It's the Message, Not the Medium

GfK Starch Study: Print, Web Ads Have to Work Harder to Persuade

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NEW YORK ( -- Score one for the creatives. In the great engagement debate, the medium and the message are constantly competing for supremacy -- and it's the message that gets a big boost in the latest research from GfK Starch Communications.

"We're hoping to see a whole creative renaissance," said Phil Sawyer, senior VP of GfK Starch Communications.

Ad readership surveys
The study, based on thousands of ad readership surveys, studied the effectiveness of print and online advertising based on the extent to which ads were remembered, how much readers were involved with them, and if the consumers were directly influenced by the ad to make a purchase.

In print magazines, the study found that readers who are engaged with a magazine are not necessarily engaged with its ads, so dedication to a title has little impact on the advertising itself.

Instead, those who are most likely to look at an ad and read its copy are those who are already enthusiastic about the product category or are favorably disposed toward the brand, the study found, suggesting that advertisers should seek out publications whose audiences are favorably disposed toward the brand and are product category "influentials."

The copy in print ads is vital, Mr. Sawyer said, noting that when readers spend time reading copy, they are far more likely to take action, such as purchasing the product, than people who just looked at the ad. Copy is especially important, he said, if marketers are trying to reach readers who don't have brand affinity or enthusiasm about the product category.

The unfavorably disposed
"If you are doing just a regular branding and then being in a magazine where people are favorably disposed, it will be fine for you. If you are going to be in a magazine where people are largely unfavorable, your ad has to do more. You have to spell out your argument clearly," Mr. Sawyer said.

That means serving up persuasive messages that offer clear and explicit product benefits almost immediately, he said.

The latest data from Starch also shows that the medium isn't the only thing that counts online, either. According to the study, engagement with a website generates a perverse effect on advertising -- the more engaged to the site and the more stimulating the internet ad, the greater the visitor will react against the advertiser, Mr. Sawyer said.

The solution, he said, is to give the visitor relevant information -- and fast.

"The most important thing is to get their [visitors] attention quickly and to tell them the benefit immediately. There is no greater violation [on the part of] internet advertisers than to assume that the internet visitor has plenty of time on his or her hands," Mr. Sawyer said.

Until the next round, looks like creative is king.
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