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Marketing effectiveness in the digital age
Why Print?

Marketing in a changed media landscape

Words by: Print Power
Access to media is more immediate and much easier for billions more consumers. Marketers must now identify where this is a positive thing, and where it threatens their very existence
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The so-called digital revolution has swept the media landscape for more than two decades, fundamentally altering both the nature and function of media in our society. Traditional channels are no longer the gatekeepers of news and entertainment, the production cycle has reduced from hours to seconds, and no aspect of media, be it music, film or marketing, has escaped the tentacles of technological innovation.

Today we find that pixels and not paper are our window into the wider world, be it on a 27”, 10” or palm-sized screen. Locally and globally, this brings challenges for individuals, companies, even governments to contend with. And amid this much changed media landscape, marketing, much like any other industry, finds itself subject to very different rules and expectations.

There are opportunities, but also fears within this brave new world. Some in the media agency landscape might say the TV and broadcast model is obsolete, that print media belongs to simpler times, and that a connected and empowered youth are deserting traditional media in their droves. But others (and we count ourselves among these ‘others’) say the role of traditional media in the marketing mix, and particularly print media, has changed – and for the better.

The headline figures make for grizzly reading, but poke beneath the surface and there is fresh impetus and enthusiasm aplenty for old media in this digital media landscape. The media mix has changed, but so too have consumer attitudes towards marketing.

The smart marketers will consider (and consider well) how the old school can find a new, positive place in an integrated, post-digital world. Beyond the myths that say print is dead. Beyond the misperceptions about print advertising effectiveness. Because, while the battlefield for attention is immeasurably more fierce, the objective for marketing is essentially the same.

Digital consumption soars

Like it or not, media consumption trends are far removed from what they were only a year – never mind 10 years – ago.

The methods by which media is consumed are much changed, and the numbers, for everything from population to internet penetration, are much, much bigger.

The people at Hootsuite and We Are Social tell us that, as of January 2019, the population was 6.67 billion, of which over 5.1 billion were mobile users and 4.3 billion internet users. Among them are 3.48 billion active social media users and 3.25 billion mobile social media users, 9% and 10% more than there were in 2018.

Compare these figures to 1999, when there were 248 million internet users, or the last month of 2009, when there were 1.8 billion, and it’s clear the media landscape must change to accommodate these numbers. Consider for a moment that in 1999 a 15-year-old Mark Zuckerberg was finishing his freshman year in high school and blogging sites were then beginning to sow the seeds for a social media sensation.

This growth has brought challenges, but also opportunities. And the adoption of both the internet and mobile technology, not to mention the degree by which it has infiltrated our lives, has given marketing – and particularly digital marketing – a bump.

The second annual Adobe Consumer Content Survey shows us that, on average, US consumers spend 8.8 hours a day, engaging with digital content. While GenZ and millennials are sinking 11.4 and 10.9 hours of their waking hours into this bright and shining new world. What’s more, these generations are spending most of their time-consuming content on mobile devices, with more than 25% of millennials using three or more devices at once to engage with digital content.

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This is what happens in an internet minute, 2018
Created by @LoriLewis @OfficiallyChadd

These numbers have brought a deluge of new and innovative players to the media landscape. But the very biggest winners are few, and familiar.

Clearly the tech duopoly of Google and Facebook pull in the overwhelming majority of global ad spend. But commentators believe that third place Amazon is gaining ground on the big two, and for good reason.

In the US, eMarketer predicts that Google and Facebook will account for 37.2% and 22.1% of total ad spend in 2019, as opposed to 38.2% and 21.8% in 2018. Amazon, meanwhile, will rise to 8.8%, up from only 6.8% in 2018.

Similar to both Google and Facebook, Amazon charges advertisers to post their content on search results or in news feeds. Bezos and co’s advantage lies in the swathes of data they hold on consumer purchasing habits, particularly now that Amazon is fast replacing Google as the de facto destination for product searches.

IAB UK announced in 2018 that UK advertisers spent £6.4bn on digital advertising in only the first half of 2018, amounting to 15% year-on-year growth for total digital advertising spending. Meanwhile, forecasts made by WPP’s GroupM last year suggested print media investment will continue to fall. In 2018, investment in news brands accounted for 11.1 percent of ad investment, as opposed to 60% for all of digital, and in 2019 this shrinking figure will shrink yet more to 9.8 percent.

Traditional media tanks

Traditional media, and particularly print media, hasn’t fared so well. In the US, weekday print press circulation has shrunk for a quarter century, down from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million in 2018 for print and digital circulation combined. Worse is that advertising revenues have fallen in kind, from $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2016.

