The Rumors of Print’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

  • May 3, 2023

  • Eyes4Research

The demise of the print industry in general and print advertising in particular has been
the subject of many discussions among business analysts, economists, and advertising
executives, which have even seeped into pop culture. One of the many running gags on
the immensely popular American sitcom The Office, was that the characters were
working in a dying industry (paper) and that it was only a matter of time before their jobs
were replaced by digital media. But is this entirely true?

There’s no doubt that digital advertising has taken hold of the overall advertising
industry, but print has held its ground and appears poised for a modest comeback. A
recent study conducted by Eyes4Research shows that 55% of the respondents agreed
or strongly agreed that digital ads targeted at specific interests are more effective than
other forms of advertising. Case closed, right? Well, not so fast. Another question from
the same study showed that 53% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed
that they enjoy reading traditional mail ads, which includes flyers, brochures, catalogs,
and coupons. These numbers are important for brands that are looking for new ways, or
old in this case, to connect with their consumers. Brands that realize their customers
actually like to read “junk mail” before throwing it away, and know how to use that
knowledge in multi-channel marketing campaigns will be poised for success in the 21 st

Understanding and predicting future advertising trends can be difficult due to the
increasing complexity of the space. Omnichannel marketing, sonic branding, and digital and email advertising have all been successful to varying degrees, but trends show that
print will continue to occupy a valuable niche in the advertising/marketing space. It’s
become more apparent that print and digital advertising are not mutually exclusive and
brands’ use of different media doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. So let’s take a look
at the rise and fall, and rerise, of print advertising and examine what consumers can
expect in the 21 st century.

Advertising: Then and Now

Advertising has existed in one form or another since the first humans organized into
permanent communities and began practicing trade during the Neolithic Period more
than 5,000 years ago. When the first forms of writing were developed in Egypt and
Mesopotamia around 3100 BC, print advertising followed, written on either papyrus in
Egypt or clay tablets in Mesopotamia. Advertising from that point forward was far
different than it is today, largely due to the nature of the economic systems in the world
before the year 1500 AD. Economic decisions were made from the top down in pre-
modern societies, but after 1500, which is generally the year most historians consider
the beginning of the “modern era,” new technologies and philosophies combined to
change the nature of economics and advertising.

Two major developments that propelled the modern free enterprise/capitalist system,
and the advertising industry along with it, were the invention of moveable type
Gutenberg printing press in the 1400s and the paper making process in Europe in the
1300s. These advances allowed information to be disseminated quickly and uniformly, and before too long entrepreneurs in Britain began producing the first print ads. Private
businesses routinely paid for ads in newspapers in Europe and America from the 1600s
onward, so in 1869 Philadelphia based company N.W. Ayer and Son decided to take
advantage of the situation by becoming America’s first advertising firm in 1869. Print
advertising continued to be the preferred media of advertising, even after the invention
of the radio and television, but in the 1990s the advertising world experienced a major

The Rise of Digital Advertising

When the World Wide Web became available to the public in 1991, digital advertising
followed in its wake. Tech firms began investing more money in digital advertising, with
an annual decrease in traditional advertising of 1.4% reported between February 2012
and 2022, compared to an overall annual increase of 7.8% for all marketing budgets
during the same time. These numbers seem to suggest that print advertising may be in
demise, but the truth of the trend reveals that many experts are probably watching too
much of The Office and not paying attention to the situation on the ground.

Although it is true that newspaper readership has declined drastically overall, 70% of all
American households that make $100,000 or more in income still read newspapers, and
the outlook for print magazines is even better. One study indicated that 95% of people
under the age of 25 read magazines, while another study showed that the number of
magazine readers actually increased between 2017 and 2022. Experts have pointed out
that the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in the renewed interest in print, but there are a number of factors that suggest the trend will continue and brands should
take note.

The Rerising of Print Advertising

The numbers show that print advertising will continue to play an important role in the
future, especially with consumer-facing companies leading with the largest increase in
traditional advertising at 10%. In order to understand why this is taking place, it will help
to return to some of the samples from the Eyes4Research’s study cited at the beginning
of this article.

When asked if there’s too many personalized ads in their social media feeds, 57% of
the respondents said they either somewhat or strongly agreed, indicating that many
people are experiencing a digital overdose. To bolster this theory, 65% of the
respondents said they either somewhat or strongly agreed that online ads are too
repetitive. These results seem to suggest that although digital advertising was once
thought to be a fresh, new medium, it has become as stale as TV; but instead of
changing channels due to repetitive ads, consumers simply hit the “x” on their web

There are also other intangible factors that will keep print advertising relevant and
important for the foreseeable future. Print media and ads continue to be trusted by the
greater public, now more than ever, as politics has seeped into every corner of the
digital world and with it the stigma of “fake news.” People tend to trust print media more because of this stigma, which is sometimes associated with digital media, and people
also trust what they can physically touch. In addition to print media’s association with
trustworthiness, the ability to touch and feel flyers, brochures, and catalogs gives
consumers a physical “experience” and connection with a particular product, which is
another way for brands to connect with their customers.

Future Trends in Print Advertising

As brands begin to realize that print advertising is here to stay, expect some interesting
trends to happen. As we’ve seen already in recent years, brands will take out print ads
to proclaim their support for social causes in efforts to appeal to socially conscious
consumers. Another trend you may’ve already noticed is print ads, brochures, and
coupons using QR codes and URLs. Brands are doing this to gather data that allows
them to build more detailed analytics of their consumers, thereby making print
advertising an important link in a company’s omnichannel marketing campaign.

Although print advertising will continue to be important, spending on print ads is
projected to decrease across all media, which can actually be a benefit for both brands
and consumers. With less money to spend on print ads, brands will have to be more
efficient with their spending by learning what works better and what their consumers
want. Look for more streamlined print ads that are less “junky” and no nonsense, getting
straight to the point. After all, consumers’ time is as important as anyone else’s, and
brands that realize this will be able to make their print ad budgets more effective.

Today, the most successful brands are learning to diversify how consumers learn about
and connect with them. Often lost in the search for new marketing strategies and
technologies is the ancient art of print advertising. Studies show that brands that use
both digital and print advertising have a 400% increase in effectiveness, demonstrating
that print is far from done. Although digital advertising overtook print in the 2000s and
won’t relinquish its standing anytime soon, print advertising still has an important place
in the hearts and minds of most consumers, and brands need to remember this in their
marketing campaigns.