The Power of Print in a Digital Age

Reports of the death of print have been highly exaggerated, and advertisers, distracted by the shiny newness of digital, need to keep in mind the powerful connection that readers have with their magazines.

Consider these stats from the
2013/2014 MPA Magazine Media Factbook:

• Print magazines are the most preferred place to look at advertising, and they rank #1 in commanding consumer attention and advertising acceptance.

• Magazines deliver influential consumers who take action and influence purchases of friends and family.

• Magazine media advertising outperforms TV and online for critical purchase drivers. Viewing ad campaigns multiple times pushes awareness metrics even higher.


Did you know that there were just 2,000 print magazines in 1980, and for the past five years, the total number of consumer print magazines has remained above 7,000? Just as a few popular sitcoms being cancelled doesn’t mean the end of TV, the shuttering of a few venerable magazines doesn’t mean the death of print.

People’s affinity for print is enduring, and more than ever consumers rely on their favorite magazines as a way to relax, unwind, and disconnect.

It’s Not Business, It’s Personal
Unlike ads in any other medium, print ads get invited into people’s lives. Consumers pay for their subscriptions, and actually look forward to the ads in their favorite magazines. It’s the exact opposite in other media, where people actually pay to avoid the ads. With ads that are sometimes as interesting as the editorial, readers enjoy the unique combination of ads and edit found in their favorite magazines, and the 2013/2014 Magazine Media Factbook says that “This unique brand experience results in superior levels of ad receptivity, online search, purchase intent, and extraordinary engagement in and sharing of both edit and ads.”

Magazine ads get advertisers in front of a very specific consumer. It’s the ideal way to connect both your brand and your message to a targeted audience, who places the same level of trust in the ads in their magazines as they do in the editorial. There is no medium that transfers credibility to its advertising the way that magazine advertising does.

The relationship that readers have with their favorite magazines is fostered by the fact that the magazines they buy are specifically devoted to their passions, to what makes them happy. Each title has a particular focus, a personality, which delivers unique and powerful brand positioning for advertisers. This connection makes magazine readers highly receptive to magazine ads—more than half of magazine readers act on the ads they see in magazines.

Focused, Engaged Readers
Magazine ads work 24/7. And readers save their magazines, and often share them, so they frequently have many readers per copy. When consumers are reading magazines, they’re focused. They spend a lot of time reading cover to cover, and most importantly they’re not distracted, they’re not multi-tasking or multi-screening when they’re engaged with their favorite titles.

Magazines are #1 in reader engagement. The average reader spends 40 minutes reading each print issue.

Advertisers can reach consumers in the pages of the magazines they love, and they can deliver their message right into the hands of an audience that eagerly anticipates it. With spot-market targeting available, magazine advertising remains a powerful way to reach specific consumers, across the country or around the corner.

Across 60 product categories, magazines rank #1 or #2 among super influentials—more than any other medium.

A wide-range of innovative on-page products brings engagement to a whole new level. Attention-grabbing creative, from Post-it® notes, BRCs and gatefolds to laminated cards, die cuts, scented varnish, and more, draw readers in like no image on a smartphone can.

An Evolving Industry
Of course, there is no denying that the print industry, like all media, is evolving. There is a proliferation of magazine apps, and the internet and social media let consumers become content creators. There is ample opportunity for consumers to get their news, information, and entertainment from countless digital platforms. The challenges facing the print industry represent great opportunity for advertisers, because even with the ability to get content immediately and on a variety of platforms, consumers still seek familiar and trusted sources, like their favorite magazines.

(Source: 2013/2014 MPA Magazine Media Factbook.)

Print’s Not Dead:

As technology continues to develop—and change the way we do business—many have considered print a dead medium and online marketing the wave of the future. Nevertheless, the print industry is far from dead; in fact, print marketing has only continued to grow and evolve alongside the upsurge of new technology.

Direct mail continues to be used heavily, with a 43% share of total local retail advertising. And, according to a Pitney Bowes survey, 76% of small businesses say their ideal marketing strategy encompasses a combination of both print and digital communication.

