A print rep asked me that recently. I stared at her for a second, mouth agape, before she followed up with, "alright, what's ANY print campaign that you can think of?" It took a second before I could come up with the Absolut campaign. A wonderful campaign, indeed; TBWA has been running that puppy in one form or another since 1981. Makes sense that I would remember it.
I can easily rattle off 100 TV spots, no problem. Plenty of cool digital campaigns. Radio stuff, even. But apparently, in 21 years of literacy, I can only conjure up one print ad.
People love print. One of my fearless account directors recently labeled it "media dessert." People make time for magazines. They like to sit down with print and have an armchair vacation. They savor it. I am a heavy user of magazines. I get somewhere around ten to fifteen magazines a week, and it breaks my heart when it comes time to throw them away. So, what's the deal?
Brutal honesty: print is not that exciting. But why? It's been proven to be a great reach driver. It's been proven to move the needle. Must print campaigns run for 30 years to be memorable?
Potential false reasons why print is not memorable:
1. Print is dead.
Print is not dead. How many times have we heard this now, that a media type is dead? The invention of television rendered radio obsolete. The invention of DVR rendered television obsolete. And yet we still watch TV and listen to the radio.
Yes, 2009 was a bad year for magazines, just like it was a bad year for everyone else in the industry. Crain's New York reported 367 magazines closed in 2009. However, they also reported that this was a bit of a slowdown; 526 magazines ceased operation in 2008, and 573 in 2007. Truth is, magazines aren't closing because of ad pages. Like any other business, a magazine closes when its business model can no longer sustain its production. Very few of the magazines I work with decreased their rate bases; several had increases. Also per Crain's, 247 magazines launched in 2009. That's a pretty good year, if you ask me.
People are finding new ways to consume print, sure. Which brings me to number 2:
2. Digital is the new print.
I saw this article fluttering around the Twittersphere on Monday, and many concerned/elated comments along with it. Print is finally dead! Digital is king! Etcetera. In a nutshell, Forbes is seeing digital spending up 10% in 2010, for the first time outspending print media. Now, I am certainly a champion of digital media in all its wonder and glory. There is no doubt in my mind that digital spending is very much on the rise, and a strong player in the media mix. But this article and its implications gave me pause for a few reasons.
Print and digital have completely different usage occasions. The experience with the medium, the type of interaction is not the same. Print is more passive, digital, more active. They should really be addressed as such. In integrated campaigns, they often run in tandem - this alone should tell us that they serve different functions.
Also, if we're going to talk about apples to apples, the items that were tallied for digital spend do not seem congruent to those which could have a similar objective in print. Magazine ad spending was compared to combined spend in e-mail, video ads, display ads and search marketing. Display ads, video, sure. But email, I would consider that a CRM tactic, or direct marketing. Doesn't quite seem in line with print to me. And search, an enormous business, has an entirely different objective than display and generally aims for a different target. So, while I am very excited to see so many eggs being put in the digital basket, I don't know that I'm ready to say that digital has "beaten" print just yet. They serve different purposes.
Print is not dead. And it's not digital. So what is it? Some sort of media zombie?
Potential true reasons why print is not memorable:
We've stopped trying.
Let's face it, from an agency perspective, print can be boring. A standard print ad is not dynamic, it's not interactive. It doesn't give you any kind of stats or rich data surrounding its usage. It is inherently not viral. Sure, you can jazz up a print ad; make it scented, change your paper stock, drive to web in the call-to-action. But print in and of itself is not sexy.
Print, to me, is one of those things that you have think about from the vantage point of an old advertising romantic. Absolut did a really wonderful job of this. The creative was treated like art, the brand message was strong and clear, and there was a very defined strategy connecting each creative treatment. They committed to their creative strategy 100%, and haven't faltered once in three decades. I know this doesn't make sense for every campaign, every product, every time, but I think the way that they were thinking about their brand strategy is crucial here. Creative strategy is SO important in print, just as in any medium.
Media strategy is another place we can't cut corners. It's so easy to throw a page in a book. That, however, doesn't guarantee that anyone will see it. Before consumers can start to seek out our campaign, perhaps to display them on their walls like people did and do with the Absolut bottles, we first need to show it to them. Integration. Innovation. There needs to be a way to work with magazine partners to keep print advertising alive and well. Just because digital media offers another avenue to connect with a consumer doesn't mean we should allow traditional media to fall by the wayside. If anything, we should work twice as hard to help it keep up, so long as the medium is still relevant to the consumers.
Print is not dead, and it's not digital, but we have perhaps stopped trying. I love digital; I love everything about it. But I don't believe that because there are more innovative things out there, there is no longer room for innovation in traditional media. There are roadblocks with every campaign, regardless of media type; playing alchemist, to me, is one of the greatest parts of working in advertising.
Instead of freaking out about the "death" of print, why don't we all calm down and have a good think about ways to recreate it as something memorable. A better use of energy, in my opinion.
"367 magazines shuttered in 2009", Crain's New York Business.com, December 11, 2009
"Digital Lift-Off", Forbes.com, March 8, 2010