Print Advertising vs. Digital Advertising – When to Use What

John Wanamaker, a 19th century department store tycoon from Philadelphia, once said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Mr. Wanamaker had only print options at his disposal and advertising at the time was in its earliest stages, so imagine how confused he would have been if he were alive today. Print options such as newspaper and magazine advertisements, direct mail campaigns, and flyers compete with an explosion in digital advertising techniques that use social media, influencer marketing, games, and advertising that interprets a user’s online activity to curate advertising content. So how would we advise a modern-day Wanamaker to navigate this complex landscape? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when choosing between print and digital advertising:

  • Humans still respond strongly to print: A 2015 study by Temple University’s business school found that while digital ads were a cost-effective way of quickly getting the attention of consumers, physical interaction with print left a stronger memory that more directly affected purchase decisions.
  • Geographic target: Digital has no geographic boundaries, whereas print is typically focused on a particular town, city, region, or country (for national campaigns). International print campaigns are not unheard of but are less often used given their expense. So as a rule, if you’re trying to target geographic area, print may be your best option, whereas digital is best if you’re trying to reach the widest audience.
  • Cost: For a tight budget, digital ads can be the way to go. First, digital campaigns are typically priced on a variable cost basis, meaning they are more easily scalable to a target budget amount and digital’s ability to target certain types of users enables you to create a campaign focused on certain user types, whereas print campaigns tend to hit a specific geographic area for a fixed price. Second, digital ads generate data on user trends that can be used to further customize the campaign to fit a demographic.

For many companies, some combination of print and digital can be exactly what is required. Modern advertising is increasingly a mixture of art and science, so a professional marketing firm that specializes in both print and digital can be a big help in designing the right campaign.

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