There are many reasons why print is (and will remain) an effective tool for delivering your message to your audiences.

Variable Printing

Although variable printing is by no means a new process, consumers have been using it with more frequency as advancements in printing technology have lowered the cost. Variable printing allows you to uniquely customize each piece of media by changing certain elements from piece to piece, taking advantage of the power of complex personalization.

For example, you could run a mailer campaign and personalize each postcard with the name of the recipient, or create unique coupons with individual serial numbers so that you can track which customers used them. When this technique is used with variable images, for example, you could create a series of assorted business cards, each with a different photo background.

Personalized print media has a more powerful presence than a personalized email, because the audience can recognize that it takes more effort to customize print media than digital. Accordingly, the audience feels special because of what is a personal touch often lacking in traditional print marketing.

QR Codes and NFC

As our smartphone and tablet technologies continue to grow and develop, so too has the interactivity of print media.

It used to be that the only way to advertise your Web presence via print was to include the URL and hope that the audience took the time to type it into a browser. Nowadays, QR codes and NFC technology make it possible for your print media to directly connect customers to your website.


QR codes can be customized with colors and patterns to better integrate into your print marketing designs and to give you the opportunity to add branded elements.

NFC (near-field communication) is a new technology that is not available in all devices, but it is sure to replace QR codes down the line. NFC technology uses a tiny microchip to send a signal directly to your mobile device without the need for scanning. Tap the print media against your mobile device, and the NFC chip will instantly connect you to the website.


These technologies can also be used in more creative ways than simply connecting your audience to a website. They can be used to distribute files, play videos, or activate augmented reality features that encourage your audience to explore and engage, as well as share with others.

Print and Social Media

Social networking has become an integral part of the way entrepreneurs reach their customers, but the idea of networking has been around much longer than Facebook and Twitter. After all, what’s a business card if not a social medium? When you hand a potential customer or business relation a business card, you’re making a social connection with that person and giving them the means to do the same with you.

Online social media can also be fully integrated with any print marketing campaign. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a business card from a serious entrepreneur without his or her Facebook address, Twitter address, or other social networking URL printed on it. (Slightly over half of respondents to a Nielsen survey said they used a social media advertising campaign in conjunction with print media.)


Though some designers unfortunately make tragic mistakes when working with print and social media, the two often share a symbiotic relationship: print media help to draw attention to your social media sites, and your social media profiles can be used to strengthen your print campaign.

By adding customer comments and testimonials from your social networking profiles to your print designs, you can make your print marketing that much more effective.

Print Marketing Is Used Less, so It Stands Out More

Many companies are competing online for their audience’s attention, which can make it hard to stand out in the crowd. However, since online marketing tends to be the focus of most businesses, a void is left in print marketing that is begging to be filled.

Compared with how often and how quickly you check your email, consider the daily ritual of going to the mailbox and checking your postal mail. You set aside a few moments to take the time to look at every piece of mail before going back to whatever it was you were doing before. That means your print materials are likely to receive extra attention—especially if they look unique:


Research from the US Postal Service indicates that most who receive direct mail advertising pay attention to it; households report that they tend to respond to about 1 in 10 pieces of direct mail. An International Communications Research survey found that 73% of consumers actually prefer mail over other advertising methods. And according to Research by Mail Print, 85% of consumers sort and read their snail mail on a daily basis, and 40% try new businesses after receiving direct mail.

No matter how crucial digital marketing becomes, there is still a large audience you can reach through print marketing and direct mail campaigns.

Print Is More Than Just Paper Products

The doomsayers who perpetuate print marketing myths regarding the “death of print” often forget that print media extends well beyond your typical paper products, such as business cards, brochures, and presentation folders. Print media can include promotional drinkware, magnets, stickers, pens, keychains, coasters, or even apparel such as T-shirts and buttons.


These tend to be thought of as gifts, not marketing collateral, so your audience is more likely to hold on to them for longer, helping to build your brand familiarity and create a stronger impression with your audience. In fact, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, 84% of Americans retain a company’s name when they receive promotional gifts with that company’s logo on it.

