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Marketing in a changed media landscape
19 . 05 . 22

Marketing effectiveness in the digital age

Words by: Print Power
It's time advertisers and agencies took a more evidence-based approach to media planning and realised the power of print in the campaign mix

In a media landscape muddied by unfounded biases, questionable metrics and marketing jargon, the challenge for advertisers and agencies is to cut through the BS and identify which channels legitimately boost marketing effectiveness. It’s no easy task in an evolving, expanding and increasingly fragmented marketplace. And doing so asks that marketers leave their preconceptions at the door and consider all channels.

From print to social media, all have strengths and weaknesses. What’s important now is that marketers in all their various guises take an evidence-based approach to the increasingly complex business of media planning in the digital age.

The perception/ reality chasm

This issue of media bias was highlighted most starkly in a report penned in 2018 by the Radiocentre and Ebiquity. Titled Re-evaluating Media, the findings, in the words of media commentator Mark Ritson, “laid bare marketers’ perceptions about which channels perform best, and the extent to which they’re divorced from reality”.

Looking at the 10 channels that claw the majority of advertising spend (direct mail, magazines, newspapers, online display, online video, out-of-home, radio, social media and TV), the study first identified the four main drivers for media selection and compared marketing perceptions against actual performance.

The report sheds light on which factors marketers most value (targeting, ROI, emotional response and brand salience), but the results also illuminate whether this love-in with digital and the reticence towards traditional media is grounded in reality. Spoiler: It’s not.

Ritson says the conclusions are twofold: “First, a significant number of marketers are not driven by data any more. They look at their own highly unrepresentative media consumption and use that as a proxy for their media planning.”

Second, he says, “there is a significant bias within media agencies towards digital media and against so-called traditional alternatives. If you look at the amount of money that can be made in fees and rebates from digital media it is often a factor of three or four times more profitable to recommend digital video over TV or radio.”

Clearly the likes of newspapers, magazines and direct mail are dismissed far too easily by marketers, many of whom are suffering from a touch of the shiny things syndrome. Clearly, there is a gulf between perception and reality.

On emotional response metrics, advertisers and agencies ranked magazines, newspaper and direct mail in fifth, eighth and ninth place out of ten respectively, when in reality they number second, fifth and seventh. The same applies to brand salience, where perceptions say fourth, eight and tenth, and the facts say joint second and fifth.

Most worrying of all was that the perception/reality gap was most pronounced when measured against 12 criteria (including the four mentioned above). This “overall weighted score” put magazines, newspapers and direct mail in tenth and joint seventh. While in reality the three channels placed in fourth, third and sixth respectively, beating social (7), online video (9) and online display (10).


This and yet the latter three receive a more generous slice of media spend, with much of it stripped from traditional media.

The rot at the heart of marketing

The reasons for this disparity are many, but short-termism, more than most, is stinking up the marketing landscape and obscuring the truth about which channels are most effective, and on what measures.

According to a survey of the marketing industry by the IPA and ISBA, 75% of marketers and 73% of agencies agree that short-term tactical needs often take priority over longer-term objectives. Meanwhile, as few as 14% of marketers and 4% of agency execs “strongly agree” that marketing objectives focus on the long-term (defined here as the next one-to-three years).

This focus on short-term gains rather than on a long-term strategy has been shown to have an adverse effect on marketing effectiveness. Effectiveness gurus Les Binet and Peter Field said it best in The long and the short of it when they said that, on average, marketers should invest 60% of their budgets in long-term brand building and 40% in short-term sales activation to achieve the best return on marketing investment (or ROMI).

Chasing highly-targeted, short-term sales activations, mostly across search and social, has stymied the use of traditional channels. It’s likely also why perceptions towards these channels among marketers have soured somewhat. But worse still, we’ve seen this approach prop up a five-year decline in the effectiveness of top performing campaigns in the UK.

Emphasis on metrics that prove marketing effectiveness only in the immediate term also skew priorities in favour of campaigns that value immediate sales, and we see this again reflected in the choice of channel.

