The Power of Print Advertising in a Digital World

It seems that barely a week goes by without hearing about more closures of national and local newspapers, thanks to the influence the internet has in our lives.

However, amid all this doom and gloom, there are plenty of success stories. These stories are perhaps most prevalent in niche magazines, but web-to-print and print-on-demand services are growing too.

These areas of growth present a number of opportunities for businesses big and small. Chances are, your industry has at least one prominent niche publication that’s read by many of your prospective customers - what better place to advertise your business? Smaller niche publications not only offer you access into your ideal client’s attention, but they typically have lower advertising rates than national newspapers. In addition to these measurable advantages, investing in print can have benefits in ways you might not expect:

Image of a suspension bridge


Let’s face it: we all have occasional reservations about the services and publications we use and read online (only worsened by the current “fake news” phenomenon.) Most of us have become accustomed to researching businesses online - checking their reviews, reading their social feeds, and exploring their websites. These resources are important tools for building trust with a brand, but nothing quite replaces the feeling of seeing a now-familiar logo in the real-world.

There is some accountability to seeing an ad for a company in a trade publication you trust, or seeing a brand decaled on a real-life vehicle. This is especially true for smaller businesses, as consumers are demanding a more ethical, community-focused experience from local companies. Real-life, tangible ads and promotional pieces help solidify trust with customers.

Books and magazines spread on a bed


Many businesses - particularly those that have bricks-and-mortar locations - use their digital marketing efforts to drive people towards something “real.” Whether it’s an independent food store or a niche clothing brand, the people you attract online need to touch or experience your offering offline in order to become customers. Printed material offers a perfect way to bridge that gap.

Magazines, mailers, brochures, and business cards are all tangible ways to convey your brand offline. Perhaps you run a restaurant and you’re branching out into takeout services. You’ll no doubt want to get yourself on Skip The Dishes, but if you print up some well-designed menus on nice-feeling paper, you might earn a place on the centerpiece of any home - the fridge. There’s no question that digital advertising is important, but a quick on-screen ad is no substitute for something potential customers can hold in their hands.

Book and coffee mug


Ten years ago, the New York Times published an article estimating the average city-dweller may be exposed to up to 5000 advertisements a day. This was before social networks - and their endless stream of ads - dominated our lives, meaning that number may be much higher today. Even conservative estimates put the number at several hundred ads per day. One thing is certain: there’s no way anyone is remembering most of those ads.

Businesses have known for decades that consumers see far more ads than they’re able to remember, so they use a simple trick to make remembering easier: frequency. Put the ad in front of someone enough times and they’ll remember it eventually. For example, we might flick through a magazine on multiple occasions and be exposed to the same ads each time. Or, following our restaurant example, if the takeout menu ends up on the fridge or an office notice board, it will be seen every day. That kind of frequency is certainly possible online, but it’ll come with a steep price.

Old billboard advertising a convenience store


The age of (almost) ubiquitous connectivity is here, and it’s probably not going away. We’ve become accustomed to “always-on” access to a world of information, and in the case of digital business, we rely on this connectivity to get work done. One thing that tends to get lost in this instant communication is the long-term perspective. Entire seasons of TV shows are released in bulk on services like Netflix, some online ad campaigns run for only a few days or weeks, and few people remember what they were looking at more than 10 minutes ago.

Printed ads and collateral offer readers something that’s hard to emulate online: longevity. If you run an ad in one issue of a niche magazine, you pay for that ad only once. But the magazine might linger on a waiting room coffee table, or in a magazine rack for years to come. In some circumstances, an investment in print ads might have a much more long term benefit than spending that same amount on online ads.

Long Live Print Advertising

Here at Spence Digital, we’re surrounded by the web. Our biggest projects are usually websites, we work remotely, and our business lives online. This makes it easy to forget that there’s a whole world of design out there that is purely physical. Any robust marketing campaign will use online advertising as it offers many advantages, but we mustn’t forget to leverage print mediums to ensure a well-rounded marketing strategy.

About the Author

Adrian Trimble is a freelance designer and developer based in Montreal, Canada. He specializes in creating unique WordPress-based projects for a range of businesses and organizations.