Is print advertising still worth it?

By Heather Sheppard.

We talk a lot about digital marketing. Everyone does. If you type ‘marketing’ or ‘advertising’ into Google, you could be forgiven for thinking that print was completely dead and absolutely everything has gone online.

That’s not the case, though. Despite all the hype and excitement around digital marketing, print advertising is very much alive. And it could benefit your business. 

Let us take you through the major reasons why print advertising is still worth it – even in 2023.

Reasons to invest in print advertising

It’s relatively cost effective

It is true that you can, in theory, advertise online for next to nothing. The problem with this is that – unless you have an incredibly skilled viral marketer on your team (and, let’s be honest, incredibly skilled viral marketers do not work for free!) – your adverts will be competing with the entire internet for your audience’s attention.

It is possible to target your online adverts very precisely. That’s one of the major benefits of digital advertising. However, as soon as you start segmenting audiences and targeting specific groups of people, the price creeps up and up.

The truth is, for online advertising to be effective, you need to throw a decent wedge of money at it. As in all things, you get what you pay for. While the reach of your digital channels is huge, and digital advertising has huge creative potential, print advertising is arguably as cost-effective as digital (if not more so!)

Printing costs aren’t high these days. It’s very easy to print off, say a couple of hundred fliers and distribute them round your target neighbourhoods. It’s also worth noting that print publications like magazines and newsletters are desperate to attract advertisers, and their rates reflect that. So it’s definitely worth finding a publication that appeals to your target audience and investigating their advert rates.

Not everyone goes online

OK, most people these days do have access to the internet. But that doesn’t mean that they use it – and it certainly doesn’t mean that they use it in the way you want them to.

Audience research will tell you which (if any) digital channels your target audience regularly visit. You can use that information to inform your digital marketing strategy. But it is well worth remembering that a substantial sector of your target audience may never log into the platforms you’re using. They may not even go online.

This is especially true if your target market is older, or lives in a remote area with poor internet access (here in the Westcountry, it’s often both!)

For some people, print and word-of-mouth is the only way to get your message across. Something as simple as a flier through a door, a poster on a telegraph pole, or an advert in a local newsletter could bring in a surprising amount of new customers.

It reaches a broad audience

Detractors of print advertising say that using print is a bit like chucking your money out into a random void and hoping that it returns with friends. And, to be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. While you can target print advertising to a certain extent – picking your publications carefully, for example – you simply cannot be as intensive with print ad targeting as you can with digital ad targeting. 

At least, not unless you are prepared to identify the home address of each potential new customer and deliver fliers there – which would involve a very delicate dance with the GDPR.

However, reaching a broad, untargeted audience is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s fantastic for brand awareness, for a start. And people who recognise your brand name are far more likely to buy from you in the future than people who do not.

As well as getting your name out there and building brand recognition, print advertising establishes you as a ‘proper company’. In a world rife with online scammers, people are often wary of clicking on adverts by unknown companies. But print adverts come with the message that you are legitimate, that you are dedicated, and that you believe enough in your product to invest in physical advertising.

So, don’t think of broad but undifferentiated reach as a bad thing. Adverts targeted for broad appeal can work wonders for your brand. 

And, once you’ve built up some brand recognition and persuaded people to sign up for things like your newsletter and mailshots, you can personalise print advertising for your subscribers to your heart’s content.

It’s tactile

This is a bit of a niche one, but bear with us!

Humans like to hold things. The sense of touch is important, and tactile things have a plethora of psychological effects on us. One of the most interesting is the ‘You touch it, it’s yours’ effect.

This is a complicated psychological mechanism, but the basic takeaway is that we feel a deeper connection to things we have touched than to things we have not. 

Imagine you are in the supermarket. You pick a tin of beans off the shelf, and turn it over in your hands. It’s dented. The other bean tins are not dented. 

Do you put the dented one back, or do you buy it anyway because ‘It’s not that bad’ and you perhaps even feel a bit sorry for it?

Many people would swap the dented bean tin for one in good condition – but an astonishing number of people would not. The reason is that we feel a sense of ownership – even affection – for things that we have handled. That’s why we have ‘our’ preferred seats at the kitchen table, ‘our’ mugs in the staff room, and so on.

It’s the same with physical print adverts like fliers. The very act of picking them up and holding them encourages us to look at them in a way that digital advertising simply cannot replicate. 

If this sounds unbelievable, it may help to understand that the mental processes involved are largely subconscious. Take my own morning ‘junk mail’, for example.

Just this morning a flier for an oven cleaning service came through my door. I picked it up, glanced at it, and decided to bin it.

On the way through the kitchen with it, however, I speculatively opened the oven, peeped inside, and then sheepishly pinned the flier to the fridge rather than sticking it in the bin.

So, yes, a lot of people will sweep up your flier and bung it straight in the bin without a second glance. But for some, like me, the act of touching the flier is enough to make them consider it, even on a subconscious level. And they may well decide that ‘Actually, I could use that service, now that I come to think about it’. 

I have no exact figures to base this on, but I’d wager that the ratio of people who immediately bin your flyers to those who consider it and maybe even hire you is roughly the same as those who would scroll straight past your social media advert to those who would click on it. 

You can combine it with online advertising

The boundaries between the digital and the physical are getting more blurred with each passing year, and advertising is no exception. It is increasingly possible to get the best of both worlds by combining print and digital advertising.

For example, you can embed QR codes into printed adverts. When scanned, these codes will take the recipient to a webpage – perhaps a promotions page for your campaign. 

Or, you could get even more inventive. An early example of inventive print/digital combo advertising is Nivea’s 2014 sunblock campaign.

If you CBA to watch the vid, the gist is this: Nivea released a print advert for sunblock which included a waterproof wristband. Parents would put the wristband on their child, then download an app which enabled them to set a maximum distance from the parents’ phone. If the child, while playing on the beach, went outside that maximum distance, the parent would be alerted. 

The Nivea campaign was both a great way to prevent kids from running off at the beach, and it demonstrated the creative and innovative potential of combining print and digital advertising.

Print and digital advertising are BOTH effective

The Western world loves a dichotomy. We love to set things against each other and speculate over which one will ‘win’. Ebooks vs print books. Dogs vs cats. Print ads vs digital ads.

The truth is that the world is not that simple. There’s a place for both ebooks and print books in any bibliophile’s heart (Kindle for holidays, a good hefty hardback for cosy evenings in, amirite?). Plenty of dogs have feline best friends. And print and digital advertising are definitely not oppositional forces.

Print advertising and digital advertising both have the same aims: to reach and inspire your customers, to promote your brand, and to achieve the specific goals of your marketing campaigns. They can be used in tandem to bring in the widest possible audience, or even in combined unison to get a ‘best of both worlds’ approach melding the tactile potential of print with the digital potential of online marketing.

All in all, it’s definitely worth investigating print as an advertising medium. It’s not going anywhere any time soon. In fact, with the increased ability to combine online and offline media, it’s likely that print is due for a major resurgence in the near future.