘we want it now’ culture has led to the overall benefit of creative campaigns disappearing. ‘While campaigns are achieving these short-term sales activation effects, their ability to build brands has faltered and started to fall away,’ says the IPA. ‘This can be demonstrated through two key metrics that are central to the power of creativity; the ability to generate fame effects (sharing, online and offline conversations, etc) and the ability to strengthen or transform the image of brands (the source of the priming effects that are so valuable to brands).’

Does this refusal to play the long game, rejection of brand building and crumbling of creativity mean we’re being offered increasingly more ‘samey’, bland marketing messages? After all, digital and mobile solutions start from the same technology and manifest themselves on the same devices. And most digital experiences focus on ease of use and purpose, with no wiggle room to express creativity.

Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CX Index) says yes – we’re definitely in a differentiation rut.

In their annual survey of over 100,000 customers to measure how well a brand’s experience strengthens loyalty, the problem points directly to ‘digital sameness’.

‘Many of the world’s most valuable brands find themselves struggling to maintain or improve their CX,’ declares Forrester Principal Analyst Rick Parrish. In the report he organises CX performance into four brand types:

Languishers. High-scoring brands stuck in a rut for two years.
Lapsers. Brands whose performance has steadily declined for one to two years
Locksteppers.Brands that have remained on a par with their competitors.
Laggards.Brands that have remained consistently at the low end of CX performance.

The reasons brands experience the above four stages is because their customers struggle to separate one experience from another. Says the report: ‘The question we’re debating at Forrester is, “In our pursuit of meeting customer needs, have we homogenized the experience itself?”

On the comeback trail?

The study concludes with a stark message to CMOs who want to raise the bar for their brand. And it involves building in a long-term strategy that works alongside what digital delivers. ‘Marketers and agencies will succeed when they put emotion in the code,’ it says. ‘Differentiation lies in the creative expression of the brand and the emotional response it stirs, not in functional convenience built into a digital experience or application. Your job is to steer brands and communication clear of the sea of sameness in order to move both culture and commerce. That is what great creativity has and will continue to do. You should hold experiences to that same high standard, as experience is inextricably intertwined with brand. This is what’s required of CMOs to move the needle.’

Back to Field’s report and he concludes with a strong pledge for creativity. Not only because of its multiplier effect, but also because he believes that ‘creative firepower’ will only serve to strengthen a brand over time. And this short-termism culture is sending us hurtling towards a future where campaigns will under-perform in the long term. Ultimately weakening support for creativity in management circles.

‘I urge everyone who values creativity, as I do, to study this report and act on it, especially those with the power to change how creativity is commissioned, deployed and judged,’ cautions Field.

‘We cannot afford to go on being complacent; already one recent survey of CMOs reported a strong belief that creativity is now irrelevant in the data-driven age. We have been warned.’
Peter Field
Independent Marketing and Advertising Professional

Brave new (print) world

The Field and Forrester reports show a bleak outlook for the future of creativity. Yet as Cannes proved, there are still those dynamic brands not afraid of producing inspirational, though-provoking print campaigns. And that don’t shy away from bold, creative thinking. And with it, long-term brand building.

But there’s a chink of light. There’s that small but forward-thinking group of pioneering CMOs who might be digitally-driven, but might also be disruptive enough to consider the case for print in the marketing mix. The reality is that digital is the leading channel, so print has to prove its effectiveness as a medium that works well alongside, rather than instead of other channels. That this combination of channels can have a long-lasting impact when they work in harmony.

How do we convince CMOs of this balanced approach? Print media has to start presenting these long-term health metrics around brand love and their strong returns to CMOs in a language they understand. And that means talking about how brand building can convert to commercial gains. The CMO who’s brave enough to build these long-term metrics into their campaign is the true pioneer.

Print media can also benefit from closer collaboration with media organisations that champion marketing effectiveness and commercial creativity that works. Like the EFFIE (effectiveness in marketing) Awards – whose resources offer exceptional insights into what makes a marketing strategy effective. And like the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), who provide the advertising and marketing industry with the best models, technology, resources and tools that help measure the impact of effective marketing to realise its potential.