If it’s an inanimate object, there’s a good chance it can be emblazoned with your brand’s logo and integrated into your marketing campaign. The items don’t even have to be something that your audience takes home with them to make an impression: You could, for example, use branded napkins and cups at a gala dinner, or display a promotional banner on your podium while giving a presentation.

Least-expensive Cost per Impression

Small businesses need more bang for their buck, which is why a low cost per impression (or CPI) is essential for running an effective marketing campaign—one that can reach the greatest number people at as low a cost as possible.

In fact, according to the Advertising Specialties Study, the most popular promotional items, such as pens, shirts, and caps, have an average CPI of $0.002—lower than the average for online marketing, which tends to be $0.0025 per impression.

A 2010 study by the Direct Marketing Association found that $1.00 spent on print advertising expenditures can generate an average of $12.57 in sales. That high return ratio was found to be universal across all industries: No matter what business you are in, print is still an effective medium for creating sales and generating revenue, especially as premium printing techniques continue to evolve.


Although print marketing can lead to success, it doesn’t guarantee it. You still need to develop an effective print strategy that will put your brand in the spotlight and excite your audience. If you use the same, boring print materials as everyone else, you will have a hard time making your mark.

Get creative, put some real thought and effort into your print marketing collateral, and make use of all the tools and technologies available to you.

Have an interesting print marketing success story you’d like to share? Feel free to use the hashtag #PrintWins or engage with members of the printing community on Twitter.

Battle For World’s Most Valuable Consumer

Good morning boys and girls.

I’m going to try something amazing today. I’m going to try to talk and change Powerpoint slides simultaneously. This is not a core competency. It’s sad. A few months ago I was the ceo of an ad agency. I had departments full of people who did nothing but advance powerpoint slides for me. Now look at me.

Okay, my talk today is entitled The Battle For The World’s Most Valuable Consumer.

Who is the world’s most valuable consumer? Actually, it’s my wife. But that’s a whole other slide show.

The world’s most valuable consumers are people over 50. And the title of this talk is a big fat lie because the truth is that there is no battle for these people. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s start at the beginning. Before I began my advertising career 130 years ago, I was a science teacher. I taught science in the NYC public schools for 3 years. This, by the way, is a very compelling argument for home schooling.

I was not much of a teacher and really didn’t know much about science, but one of the things teaching science taught me was a very deep respect for the scientific method.

Scientists work really hard until they are able so say that they know something. They have to do experiments, and repeat their experiments, and then their peers review their methods and assumptions, and then their peers repeat their experiments, and then they publish the results and then people can comment and question and look for flaws. And after all this torture and scrutiny, if their results hold up, then they can say that they actually know something.

Knowing something, it turns out, is completely different from thinking you know something.

So then I left teaching and got into the advertising business. And the first thing that struck me was that in the ad business we didn’t really seem to know very much.

We thought we knew things…we had all these rules and principles and philosophies and ideas about what made good advertising…but I couldn’t find any facts.

We did things that looked and sounded like science…we used the language and the tools of research… we had clip boards and questionnaires and lab coats … but we didn’t use the scientific method. We rarely if ever used controls. We didn’t repeat our experiments. We didn’t have peer review of our methods. And no one ever repeated our work to validate it.

Now, I’m not here to pick on market researchers. Our lack of rigor is not their fault. We simply don’t have the time, money, or inclination to do the type of rigorous experimentation that academics and scientists and some industries do before they can say they really know something.

Over time, making a nice living helped me accommodate myself to the idea that we didn’t really know what we thought we knew. But it never stopped bothering me. And so I developed a very annoying habit – I stopped believing advertising experts.

I don’t care what school you went to, or what credentials you have or what awards or medals you’ve won. If you don’t have the facts, and you can’t explain them to me simply and clearly, I’m sorry, I’m skeptical. I will defer to a certain professor Einstein on this subject who once said, “It should be possible to describe the laws of physics to a barmaid.”

Now one of the doctrines of the ad industry that fell into this category of things I never fully believed was why we spend so much of our time, money, and energy talking to young people and so little on older people. I always assumed that there must be some pretty good facts to justify this somewhere and I just hadn’t run into them.