The same eMarketer survey that predicts digital ad spend will surpass traditional in 2019 says that print advertising in newspapers and magazines will decline by almost 18 percent in 2020.

The situation this side of the Atlantic isn’t much different. According to the Washington Post, Britain had nearly 200 fewer regional and local newspapers in 2018 than in 2005, and a report from Enders Analysis forecasts print advertising turnover will fall from £1.5 billion in 2011 to £533 million in 2019.

Figures from Zenith suggest that ad spend on newspapers and magazines in the year 2000 numbered £4.26bn and £1.72bn respectively, whereas in 2021 they expect it will have slumped to £895 million and £324 million, down from £1.02bn and £359 million currently. This while spending on internet advertising will rise to almost £15bn in 2021, up from £13.59bn currently and only £111 million in 2000.

In real terms, this means print publishers are no longer the arbiters of information, and success in this changed media landscape will go to those who acknowledge a new role for print media.

Emma Goodman, researcher at the London School of Economics and co-editor of the annual survey by Innovation Media Consulting Group for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) says that news media “must be compelling, unique and beautifully presented” if consumers are to continue shelling out for it.

Print media in the digital age, particularly news media, magazines and catalogues, must be exclusive, premium and niche. Direct mail and door-drops, meanwhile, are entering a bright and shining new era, with data at their behinds and trust on their side.

But focusing on digital or non-digital in isolation obscures an important part of the picture. After all, consumers rarely, if ever, compartmentalise their media habits on the basis of channel alone. Why then should agencies or brands?

Complements, not competitors

In times past, the digital disruption narrative has framed traditional modes of communication as somehow less effective, or at least creatively inferior to their digital counterparts. Doomsday sayers have flaunted reports of declining print readerships and print advertising revenues as supporting evidence. But the realisation that digital and non-digital are complementary rather than competitive channels sends a message to marketers to break down digital silos and find a new role for print media in the marketing mix.

“We’re in a tricky world where people are partitioning digital and non-digital. The sooner that client marketing teams lose the word digital, the easier things will become,” says a defiant Ian Gibbs, director of data leadership and learning at JICMail.

What’s more, in a time where GDPR has hollowed out the customer base of many a marketer, traditional channels like mail are fast emerging as a wise addition to the marketing mix, at least for those trying to get over the GDPR blues.

Unilever– number seven in the UK ad spend charts – has opted not to bring digital specialists into the organisation and invest instead in upskilling their existing people. While Co-op Bank, in an interview with Marketing Week, claimed “there’s no such thing as a digital marketing team now, all marketing is digital marketing.” 

Certainly, digital marketing in the purest sense is outperforming its traditional counterparts on impressions and targeting. But let’s not kid ourselves, no media, paper or silicon-based, is free of the digital tag.

TV is delivered with an eye to crossover digital success. Radio is served up more on digital platforms than it is broadcast. Outdoor advertising has become a digital display business. Newspapers, from the Daily Mail to The New York Times, are seeing more growth from their online platforms than they are print. Even print production has moved to the digital realm.

“The aim for traditional channels then, and particularly print,” says Gibbs, “is to talk about how they and other channels are complimentary, rather than pit them one against the other. To find a new, integrated role within the post-digital landscape.” 

Take online travel mag Culture Trip, which became the latest digital brand to try print, buoyed by promises of user engagement and brand loyalty. “the two (print and digital) go hand in hand,” says Culture Trip’s publishing director Natalie Smith. “Print might spark the initial inspiration; then using our digital platforms we help our audience further explore the world and take them from the inspiration stage, all the way through to planning and booking a trip.”

Attitudes towards advertising sour

The rate of change has brought growing pains, many of them concerning the trust consumers put in marketing. But also, concerning the fading levels of enthusiasm for what many consider an intrusive and at times downright frustrating media.

One Ad Association report released early in 2019 showed that sentiment towards advertising has hit an all-time low. With ad bombardment, intrusiveness and concerns that vulnerable people were being taken advantage of among the concerns shared.

Another report, put out by Kantar, seconds that motion. It shows that ad saturation and micro-targeting are putting the industry 'at risk', with more than half of all UK consumers feeling apathetic towards advertising. Most worrying of all though is that only 11% of UK consumers say they actually enjoy any type of advertising, which again speaks to an industry in need of reform.