“Marketers have been conditioned to believe that many established media are somehow yesterday’s news. There’s a lot of received wisdom and an extremely well-funded digital PR machine that fills our heads with messages that are not reflecting results,” says Field. “But when you look at the research on the ground, we see that, certainly for the foreseeable future, a combination of print and digital – the two in balance – is the smart play.”

Solutions will come once marketing as an industry gauges the effectiveness of campaigns not just on immediate sales but also on more brand style effects.

“This short sightedness,” argues Gavin Wheeler, chief executive of WDMP and non-executive director on the DMA Group Board, “doesn’t only devalue campaigns that create mental brand equity, influence future sales or prime consumer emotionally, it obscures the power of some channels… to achieve both brand and activation effects.”

Refocusing on effectiveness

Shallow, often deceptive metrics are a scourge unto the digital marketing industry. Likes, clicks and impressions are fine for racking up the zeros, but say little about marketing effectiveness

Most worrying of all, we’re seeing this focus on quick returns hurt marketing effectiveness, particularly when measuring long-term return on investment, brand equity and readership satisfaction.

Speaking about the consequences this approach brings for channels like print media and others that tend towards long-term effects, Enders says “in effect we believe that a nuanced, analogue tool has been replaced by a too-simplistic digital tool with unverified consequences for many brands”.

Measuring marketing effectiveness remains a challenge, but still marketers must not make the mistake of believing a one size fits all approach will do. Nor should they deprioritise the value of creative and assume science tells them all they need to know.

Short-termism in marketing has certainly elevated ROI, rather than profit growth, to a higher status than say reach, scale or even emotion. On the latter measure, we’re seeing more brands harness the power of the tangible to create an impact, make an emotional connection and improve recall. And those who resist the pull of digital are toying with print media conventions, challenging our associations with traditional media and creating interactions that feel fresh and authentic.

But the real winners in this fast-changing media landscape will be those who discriminate not on the basis of channel but adapt based on the objectives at hand. The marketing press have waxed lyrical about the benefits of integrated marketing through the years, but it’s time now to turn those words into action, and with strategies that transcend traditional boundaries.

In the words of Field, “we are being over-hyped and over-sold on a uniquely digital future. We need to get real and take a more evidence-based view of what really drives effectiveness.”

Truly integrated marketing

On channel selection, print media is routinely given short shrift. Yet studies show that print, when thrown into the marketing mix, boosts overall marketing effectiveness.

Research shows that adding print to the media mix increases campaign ROI and engenders greater trust than would otherwise be the case. Just look at the results from the IPA’s Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era report, which concludes that adding press or DM to the marketing mix boosts effectiveness by 15% and 10% respectively.

Another study, conducted by Binet and Field for the IPA, says the opportunities afforded to marketers by the new media landscape actually make ‘traditional’ media more effective. A campaign that includes TV, for example, boosts effectiveness by 40%. But a campaign that includes both TV and online video will see an effectiveness boost of 54%. Online video on its own is just 25%.

“Digital media is making mass media work better and that potential effectiveness is much higher. But while potential effectiveness has increased. Actual effectiveness has not.”
Les Binet
Head of Effectiveness, Adam & Eve DDB

Crucially for advertisers, antipathy towards certain channels is actively stifling profitability. Planning for Profit, by Benchmarketing and Newsworks, shows that brands are grossly under-utilising newsbrands, for example, and in doing so they’re losing out on an estimated £3bn in potential campaign profit.

If marketers are to ever understand the effectiveness of advertising mediums – and see the bigger picture – they would do well to consider what traditional channels like press bring to the mix. Print media, after all, has a proven ability to create awareness, hold attentiondrive commercial actionsengender trust and even build long-term brand loyalty. All issues that have been pushed to the fore in the wake of a digital revolution sweeping the media landscape.