So about 6 months ago when I retired from my agency I had some time on my hands and I started to look into this issue. Now I stipulate that there are certainly some things that I haven’t found or read. But what I have seen and what I have read leads me to believe that we don’t know what we think we know.

In fact, I have come to believe that most of us target young people because we see everyone else doing it and we assume that somewhere there must be someone who knows why the hell we’re doing this and has a good reason for it. In other words, somewhere at the end if all this there’s a smart person with facts.

Well, if there is a smart person somewhere with the facts on this, I haven’t found him yet. Here’s what I have found.

People over 50 have about about 70% of all the wealth in the country

They are responsible for about half of all consumer spending

They buy 62% of all new cars

Despite the fact that many are retired, they still have 55% higher annual income than some other adult demo groups.

And on average they have a net worth about 3 times that of the rest of the people

They dominate 94% of CPG categories.

They are the internet’s largest demographic constituency.

They are much easier and much cheaper to reach than any other demographic group.

And, according to Nielsen, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.

Let me repeat the key fact here. Despite the fact that people over 50 are responsible for about half the consumer spending in the country, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.

I have stared at this slide for weeks, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

According to Nielsen, they are “The most valuable generation in the history of marketing.”

Forbes calls them “the most ignored wealthy people in the history of marketing.”

I submit to you that if I could get you to forget for a minute that you’re in the advertising or marketing business and I showed you this slide, you’d say there is something radically wrong here.

Usually, when I give this talk it is 45 minutes long and I give several examples of the inexplicable disregard marketers have shown for older people. But I only have 18 minutes today so let me give you one recent example.

In a piece last month, the The Wall Street Journal reported on so-called “youth cars.”
According to the Journal:

“Appealing to the young has auto makers designing and marketing to the “millennial generation”—that group of consumers in their 20s and 30s… But senior citizens are making Swiss cheese of those efforts.”

The percent of sales of youth cars that are actually sold to the youthful target of 18-34 year olds is 12%. Meanwhile we are substantially disregarding the 88% of the population who actually buy these cars.

 Of course the people responsible for this have to justify it. How do they explain this anomaly?

“The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace,” said one automotive marketing executive. “Just by virtue of their numbers being so large, we’ll continue to see them skew the data for a long time.”

So, you see, older people aren’t really customers. They don’t really buy things. They don’t spend real money. All they do is “skew the data.” In the same article, the president of a market research firm had this to say:

“So when marketing messages are for millennials, there are a lot of things that are attractive to the older generation.”

Sorry. Older people are buying these cars in spite of the mistargeted marketing and advertising, not because of it.

Can you think of any other demographic, ethnic or social group that anyone would claim is best influenced by targeting someone else? The whole science of marketing is based on finding the most relevant message and delivering it to the most probable buyer. Except when it comes to people over 50. Then all the rules are suspended. Because these people don’t count. They just “skew the data.”

So why are marketers and advertisers ignoring people over 50?

There are a lot of reasons. It starts with the demographics of our industry. 80% of all workers in the professional and business services sector are under 55. Can you imagine what that number is in advertising agencies and marketing departments?

Go into any creative department in any ad agency in America and it is a miracle to find anyone over 50.

And yet, in every serious creative field you can think of older people completely dominate.

• Last year, the five Oscar nominees for Best Director were Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese. Average age: 62.

• The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction went to Jennifer Egan, age 50

• The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Bruce Norris, 52

• The Prize for Music went to Zhou Long, 59

• The Poetry award was won by Kay Ryan, 67

• The Noble Prize for Literature went to 83-year-old Tomas Transtromer. And this year’s prize was just announced. It went to Alice Munro, 82

• The Emmy for Best Comedy went to Modern Family, created by Christopher Lloyd, 52 and Steven Levitan, 50

I guarantee you, not one of these brilliant people – not one — could a get a job in the creative department of an advertising agency today.

We have all the numbers and all the data, yet we are blinded by things we think we know that we don’t really know– myths that we have been taught, and fairy tales about people over 50.

