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Before the digital age, brands conducted most of their marketing using print media. This included newspapers, magazines, posters, banners, flyers, and direct mail. Whilst print media is still used today, it is facing increasing competition from digital media.
The routes of advertising through digital media are endless with the likes of email, social media, video, audio, websites, messaging services and much more. With unlimited avenues and the ability to create instant, targeted ads it is understandable why digital media has become so popular with brands.
However, brands should not disregard print media as recent studies have found we process print and digital media in different ways.
A study by Milward Brown in 2009 revealed that print ads produced higher emotional processing than digital ads. This result was found using fMRI brain scans of participants. It was suggested that printed ads leave a lasting impression on the brain as it views the paper material as more significant.
Another study by TrueImpact in 2015 supports this. They evaluated the effects of direct mail and email on processing and brand recollection. It was found that direct mail was processed at a faster rate than email, suggesting it is easier to comprehend. Brand recollection was also higher for direct mail which indicates people form stronger memories for print media.
These studies both point out that print media is still worth using for marketing purposes. This is because people connect with print on a more emotional level than digital and this could increase brand awareness and sales. Although digital receives lower emotional processing, it has many advantages that print does not. It can target certain demographics, include audio/video, reach a larger audience, and have a wider impact.
A connection has been observed between vibrant print material and memory. One study revealed that participants who had viewed a vibrant image of buttery popcorn were as likely to say they had tried the product as participants who had sampled it (in a survey one week later). Those who had viewed a dull image were less likely to say they had tried it.
This indicates that false memories can be created when people view vibrant, eye catching images and that they can create a lasting impact in one’s mind.
Another benefit of print is its weight. This may sound odd but people tend to view something that is heavy as more important and serious. One experiment asked participants to assess a CV which was placed on either a light or heavy clipboard. The participants who had the heavy clipboard judged the candidate as having more passion for the job than the participants with the light clipboard.
This effect can be seen in the real world. For example, documents of high importance are printed on higher quality, thicker paper such as degree certificates, awards, and invitations.
This could mean that digital text, which is effectively weightless, is regarded as less serious than print text. Would you give more importance to a printed wedding invite compared to a digital one? A printed invite seems more personal and can be stored somewhere safe to remember the date, whereas a digital invite could be easily lost in a swarm of emails and messages. A print invite would be more likely to create an emotional impact too.
For successful marketing, it is best to use a mixture of print and digital media. This way you are gaining the benefits of print (more emotional processing, brand recognition and the weight effect) and digital (many different forms, instant access, large reach, target audiences).
Avoid putting your full focus on digital, as print can be extremely useful in marketing, as mentioned above. You could increase your customer base and sales using print media in addition to digital media.
“Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail”, Milward Brown Case Study, 2009.
Journal of Consumer Research, “Faking It: Can Ads Create False Memories About Products” news release, May 9, 2011.
Joshua M. Ackerman, Christopher C. Nocera, and John A. Bargh, “Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgements and Decisions,” Science 328, no. 5986 (June 25, 2010): 1712-1715.