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The Lion Kings (and Queens)
02 . 07 . 19

Spend is down but the power of print keeps rising

Words by: Print Power
Audiences love print, so why has spend reduced?


  • Digital has scale, but print offers unique creative possibilities
  • Familiarity with digital is blunting its effectiveness. Audiences love print
  • Marketers should work with media owners to communicate most effectively with their audiences

We need to talk about money. Specifically, ad money, and where it’s going.

Print has a big fanbase. Audiences report loving it, and newspapers and magazines have a captive readership. But these factors simply aren’t being reflected in the figures. Why?  

This was the topic of a recent roundtable between The Drum and experts from across the brand, publishing and marketing landscape, including us. If print has second-tier status when it comes to media plans, we want to know why.

The first questions posed related to scale. Digital ad networks are enormous, and their scale and reach is a huge draw for brands and marketers. The scale of print is undeniably smaller.  

“Digital natives want stuff for free, so print is always going to be and seem a lot more expensive than a digital alternative”, said Helen Bazuaye, global editor in chief of IKEA magazine.

“But it’s not really about scale, or reach” argued Flora Kessler, strategy partner at Carat UK. “You can’t compare the reach of digital to the reach of print, because it just isn’t a contest. The conversation that marketers need to be having is about objectives – what they want to achieve from their campaign. That’s where print can make a difference.”

Effective marketing

‘Making a difference’ led the panel into a discussion about the relative marketing effectiveness of the different channels.

 “Digital can produce cheap, quick results,” said Bazuaye. “However… we’re coming to a tipping point where mistrust and familiarity with digital is starting to blunt its effectiveness. With a printed thing, you choose to invest in it, you choose to sit down and pay attention. It feels more deliberate, so the engagement is higher.”

But it doesn’t have to be one type of media or the other. In fact, this binary approach could end up being counter-productive.

“If we’re always thinking either/or we’ll never do anything differently,” said Kessler.

“Smart people will realise we need a mix of things. Digital and print. Each has a role to play. What’s that role? That’s the next question to answer,” suggested Bazuaye.

Elizabeth Stone, marketing manager at the John Lewis partnership, agrees. “Print needs to find a way to exist in the digital space. That doesn’t mean you have to translate print to digital, it’s just about how to exist together.”

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that digital has a lot of short-term benefits. “We need to justify budget on a year-by-year basis. It’s difficult outside of the marketing function to justify a long-term approach to brand building,” Stone commented.

Creative sparks

The next topic of discussion was creativity. OK, print doesn’t have the reach of digital, but it has something better. It’s malleable. 

And we don’t just mean paper’s flexibility (although, that is a thing). We’re talking about how print’s physical nature can be manipulated in ways that other formats can’t. It can be printed with inks that make it glow in the dark or react to touch, used to carry technologies such as NFC chips and conductive inks, and deliver interactive experiences impossible for other media.

We live in a world of shrinking attention spans. How can advertisers create things that actually grab attention, and keep it? As an example, Helen Bazuaye mentioned the IKEA ad that had been treated to become a pregnancy test. Try doing that on a mobile screen.

Flora Kessler, strategy partner at Carat UK, said: “There’s an element of creativity in print that you don’t always see in digital. So much budget devoted to digital can soak up the creativity along the way. How do we bring the two together in a consumer journey?”

Carat UK itself has done some ground-breaking work with Cadbury Crème Eggs that crosses the boundaries of digital and print. Also highly commended in the conversation was the KFC ‘FCK’ apology campaign that began in print but was widely shared in digital.

Likewise, the aforementioned IKEA pregnancy test scored 1650 pieces of earned media with a combined value of $12 million dollars. The lesson? A well-executed print ad can transcend its medium.


Making good, great

What if a good idea could be more than just a good idea? It’s possible. In fact, good advertising ideas can become great ideas if they’re executed in the right medium.

Peter Markey, CMO at TSB, mentioned the Pride of Britain awards (of which TSB was a sponsor). “We were looking for ways to amplify that. So, we found charities doing good work across the UK that we wanted to highlight and paid the Mirror to run special features on those charities. That was a great way for us to promote our involvement.”

He continued, “Great work in print shines when you see it. Working in partnership with media owners is becoming really important.”

He continued: “For examples of media partnerships done well, look at the Guardian’s branded content team. The audience of their content is 50 times more likely to engage with a story about relationships than they are a story about money to deliver an effective campaign.”

In other words, print owners know how best to communicate with their readers – and this knowledge is ripe to be leveraged by marketers.

Measurement, measurement, measurement

We have written about ‘shiny new things’ syndrome before. And measurement metrics are one of the shiniest things of them all. Media planners need accurate measurement, and digital marketing offers data galore – but is ease of measurement always a positive thing?

“We’re in danger of running digital campaigns a certain way just because the data tells us to do so,” commented Stone. “There needs to be a layer of intuition to campaigning, and print really allows you to do that in a way other mediums don’t.”

As Eva Grimmett, chief strategy officer at Havas Media Group, explained: “Marketing is dominated at the moment by a mindset that forces you to decide between ‘what is easy to measure?’ versus ‘what’s the right thing to do?’”

It’s harder to make the business case for the right thing to do when you have another option that’s easy to measure. But demonstrating the value of print advertising can be just as simple. Row Draper, head of print media at The Specialist Works, said: “The empirical data exists to prove print ROI to clients. We need to get more serious about selling print on those terms.”

His point was reiterated by James Smith, Client Services Director at The Kite Factory: “We know through using Bliss as a measurement tool that when we run an ad in the Evening Standard, for example, we can track a spike in enquiries at particular times of the day when we know people are reading the newspaper. So that’s an example of how digital and print can work in conjunction.”

Perception is everything

Advertisers using multi- or omni-channel strategies often see that they work more effectively than focusing on a single channel. Stone elaborated: “I think we’re being naïve to say that print can absolutely deliver things digital can’t. That said, innovation doesn’t always have to be digital, it’s about being brave and finding the right role for print in the omni-channel mix.”

“It’s not a binary decision so there’s no point it speaking in those terms, ‘print is better here’, and so on.”

It was a smart conclusion to a wide-ranging discussion. But, to pop back to the first line of this article: what about the money?

Print owners should stop trying to use print’s reach as a principal selling point. There’s so much more to it than that: trust, engagement, credibility. Markey said: “If you pay £1.50 for your copy of the Times, you’re going to sit down and read it!”

But, ultimately, there is still a perception problem. “Print doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being creative,” said Bazuaye.

Stone was firmer still. “Budgets are shrinking and brands are looking at short-term gains rather than long term engagement. This is an ongoing issue – and until we break through that, the conversation will always be ‘why should we divert money to print?’ instead of ‘how can we build better engagement through effective marketing campaigns?’”

Print has a unique and potent role to play in brand campaigns, but its strengths remain undervalued. This looks set to continue until brands and media planners understand its effectiveness as part of the wider marketing mix.

So, it’s time to sing print’s praises again – and to educate the industry on the remarkable things it can achieve when it’s twinned with digital activity.