Judgment Day is here for print

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Thursday is judgment day, when the ANA will put print advertising on the witness stand and ask a tough, fundamental question: In this era of extraordinary media fragmentation and increasing availability of interactive channels, does print advertising work?

"Court" convenes at the annual Print Advertising Forum, June 16, at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel. And in the jury will be the marketing leaders of America's largest corporations, hardened by competitive pressures and growing demands to demonstrate marketing accountability. They need to know whether advertising in magazines and newspapers is relevant and, most importantly, measurable for their brands. It won't be an easy trial.

Frankly, for years print has gotten a pass while TV has been kicked around-its ratings scrutinized, its CPMs berated, its viability as an advertiser-supported medium questioned in light of DVR technologies. At the same time, extraordinary attention has focused on the "new" media, from contextual advertising in search engines to text messages delivered by cellphones to banner ads placed on blogs. All this time, print has flown under the radar, commanding a sizable chunk of the marketers' dollars, but avoiding the intense evaluation devoted to other media.

Now it's print's turn to be cross examined.

Without wishing to pre-determine the verdict, print clearly has work to do in the area of marketing accountability. Despite significant advancements in marketing research, print-measurement techniques have shown little improvement over the past decade. Ad rates are still tied to average circulation figures and advertisers' confidence in those numbers has been shaken by recent reporting scandals involving some major publishers.

Numerous print-measurement improvements are necessary. For example, marketers desire issue-specific circulation and audience data to track what they actually received for the issue they purchased. They also want cumulative information that clearly shows how a magazine's audience builds over time. Timely availability of data is another serious concern with print. Currently, there's a significant gap between when magazine research is fielded and when it is available to marketers for decision-making.


Finally, there's a huge appetite for new kinds of research. For example, marketers crave insights into how magazine ads motivate people to act, and whether print advertising works better as a product launch vehicle compared to a brand sustaining one.

Standards in print creativity must also rise for print to remain relevant. ANA members constantly complain that the big agencies can't do big-time print creative. The reality today is that most big advertising agencies are TV-centric. They create great TV commercials, but assign junior staff to design print campaigns.

Midsize agencies fare much better. In conjunction with the Magazine Publishers Association, the ANA analyzed the 150 finalists for the MPA Kelly Awards over the six-year period 1999 - 2004. The results are startling. Mid-size shops like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Carmichael Lynch, Arnold, Fallon and Goodby are consistently among the top performers, while the biggest, best-known shops are noticeably absent. That trend will continue with the announcement of the 2005 Kelly Awards winners at the Print Forum. Only one of the 25 finalists is a top-20 agency.

Closely related to the issue of creative quality is the fact that advertisers and their agencies do little testing of print advertising. The likely reason: the relatively low cost of producing print ads doesn't justify the cost of testing them. However, with the emergence of new, less expensive online measurement techniques, this barrier can, and must, be overcome.

Print media have also been slow to fully embrace digital delivery of their publications. Hello. Please remove your heads from the sand! More than any other medium, print is perfectly suited to the online, interactive environment. Thanks to small, feature-packed, wireless devices, digital versions of publications are even more portable than print ones. Moreover, with embedded sound and video links plus unlimited space for story depth, they're able to provide a far richer, more engaging media experience.

Think about all those elusive, younger audiences that are abandoning newspapers and magazines in droves. They could become devoted subscribers with the right digital business model.

As with legal music downloading, print publishers need to create a compelling offer that, for example, allows readers to buy specific magazine sections, topics, writers or news feeds and fashion their own highly personalized periodicals, rather than forcing people to pay for entire publications or yearly subscriptions.

Finally, by reducing the huge physical production costs associated with print publishing, advertising rates can come down, providing marketers with a much more cost effective option-one that would surely unleash new levels of print-advertising spending.

In addition, there are a handful of annoying practices that print publishers need to rethink. Long lead times to secure space and submit materials to monthly magazines are relics of a bygone, pre-Information Age era. Newspapers and newsweeklies have figured out how to shorten lead times. Why can't monthlies do the same, thereby providing marketers with the flexibility they need to compete in the fast-changing consumer marketplace?


And then there are those absurd magazine bleed charges-charges that are bleeding advertisers of their working media dollars for no justifiable reason. These fees are unwarranted along with surcharges for national advertisers in local newspapers. Like network TV's integration fees, these "legacy costs" deliver no value and, in fact, diminish the print medium's return on investment.

Finally, there's a nagging concern about print's willingness to experiment. On TV, branded entertainment is providing marketers with intriguing ways to integrate message with content. However, print has been slow to embrace this exciting new marketing form.

Despite all these serious complaints about print advertising, marketers still see unique value in the medium, as documented by a recent poll of ANA members. The survey results will be revealed at the Forum, but here are a few highlights:

Marketers think print advertising is effective as a targeting vehicle; it's especially useful in reaching business audiences, including C-level executives; marketers like the fact that print has a longer shelf life and can't be TiVo'd; and they think that with print, it's easier to match the advertising message with the editorial content, thereby intimately connecting with the consumer. Most significantly, marketers appear to be maintaining the spending levels of their print-advertising budgets, though many are reducing the number of titles in which that budget is concentrated.

Sounds promising, doesn't it? But to take advantage of these perceived strengths print must confront the growing list of marketers' concerns. It will have to do so on the witness stand June 16-and in the years to come.

Robert Liodice ... is president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers.

Mark A. Kaline ... is global media manager, Ford Motor Co. and chairman of the ANA’s print advertising committee.

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