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On The Merits Of Print Advertising

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My colleague, Graham Page, passed me a copy of USA Today’s January 21st edition and suggested I might want to read Michael Wolff’s article, “Don’t write print ads off just yet.” In the article, Wolff decries the state of the print advertising art and seeks to pitch the medium’s strengths versus the allure of TV and digital. Unfortunately, I don’t think that in the process Wolff does print advertising or himself any favors.

Wolff was roused to take a stand for print advertising by the quality of submissions to USA Today’s competition to encourage creativity in print advertising. In an amusing turn of fate, the $1 million in advertising space ended up being awarded to an ad produced by Google Creative Labs. And a good ad it is too. It is simple and creatively focuses attention on the benefit of the Google+ Hangout.

Wolff, however, dismisses the overwhelming majority of the competition’s submissions as:

…not just wretched, but deserving of some grand public humiliation for the ad business.

He goes on to ask:

This is what you can do? Hundreds of confusing, puerile, ugly, slap-dash semi-illiterate ads?

Why does Wolff think this is the case? Ad agencies, Wolff suggests, are incentivized to follow the money rather than deliver against their client needs. TV and digital are more profitable to an agency than print. Besides, he states, vast numbers of creative people choose video over print because they “have trouble mastering language skills.” Ouch!

But Wolff is not some old fogey making an argument for the written words on cultural grounds (or so he claims). No, he believes the written word delivers a more meaningful, lasting and persuasive message. He states:

An unwritten world turns out to be a significantly less successful and less communicative place, where it is harder to make a message lasting and meaningful and, on top of that, harder to move the merchandise.

As far as I am aware, there is absolutely no basis for this assertion. And making the case for print as being better than other media is futile and misleading. All the CrossMedia Research we conduct finds each medium to have an important role in the media mix. And as James Galpin, Director of Millward Brown’s Global Media Practice in Asia Pacific, states in this Point of View:

A TV ad can be a powerful communications device. But so can a full-page ad in a magazine, or a provocative or eye-catching poster. We have seen great brand impact from non-TV campaigns over the years, even before the digital explosion.

In the day of tweets, texts and bullet points, I would argue that in the majority of cases the effectiveness of print would be better served with a well-chosen picture and a few succinct words, rather than a well-crafted but lengthy argument. But then, that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst Millward Brown

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