Let’s look at some of the fairy tales.

Fairy Tale #1: People over 50 are downsizing

Here’s the reality. Between 1999 and 2009, spending by people 55 to 64 grew 45%. People aged 55-64 outspend average consumers in virtually every consumer products category. In fact, people 55-64 buy 30% more new cars than people 25-34. In fact, people 75 to dead buy more new cars than people 18-34.

Fairy Tale # 2: Older people are dying out

The reality: Between now and 2030, the population over 50 will grow at about 3 times the rate of adults under 50. We are not losing our old people, we are losing our young people.

Fairy Tale # 3: By advertising younger, you automatically reach and influence people over 50

Advertisers believe that by advertising to 25-49 year olds we will reach the 50+ market as “spill.” But a study done by one of our associates recently showed that a typical media plan directed at 25-49 year olds had a 50+ component of only 15%. It is not just the media thinking that is wrong, it is also the message. According to The New York Times, the generation gap is wider than at any time since the 1960’s. 2/3 of people over 50 say they are less likely to purchase a product if they find the advertising offensive. And guess what, the same 2/3 say that advertising has become cruder and more offensive.

Fairy Tale # 4: People over 50 are “stuck in their ways” and will not switch brands

The reality is baby boomers are just as likely as young people to try new products. 61% say that “in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.” Guess what the number is among people 18 – 41. Exactly the same.

Fairy Tale #5: If you get them young, you’ll have them for life.

This is the “lifetime value” delusion. A few months ago, the wrongness of this argument was exposed in a study published by the journal Science. 
A team of psychologists released a study which discredited what we call “Lifetime value” and the scientists call “the end of history illusion” i.e., the illusion that things will remain as they currently are and we will stay like we are now. According to one of the authors of the study we simply do not realize “how transient our preferences and values are…” And if you think that targeting millennials now means you’ll have them for life, here’s some sobering news. A study last year reported that 80% of millennials looked for the lowest price possible when shopping, and that 60% are more inclined to bypass their favorite brand if a cheaper alternative is available.

Fairy Tale # 6: People over 50 want to be like young people.

This may be the oldest and perhaps the most damaging of the fairy tales. Do older people want to be youthful? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a crucial distinction which seems to be completely lost on our industry. People over 50 have their own idea of what it means to be youthful, and I promise you it has nothing whatever to do with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus or the young, hip doofuses we are bombarded with in advertising.

People over 50 are not who we think they are. They grew up smoking weed and listening to James Brown. They invented the personal computer. They helped develop Google. They didn’t invent sex, but they invented the sexual revolution.

For the most part, they are healthy, wealthy and wise. They are not grandma and grandpa.

In my opinion, the idea that people over 50 want to be like young people is simply the narcissistic excuse that the young people who dominate our industry use to not bother learning or understanding older people.

I have come to the conclusion that the rationales we use for targeting young people are highly questionable and that there is little to no factual evidence to support these practices.

I believe we do not ignore older people for the reasons we give. These are just rationalizations we use because we prefer to identify with the excitement of youth than the dullness of middle and older age.

I have come to the conclusion that we are spending 10’s of billions of dollars on questionable practices based on questionable assumptions.

Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a logic that I can’t see in which half of the buying power of the country is only worthy of 5% of our effort. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I’ve been around advertising too long to accept the idea that there are mysteries about it that average people like me can’t understand.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is no place for advertising to young people. There certainly is. But at 95 to 5, I believe we are way out of balance.

The 50+ generation is not just a niche that needs sidebar attention. They are the mainstream. There are now 101 million people over 50 in America. In just 5 years, half of all American adults will be over 50. They are the hard core of our economy. They are the group that determines the success and failure of most products.

It’s time to think outside of health care, financial services and erectile dysfunction — to all the other mainstream product and service categories that are heavily patronized, and often dominated, by people over 50.

The sooner we recognize this and adapt our marketing and advertising thinking to this reality, the sooner we will all enjoy the attention and the financial benefits of the most valuable consumer group in the history of the world.