‘Print is dead’ – then why do even the tech giants use it for their apology ads?

Facebook's newspaper apology ad

Perhaps we should all stop proclaiming that certain media are ‘dead’ or ‘alive’. Undeniably both circulations of and ad spend in print media have fallen over recent years, but the fact is that print should still be considered a viable choice of medium depending on the end purpose of the communications.

The whole ‘traditional media is dead/no it isn’t’ debate is boring, old-hat and takes focus away from joined-up thinking. As Mark Ritson puts it: “In all the calls for a digital-first approach and the subsequent responses to defend traditional media, most marketers miss the bigger integrated point. You should use whatever tools help get the job done, irrespective of how they are labelled”

This myopic view has caused a big issue for many media, but particularly print: there is a disconnect between print’s marketing performance and the perceptions of its performance. Our recent Re-Evaluating Media research found that newspapers’ performance outperforms marketers’ perceptions of it in multiple areas. Our study found that, ranked out of 10 media channels, newspapers came second in increasing brand salience (vs eighth in marketers’ minds), third in generating ROI (vs eighth) and third across all attributes (vs seventh). This disconnect is a leading cause of the ‘print is dead’ mind set, and also goes some to way explaining why ads like Facebook’s still feature in print.

Of course, there are more tangible reasons why Facebook ran the ads in the press. Print possesses gravity and authority not held by newer channels. It has historically been the domain of births, deaths, marriages and major announcements – we still use the term ‘front page news’, a hangover from a time when important news broke on print-first. This sense of authority has always had applications for marketing – brand apologies and even product recalls traditionally run in print. As recently as February this year, KFC won major plaudits for the inspired response to its chicken supply crisis.

A key factor in all of this is trust; in a world of fake news, print is more trusted than Online media, particularly at the local level – YouGov polls this year have found that “74% of respondents agree that they trusted the news and information in their local newspaper” over online sources. This trend is replicated by journalists – as published in WARC, Ogilvy Media Influence’s survey of 255 media professionals found that “52% of [journalists] now believe traditional media to be the most trusted source of news […] while social media is seen as the biggest contributor to the growth of fake news”.

The very gravity of Facebook’s situation dictated a print apology. Print is where the Facebook story first broke, and so it is appropriate that the apology starts here. There is also the question of context: Print is a news environment, not a social environment – the connotations of apologising via social may have undermined the apology.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the question of Facebook’s intended audience and its approach to targeting. The ad ran in major broadsheet news titles, but also in financial titles (The Observer, The Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal to name a few). Running the apology in these titles reaches an audience of investors, politicians, regulators and NGOs – it could be seen that Facebook is apologising here to opinion formers, rather than core users.

It’s no surprise that Facebook ran its apology in print – the combination of heritage, authority, gravity, context, performance and audience make it the most suitable medium for comms like this. The bigger question is whether it is enough – and whether Facebook will need to run more in the future.

Morag Blazey, managing principal for Ebiquity Intel

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