Despite the ubiquity of online platforms, print remains the most trusted environment for advertisers. One that’s relevant, reliable and authoritative. Meanwhile, digital’s copybook has been blotted by fake news scandals and created a contextual headache for brands. 

Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer clearly states that consumer trust in advertising has reached an all-time low. And as consumers grow increasingly mistrustful of marketing messages, not least those on social media, exponents would do well to explore alternative, more trustworthy channels – traditional or otherwise.

Prime print examples

In this new media landscape, saturated with content and tainted by unwelcome interruptions, we’re beginning to see the pendulum swing back towards those channels that command the most trust and attention.

Take, for example, the resurgence of customer magazines: digital giants Airbnb, Facebook, Kodak and Net-a-Porter have all released their own printed offerings to complement their online products and services. 

Then there’s this new breed of niche, independent magazine publishers, many of whom have plugged into their audience’s passion points in a way brands rarely succeed in doing.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen many a print campaign pick up at award dos. Perhaps none more so than KFC’s sweary chicken shortage apology, which scooped a silver and three Gold Lions at Cannes, not to mention a Newsworks Planning Award for best topical campaign, and proving all along that print, particularly news media, has gravitas and authority.

Surely, we can’t talk about 2018 without mentioning the D&AD Yellow Pencil award-winning Ikea pee ad. An ad that revealed a special cot discount to those who peed on it and were pregnant. Sticking with the same brand, Ikea SÖMNIG stole the show with a print advertisement that emitted a subtle lavender aroma and white noise amplifier to help sleep deprived Emiratis get 40 winks.

Both captured the imagination and shattered the perception that print is dead. But crucially, both proved that it’s not necessarily new technology but a brilliant conceit that benefits the consumer and gets people talking.

“Just like secrets, word of mouth spreads when the information source is perceived as credible and when the information itself is seen as new and exclusive,” says communication psychologist, lecturer at the London College of Fashion, and author of Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution, Dr Paul Marsden.

Well-crafted, beautiful print advertising can also catalyse discussions online, sometimes leading to millions of Twitter impressions.

Take Stabilo’s ‘Highlight the remarkable campaign’, another campaign which picked up a Cannes Lion, not to mention a win at LIA and EPICA, plus Grand Prix victories at Eurobest, and turned a plug for a highlighter pen into something that empowered and inspired women everywhere.

The campaign’s success is easily explained, reckons Vera Ickert, senior art director at DDB Dusseldorf, the agency that created the work. “The simplicity of this campaign was key. If you try to tell six different messages in a single print ad, you’ll lose the audience’s attention. And sadly, all too often, marketers and advertisers forget this.”

Likewise, Japanese health company ANGFA tapped into the cut through of print media with the Washable Book, a picture book designed to teach children in Cambodia the importance of having clean hands.

The finished article was gifted to hundreds of children, together with a bar of soap, and that used deceptively simple printing techniques to promote hand-washing… through hand-washing. Scrubbing the pages within revealed a series of colourful illustrations that helped to bring the tale (and the issue) to life.  

Similar to the Ikea pee test, the medium was very much the message, and effected change simply by showing rather than telling. 

Shunsuke Kakinami, McCann Health Japan’s group creative director, says of the ANGFA execution, “It absolutely is innovative, but high-tech, low-tech – it doesn’t matter to us. What does matter is that we’re interacting in a way that challenges our demographic. And print, more than any other format, is a simple, powerful and experiential medium… Innovation isn’t about technology, it’s more a way of doing.”

Clearly there is no shortage of campaigns to make the case for a healthy mix of new and old media, nor is there evidence to say print is dead. All is needed now is for advertisers and agencies to take a more evidence-based approach to media planning. And while digital is still very much the first point of call for marketers, there’s research – and plenty of it – to show that print media cuts through the noise, and in doing so deserves a rightful place in the mix.

“When you look at the research on the ground, we see that, certainly for the foreseeable future, a combination of print and digital – the two in balance – is the smart play.”
Peter Field
Independent Marketing and Advertising Professional