By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

June 10, 2019 | 8 min read

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Audiences report loving print products. Newspapers and high-quality magazines have a captive and lucrative audience, and by dint of their printed format avoid some of the issues around unsafe advertising environments that plague digital advertising. Despite that, brands and advertisers are investing less and less money in the format, with the vast majority of ad spend going to digital formats.

London Print Power roundtable

The power of print roundtable in central London.

So, why are advertisers choosing to move spend away from print formats, and into formats that have well-known issues? To settle the question, The Drum and Print Power invited a panel of experts from across the industry to discuss the topic, and to determine whether the ability of print to delight audiences ensures it a place in advertisers’ budgets for the foreseeable future.

The roundtable started by discussing why print is so often spoken of in opposition to digital. There is general agreement that scale is the primary draw for advertisers, for who easy access to audiences at scale through the enormous digital ad networks. Despite that, the panel also believed that shifting entirely to digital is evidence of short-termism among advertisers, and that ultimately it might be self-defeating.

Helen Bazuaye, global editor in chief of IKEA magazine, said: “We were told repeatedly print is dead – plus it’s expensive. Digital natives want stuff for free, so print is always going to be and seem a lot more expensive than a digital alternative.

“Digital can produce cheap, quick results. However… we’re coming to a tipping point where mistrust and familiarity with digital is starting to blunt its effectiveness.”

Despite that, however, the roundtable attendees were quick to note that overall short-termism isn’t going away any time soon, and that the steady fall in print ad spend is likely to continue, if at a slower rate. For Elizabeth Stone, marketing manager at the John Lewis partnership: “We’re not spending in print as 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.”

Print’s strengths cannot be replicated

However, the acknowledgement that print is no longer the best vector for huge scale has led to a re-examination of the role print offers for ad campaigns.

Between cover wraps, clever embedding of QR codes in print ads, and clever executions that appeal to the sense of touch, print allows advertisers to be hugely creative. The panel flagged the example of an Ikea ad that had be specially treated to act as an accurate pregnancy test as something that is not replicable in any format.

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 is can soak up the creativity along the way. How do we bring the two together in a consumer journey? We’ve done a lot of work with Cadbury crème eggs that have crossed the boundaries of print and digital.”

One such example that the panel commended for its creativity was that of the KFC ‘FCK’ apology campaign, that began in print but was widely shared in digital, as an example of how a well-executed print ad can transcend its medium.

Peter Markey chief marketing officer at TSB believes that, while a good ad idea is a good idea regardless of medium, the value of association with a print title with a good reputation extends beyond the limits of an individual campaign:

“We sponsor the Pride of Britain awards, and 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.”

Consequently, TSB had journalists embedded within the Mirror newsroom to capitalise on the creative talent the newspaper has been developing for decades. Markey said: “We’ve all seen print done ’lazily’ but great work in print shines when you see it. Working in partnership with media owners is becoming really important.”

He also cited the work done by the Guardian’s branded content team, noting that the Guardian Labs team’s insight that their audience is “50 times more likely to engage with a story about relationships than they are a story about money” to deliver an excellent campaign.

However, the panel also noted that many products do not necessarily need to be associated with excellent creative or affiliated with a legacy print brand. Staple products and those everyday items that sell themselves typically only require enough scale to maintain brand awareness, which is amply served through digital.

The murky issue of measurement

As digital advertising has matured, its newfound strengths around personalisation and incredibly specific measurement techniques have grabbed headlines. That has led to a conflict within advertisers, 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 much harder to make the business case for the right thing to do when you have another option that’s easy to measure.”

Despite the flashy measurement options offered by digital, the panel also pointed out that the long history of print advertising means that demonstrating its value to advertisers is a straightforward and easily understood process, one that print publishers have had as stock-in-trade for centuries.

Row Draper, head of print media at The Specialist Works added: “The empirical data exists to prove print ROI to clients. We need to get more serious out selling print on those terms.”

As advertisers shift to a multi- or omnichannel strategy, which research demonstrates can deliver greater uplift to brands than a focus on a single channel, the opportunity is there for print and digital to buoy one another. 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 omnichannel mix. It’s not a binary decision so there’s no point it speaking in those terms, ‘print is better’ here and so on.”

That point was reiterated by Markey: “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.”

While the panel was united in the view that print has a valuable role to play in marketing for the foreseeable future, though as part of a mixed strategy than a single channel, they also believed that its strengths aren’t being communicated as strongly as they could be. Asked whether print as an advertising medium requires a champion, as Keith Weed and Mark Pritchard have been for advertising more generally, the panel agreed that there is a need but nobody yet to fulfil it, and little impetus for advertisers to act if there were. As Kessler put it: “I was at P&G when Mark Pritchard made his speech about draining the digital swamp and, yes, we pulled all budget off YouTube and other digital channels, but that budget wasn’t then directed into print. So, it’s not going to be a decision like that even if digital budgets decline. We won’t see a binary shift to go a reignite this declining media.”

While print undoubtedly has a future as an ad format, it will never be at the scale it once enjoyed. Instead, print campaigns of the future will trade off the creativity and tangibility of a printed product, delivering huge amounts of value to the advertisers that employ it as part of a wider strategy.

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