The Fight for Relevance: Is Print Marketing Viable or Dead?


The so-called Kindle revolution changed publishing in 2008. Ever since pundits have been predicting the death of print. Back in 1984, Ghostbusters‘ Egon Spengler even pronounced that “print is dead”.

Is the printed article actually dead? How about print advertising in other forms, like flyers or posters?

In an era of digital advertising, it can be easy to assume that’s your only platform. After all, 47 percent of users now use an ad blocker while browsing online.

It goes without saying that people can’t use an ad blocker in a magazine.

It’s also not that simple to weigh up the two platforms. There are other issues to consider, like usability and cost.

Let’s find out if the printed article really is heading for extinction.

Print vs Digital: The Main Problem

Digital advertising remains the leader in terms of reach, targeting, and cost. You can create a Facebook ad and be sure it will only display to people that match your customer avatar.

By contrast, traditional print advertising relies on a ‘spray and pray’ approach. Get your adverts into as many places as possible and hope your target customers happen to see it.

Targeting is much more basic. For example, a brand selling fitness products might place ads in or near a gym.

There’s no guarantee your target customers will see them, even if they’re outside the door. You also can’t predict if they’ll take any action based on seeing your ad.

This is especially true of print ads like billboards or those on the side of the bus. They rely on raising brand awareness rather than letting customers take action to buy.

Print advertising remains popular with older generations used to reading printed materials. Over time, younger generations used to getting all content online will replace them.

Eventually, companies will stop printing on paper altogether. At that point, print really will be dead.

We’re not there yet.

Achieve the Best of Both Worlds

Print ads and articles work well for brands whose target audience read magazines.

Particular magazines or journals still have a weighty presence in the marketplace. They’re tangible and people may even collect them.

These titles work well with luxury brands. The ads take on a luxurious, artistic feel, adding to the experience of the magazine.

That said, their scope is still limited in a world where customers are used to clicking links to take action. No reader can get from a print ad to a website without typing links or brand names into a search bar.

Solve the problem by finding a way to encourage readers to meet your brand online. That way, you’re not putting the weight of expectation on the print ad alone.

QR codes remain an option. With the growth of AI within phone cameras, we may see a time when a customer can point their camera at the ad. The AI reads the company details and takes the customer to their website.

However you manage it, print becomes part of a campaign that works across both platforms. Each half complements the other.

The Future of Print Newspapers

Print ads still make sense in magazines. Newspapers may become a more difficult prospect.

Newspaper publishing has faced difficulty since the internet changed how we consume news. Why pay for a daily newspaper whose content might already be out-of-date? You can read breaking news content almost instantly online.

Don’t discount them entirely. 58 percent of news subscribers still describe themselves as being more print-focused.

As newspapers place more content online, the content within the printed newspapers will likely change.

Expect more in-depth content that’s topical but doesn’t need to be ‘breaking news’. The traditional content of the supplement will likely bleed into the main newspaper.

Printed newspapers may in time become localized. This makes them a great choice for advertising physical businesses. Take out an ad instead of relying on local SEO to improve your search engine ranking.

You Can Still Target Customers Using Print

Another advantage of magazine advertising is readers are more targeted than those online. After all, that customer bought a magazine because they’re interested in the content.

Compare that with Facebook. It’s not always immediately obvious why you’re seeing an advert. Or a pop-up ad on a website that you’re casually browsing.

Magazine readers give their favorite magazine their undivided attention while reading. Digital readers usually multi-task, skim-reading content while performing other tasks online.

If you place a printed article to help sell your product or service, you don’t want the reader skimming the piece. Those same skim readers likely won’t see your digital ad either. Their print-reading counterparts will give you more attention.

You can also communicate brand values based on the publication hosting your ad. You borrow that magazine’s audience and they buy that magazine for particular reasons.

Trusted, well-respected magazines confer a level of that onto the ads inside. You can capitalize on that ‘trust by association’ by choosing magazines with care. Place ads in magazines that share your values and have an interested readership.

A Printed Article Doesn’t Steal Your Data

Print advertising also doesn’t suffer from the same poor reputation as digital advertising. Seeing an advert or an article in a magazine or on a billboard is a transparent process.

We see the ad, we take in the information, and we move on. Nothing is hidden and, crucially, no one is quietly harvesting our personal data.

We’re also not interrupted by the ad. We see it as part of our normal day. Nothing ‘pops up’ while we’re in the middle of doing something else.

In this respect, print ads are a passive one-way monologue. Advertisers tell us about their wares for sale. They’re not taking anything from us in the process, except time.

Marketers might recommend you use two-way platforms for better brand building. Customers are now used to engaging with their favorite brands online. A social media presence goes a long way towards achieving this.

Digital adverts suffer though. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, people have less trust in digital adverts. They don’t know what or how much data is being handed over.

People are also skeptical about Facebook ads. Why does an ad appear to promote a product they mentioned to a co-worker moments before? Print adverts don’t have this ‘creepy stalker’ reputation.

Print Still Works in Physical Spaces

If your business sells online, then it makes sense to advertise online. Just remember that some businesses still have a physical presence.

Imagine you sell medical insurance. Having print ads in a doctor’s office makes sense.

Point-of-sale advertising works well in retail environments or food outlets.

Customers are already highly targeted just by being in these spaces. In the case of waiting rooms, you also stand a better chance of snagging their attention.

Investing in print in these physical spaces is a great way to stand out among online businesses.

The Future of Direct Mail

Surprisingly, the future doesn’t look so bleak for direct mail. This form of advertising can appear as anything from small flyers to magazines.

It’s one of the most effective marketing strategies using print because it relies on the fact people don’t receive much mail anymore.

Think about it. When was the last time anything other than bills arrived in your mailbox?

The lower volume of physical mail gives printed flyers a greater chance of standing out. Make sure they’re well designed or even useful for better success.

That means turning your direct mail ad into something like a mini calendar or even a branded notepad. Every time the recipient uses it, they’ll see your ad.

Humans are a visual species, yes. We’re also a tactile species and we explore the world around us through touch.

Being able to handle a printed ad lets its message resonate with customers more deeply. USPS carried out research about why direct mail is still successful. It showed print advertising helped build emotional connections compared to digital.

You can also communicate values like attention to detail and authenticity by using high-quality materials and production values.

Print Is Struggling but It’s Not Dead Yet

There are still many advantages to digital advertising, including its lower costs, targeting features, and data-gathering. With more data to analyze, you can refine campaigns and boost your profits.

Yet traditional advertising still holds a place in your strategy. A printed article in a high-quality publication earns a reader’s undivided attention. It also increases your brand’s perceived value in the eyes of that reader.

You may never know how many people encountered your print ad or took an action after seeing it. Yet print advertising continues to help businesses build brands and reach new audiences.

Your potential customers can discern a lot about your brand from the places where they see your ads. The materials you use in direct mail tell them a lot about you.

That carries more weight than you think when it comes to buying decisions. Can you afford to ignore that?

Why not check out our other marketing articles for more advice?