Digital vs. Print Ad: Which Should You Put Your Money On?

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When it comes to advertising, many roads lead to Rome. But there’s one you may have forgotten about while creating viral Tik-Toks and Instagram reels. A good old print ad!

We hear you thinking: I thought print media was dead? Should I spend my precious marketing budget on yet another media channel? The answer is: yes, you should.

Did you know your digital campaign can become 400% more effective when paired with a print ad? Talk about a compelling case!

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We’ll first establish an answer to the question: “What is a print ad?” before looking at the numbers determining the effectiveness of print advertisements. Let’s dive in!

What is a print ad?

Print advertising is a form of marketing that uses physically printed media to reach an audience of potential customers. It allows you to showcase your product or service and brand across multiple formats.

Types of print advertising materials

When you think of a print advertisement, you most likely have a spread of a magazine in your mind. The big fashion houses transporting you to an Italian vineyard with their newest perfume, a sturdy watch that costs a fortune against a steel backdrop.

Magazines may be a popular format, but there is more. These are some of the most known formats:

Newspaper

Although you need a big budget for this one, newspaper advertising is still one of the most used print advertising formats. Your ad will appear next to editorial content or on a designated advertisement page.

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Example of a newspaper ad by Dribbble user lauralow.

Newspaper ads are often used by big corporations with an adult target audience in the middle class and up. A subscription to a newspaper doesn’t come cheap these days, so if you have a high-end offer, this could be an effective format.

Magazine

Magazine advertisements allow for a spotlight on your product or service and have few limits in creativity. Another benefit of magazines is that they have specific target audiences already. Magazines often cater to niches, so if you fit that niche, you are ensured you’ll have the attention of actual potential customers.

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Although magazines get a rep for being flashy and high-end, remember there are many more magazines than Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Overlanders cruising through Africa, permaculture fanatics, cat people, you name it, and there is a magazine for it.

Direct mail

We’re not talking about DM’s here; we’re talking about physical direct mail. You know, the one that goes into your mailbox? Think of a supermarket catalog with coupons, a leaflet displaying new products, an invitation to a sale, etc.

Or how cool is this acceptance package for Ringling College? Surely receiving a parcel like this puts a smile on anyone’s face, and sets the tone for a long-lasting relationship, in this case between school and student.

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This goes to show how many creative options there are. You could create fantastic marketing material, deliver it right to their doorstep and score major points with your audience.

Physical mail may seem tedious and outdated. But as advertising material, it has a lot going for it. Think about the restaurant menu still floating around in your drawer or the coupon you’re holding onto in your wallet. Would you hold onto their digital equivalents? Probably not!

Brochure/flier

A brochure or flier is an excellent way to highlight your brand. You have undivided attention and don’t have to compete with other editorial pieces or ads. There is some overlap with direct mail, but there are many more ways of distributing your flier or brochure.

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Add it to the package containing an online order, pin it on a board at your local supermarket, or hand them out face-to-face.

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Unconventional print advertising

We’ve covered the four most prominent formats, but it doesn’t stop there. Let’s look at some print advertisement examples that may not have crossed your mind yet:

  • Business cards - Have you ever thought of advertising on your business cards? Many people hold onto them as a personal reminder of an encounter. Adding a specific landing page or QR code with a call-to-action to the print design of your business card is a great way to entice people to reach out.
  • Product packaging - The exterior of your product holds space to show things like ingredients and branding. But, you can also use it for an unexpected call-to-action. For example, a promotion for the next purchase or a competition to win something.
  • Stickers - You know you made it when your sticker lands on a cool kid’s laptop. Don’t pack too much information into your sticker, but go for a creative showcase of your brand.
  • Maps - If you’re in the hospitality or tourism field, personalized maps are a creative way of handing your customers a freebie while advertising your hotel or restaurant.

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An example of a map created by Nikita Kulikov and commissioned by apartment hotel GA.

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The downside to print ads

If you ask us, those are some pretty convincing stats, but we’ll also admit it’s not only sunshine and rainbows. There are some downsides to a print ad.

Hard to get the facts

When you distribute a flier, it’s difficult to tell whether sales have gone up due to the effectiveness of your flier or any other reason. Unless you attach a specific call-to-action with a designated landing page, this goes for nearly all print media.

Whereas digital ads come with reports on who clicked on what, it’s a lot more challenging to narrow down the statistics of your printed ad.

Slow results

We mentioned the restaurant menu floating around in your drawer. A digital advertisement often has a direct call-to-action, like click here or sign-up. For a print ad, things are a little different. This can cause the results of your campaign to trickle in slowly.

Depending on the goal of your advertisement, you may opt for an alternative that allows for instant results.

Expensive

Print design comes quite specific and isn’t something every graphic designer can do for you. Additionally, the cost of a magazine spread doesn’t come cheap. If you’re dreaming of a placement in a national magazine, costs can rack up to $500,000.

With free social media and templates as an alternative, many marketers opt to leave print out of the mix.

Readership declines

There’s no denying that the readership of print publications has been steadily declining. Opposed to a growing digital audience, the choice may seem obvious.

With these statistics in mind, you may wonder: why are print ads important? It seems like we’re living in an increasingly digital world.

Bear in mind that advertising is all about quality over quantity. Getting high-quality print design in front of the right audience will do much more than plastering your social feeds with mundane visuals.

Multimedia mix: the best of both worlds

So far, we’ve been facing off print and digital as opposites. But as with anything, there is a happy medium. The best thing to do when advertising is to combine print and digital.

Don’t just take our word for it; look at this statistic by Top Media Advertising. Combining print and digital ads will make online campaigns 400% more effective.

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Here are some ways to incorporate both into your marketing strategy:

  • Create a designated landing page for your print advertisement.
  • Use a QR code on your print ad that takes your audience straight to your digital channels.
  • Offer a discount code printed on a physical coupon.
  • Provide a digital opt-in for physical direct mail.
  • Include social media reviews in your printed materials.
  • Use your brand’s hashtags on your print ad.

The final verdict

Not only is print advertising a trusted way to boost brand recognizability, but it can also amp up the effectiveness of your digital ad tremendously.

At the end of the day, print is here to stay. Statistics show time and time again that a print ad remains effective. Therefore, it’s not a bad idea to start shuffling your marketing budget to include in print as well as digital.

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Guest Writer: Simone Timmers

May 27, 2022

Simone is a writer, dividing her time between native Netherlands and 'home away from home' Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, she's either on her yoga mat or exploring any off the beaten track she can find.