On the flipside, the number of consumers who are willing to part with their money for services is growing. The same Kantar report shows that 44% of the UK pay for a TV or video subscription service, while 17% are subscribed to an audio or music service. Over half claim that they are motivated by the content those services offer, while a worrying 36% said their main motivation was advertising avoidance - up from 31% the year previous. 

The takeaways for adland are many, but one thing’s for sure: After years of consuming content for free, consumers are ready and willing to fork out for content they actively enjoy. It’s a win for premium and niche channels like magazines, and a reminder to agencies and brands that plenty of impressions don’t equal positive sentiment.

Growing pains for marketers

But what of the risks for marketers in this bright and shining digital age? No brand wants their ad to appear in the wrong setting, nor any agency have their media plan derailed. And the risk that ads could conceivably appear alongside the latest ISIS recruitment video or national tragedy puts the frighteners up marketing departments. Where editorial content, written or video, is constantly evolving and oftentimes difficult to police, there are reasons to take precautions.

The issue isn’t helped by inconsistent handling. Some publications immediately pull advertising inventory when an adverse situation disaster occurs, whereas others will happily run advertising alongside whatever story emerges.

Ad fraud, too, is another issue on marketing department radars, particularly in the digital space, where advertising effectiveness is being undermined by false or misleading activity. Fraudsters have concocted a smorgasbord of methods to deceive the industry, bots, click farms, ad injection, domain spoofing, and cookie stuffing to name a few.

Some studies have shown that less than 60 percent of traffic on the internet is human. And bots became so widespread on YouTube in 2013 that developers were afraid their algorithms would start interpreting bot behaviour as human and human traffic as bots – a phenomenon known as “The Inversion”.

This trend has been alive for a long time, but studies suggest that it may be improving. In 2017 the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) believed ad fraud would drop from $7.2bn in 2016 to $6.5bn in 2017, a still sizeable hit for CMOs.

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Source: World Federation of Advertisers
Compendium of Ad Fraud Knowledge for Media Investors

Efforts aside, we’re still a long way from a transparent media landscape.

Approximately $20bn is estimated to be lost to ad fraud each year, so needless to say the issue has CMOs’ attention. But to attack it at the root, brand marketers must push their agencies to drop metrics that are easy for fraudsters to game, like impressions and click-through rates.

“CMOs need to tell their teams to forget about driving clicks or conversions that can be gamed,” says Shane Shevlin, svp of strategic development at IponWeb, in an interview with Digiday. “They really need to have very uncomfortable conversations with their agencies about the behaviour and habitual approach to media buying that has led them to that point.”

Trust me, I’m a marketer…

Brand safety and ad fraud are key concerns in a digital age, but even more so in a media landscape muddied by lack of media trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer, perhaps the clearest indicator of consumer sentiment towards media, shows that trust, between advertiser and consumer, currently lies at an all-tie low.

‘Fake news’, once a term used mostly by small-handed men and in click baity headlines, is now pretty well entrenched into the marketing lexicon. Brits still appreciate the benefits of advertising but are increasingly unhappy about the "bombardment" and "intrusiveness" of ads, says Credos. It also doesn’t help that marketing is beset with jargon and buzzwords.

Public favourability towards advertising hit a record low of 25% in December 2018, which extends “the long term decline” of trust in advertising.

According to a report by Magnetic, when asked “To what extent do you trust this media brand?”, more people trusted magazines (70%) than social media (30%). Magazine brands (62%) are also more trusted than social media (35%) among digital natives. Likewise, research conducted by the News Media Alliance shows that trust in print newspapers is higher (74%) than it is for broadcast tv news (66%), talk show radio (57%) and Twitter (49%).

Meanwhile, favourability has almost halved since 48% in 1992, the earliest point for which like-for-like data exists, and is far away from the heights of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, speculated to a packed audience at CES 2019 that “the days of advertising as we know it today are numbered, and we need to start thinking about a world with no ads.” 

But marketers shouldn’t view this trend – real or supposed – as a threat, but rather an opportunity. One that underlines the wastefulness of mass marketing campaigns and speaks to the power of print advertising, and its ability to tap into our emotional psyche.

All this and yet marketers routinely default to new media, and allow misperceptions about traditional channels exacerbate the issues dogging the media landscape.

This is a landscape that has been utterly transformed by digital. And while these developments have brought convenience, connectivity and technology to an industry badly in need of change, it has raised important questions about its role and legitimacy in society.

Marketers must now look beyond shiny new things, beyond the print is dead narrative, and consider how traditional media can right the relationship between marketers and consumers. Digital or not, both old and new media have a role to play in the marketing mix.