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Grocery shoppers prefer newspapers over direct mail for food advertising by 2-to-1 margin, according to a Newspaper Association of America study. But leading direct mailer Advo disputes that newspapers have an advantage.

Newspapers were by far the favored medium for supermarket advertising, getting 59% of the votes, according to a May NAA-sponsored telephone survey of 1,106 food shoppers by ICR Survey Research Group, Media, Pa. The margin of error is 3 percentage points. Direct mail came in a distant second, with 29%. The other 12% said they had no preference.

For food coupons, newspapers were preferred by 52%, while direct mail was favored by 30%. The other 18% had no preference.

"The claim has been made that shoppers, after repeated exposure, have come to prefer mail to newspapers for their food advertising. This study's results say the reverse," said Stu Tolley, the NAA's director of advertising research.

But Advo, Windsor, Conn., claims a 3-to-1 advantage over newspapers in consumer response because its saturation coverage gives larger readership and response.

"We've got studies that show customers want to get grocery ads through direct mail," said Joe Durrett, Advo president/chief operating officer. "But the real question is ... what [customers] do with it. Our product has 100% coverage, has a higher readership and people respond to it."

The NAA sponsored the study to help newspapers fight inroads made by direct mail advertising. Newspapers had 44.5% of the $2.92 billion spent on grocery ads in 1993, down from 48.2% in 1987, the Food Marketing Institute estimates. Targeted mail had 31.5% in 1993, vs. 26.5% in 1987.

Of the 26% that said advertising caused them to shop a specific store in the last week, newspapers were judged the most influential medium, with 75% of those votes.

Newspapers outscored direct mail for usefulness to shoppers, the NAA survey found. More than 72% of those surveyed agreed that newspapers were the most complete source of food shopping information; were available when the shoppers wanted to plan the main food shopping trip; and made price comparisons between stores easier. Only about 19% agreed with those statements for direct mail.

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