Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The "death" of a medium.

What's your all-time favorite print campaign that you can think of off the top of your head?

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, December 11, 2009
"Digital Lift-Off",, March 8, 2010


  1. So what is the best way to make print advertisement memorable? Would using a consistent scent in the campaign be effective knowing the link between scent and memory?

  2. Nate - great thought. Thank you so much for commenting.

    Print is a great way to deliver a scent experience that can't be duplicated in most other vehicles. So, I would say maybe? I would argue that it would need to be a specific scent that would evoke a memory or feeling in a specific consumer. There are so many scented ads out there for perfumes that I don't think a scent alone is enough to make a breakthrough campaign.

    I'm not quite sure what exactly it would take to make print more memorable, but it seems that repetition and frequency on a strong theme help to hammer the message home. The Got Milk campaign, for example. Celebrities were dying to be part of it - a print campaign! It seems to be one part capturing the consumer insight and expanding upon it, and one part commitment. This is a medium where one-off creative just doesn't seem to do the trick, if memorability is what you're going for.

    Thanks again for reading! Love the comment!

  3. What if you consistently linked a scent that everyone is familiar with, say the scent of rain for example, to an ad that has strength like the example of The Got Milk campaign that you used? The ad's would change, but the theme would stay and the scent as well. Then perhaps anytime anyone smelled the scent of rain they'd be more likely to think of the ad. Or maybe I not. I really don't know much about advertising.

  4. Haha first of all, you DO know about advertising - you're the consumer! Your opinions on advertising matter the most: you're the one buying the product. Secondly, I don't know about linking an unrelated scent to a print campaign. I'll check into it. It's generally the scent of the product in question, but someone may have tried that.

  5. It's like Pavlov and his dog. He rings the bell as he feeds the dog, the dog salivates. Eventually he can remove the feeding and just ring the bell and elicit the same response. My thinking is that you could do the same thing with scent. You present it consistently enough with the product; it becomes associated with it and then eventually you could just present the scent stimulus and perhaps evoke the thought of the product without the ad being present. The more common and familiar the scent, the more opportunities in the consumers life to recall the product though this could also mean the more difficult to make the connection between the product and the scent as the scent will often be presented to them without the ad.

  6. Good call - the Pavlovian idea is used a lot in advertising, but usually more with a brand feeling than something as literal as a scent. For example, Volvo owns "safety." They want you to think of Volvo whenever you think safe, even out of context.

    Generally, brands try to align themselves with things they can control, so as to be able to protect their brand equity. They don't want to be unintentionally connected with things that could potentially harm their brand equity. Hence why scented ads usually stick to the scent of the product. Also, since there is a premium on scented print, it's usually used to provide a scent experience where other media can't. For the most part, brands will stick using other creative elements to create positive associations and avoid paying extra for scent.

    But it's definitely an idea.

  7. We tend to like things that are familiar to us. A familiar scent may result in a consumer feeling as though they already have a connection to the product and thus result in them immediately looking more positively on the ad. But honestly you would know better than I.

  8. Very true. A valid point to consider. Thanks for the discussion - I'm no expert, just a commentator. I appreciate your ideas!

  9. You bring up an interesting point with Volvo. I am aware of their campaign on safety but honestly is Volvo the first thing I think of when I think safety? Probably not. How much of an impact does the connection they attempt to make even have? If I'm in the market for a new car and my top priority is safety will I immediately go to Volvo? Likely I would research a number of cars and find the one that most matches my safety needs regardless of advertisement. This makes me wonder if the advertisement is more beneficial if it is simply memorable rather than descriptive of the actual product. If it is a quality product consumers may be likely to find this out when deciding what product to purchase. Having their product simply known by a memorable advertisement could help to ensure that their product is one that the consumer investigates when deciding which to purchase.

  10. It's kind of a brand linkage thing. A car purchase is a high-involvement purchase, and the consumer will generally do a good deal of research. There's a research/investigation phase that goes down before any purchase, and it is larger and more complex the more expensive/committal the product may be. And yup - one common objective is to bring your product to top-of-mind with your advertising, so that the consumer thinks of you and your brand identity when they begin their decision process.

  11. Jenny Jen - I can't tell you how much I love you for this... I contemplate this with each new statistic of the supposed nosedive of print - I can't tell you how many times I've argued that print was NOT hit the hardest as the economy plummeted. At this point, who can prove that "print is dead and digital is the future?" Until someone can logically prove it, I still have hope!

    Maybe I am biased because I am insanely obsessed with magazines. But I am also insanely obsessed with any and everything digital. You say it perfectly,"Print and digital have completely different usage occasions." Both contribute to the overall brand image. How many print sources have led you to Google for more? I'm pretty sure we all have, so it works! We just aren't realizing it works!

    But the challenge, as you said, is creating that relationship on paper, significantly difficult when compared with the interaction provided so easily in the digital world.

    That's exactly what Absolut has shown - they actually use the creativity that is such a hot topic in business right now. Yes, we may have to think, a lot. But it CAN be done!

    I see proof in myself. I have gone about 98% digital, with one exception. Magazines. For me, the glossy, creative, eye-catching pages are far more intriguing than their associated websites. It absolutely cannot be replaced for me, that excitement of every new issue I get my paws on can NEVER be replicated online or through any other crazy app that pops up!

    The point: We all have our print that can't be replaced, it just needs a little (or sometimes, gigantic) makeover to compete with the emerging media.

    But the truth is... print is alive and (getting) well...look at Britney, no one thought she'd make a comeback! She had a little (major) makeover and is back to making millions! Let's all stop being scared to THINK. instead of writing it off, DO SOMETHING!

    I have to say, I disagree with one point. Print IS sexy. VERY sexy! Almost George Clooney sexy! That is, when it's done right. I mean, have you seen Madmen!? Okay, my rant is over (for now), so to end on a positive note, let's have a toast. Here's to the Britney Spears-style makeover of print and its (better-than-Britney) comeback!

    It's just that simple it worked. Its memorable.

  13. Kimmy Kim = bingo, baby. You nailed it. I 100% agree. And, I love that you are using Brit Brit as an example. Good to see you haven't changed. And, to clarify, I do think that print is incredibly sexy as a medium. The paper feel, the gloss, lack thereof, etc. I meant more along the lines of, planning print strategy is less sexy. My bad. Thanks for reading love, and thanks for this glorious comment! You need to start yourself a blog. And, let's get a drink soon.

    Mom - Your capslock key is on. Love you :)

  14. ok caps reset
    After a 3 am wake up call with Lucas I decided to ponder tv ads versus print
    1. Tv ads are more memorable
    2. But I am more likely to buy something I see in print. After reading it myself I am more likely to believe it and thereforth purchase.

  15. Good insight, Mom! Perhaps you are discrediting the TV spot somewhat due to entertainment value.