Here is a very common conversation we have had over the years:
Client: I’m looking for some ways to advertise local clients.
Kona Impact: Well, there is online, print, radio, television and direct mail. Include building and vehicle signage, too. What have you tried?
Client: I blew a ton of money on yellow pages ads. Didn’t get one call from those. I ran ads in the paper, but I didn’t get any business from them either. I haven’t tried radio, television, direct mail or vehicle signage.
We hear this time and time again: newspaper ads are a close second to yellow page ads in terms of lack of results. Is it true that newspaper advertising is a waste of money?
The answer is much more nuanced than the question. Our experience is that some ads for some things can be a reasonable investment. That said, for many companies, much of the time, newspaper ads fail.
Here is a good explanation of how and when some advertising mediums work and don’t work.
First, let’s look at the positives for newspaper ads
- Speed/Immediacy. If you have an event this weekend, newspaper ads, radio, social media and temporary signage are your best options. If possible do all the above. People look to newspapers for what to do and what’s going on around town. Concerts, festivals, fundraisers and public meetings are all the type of thing people look for in a newspaper.
- Older demographics. If your target is people over 65, newspaper readership is very high in this group. It’s very low for people under 45.. Selling hearing aids? Advertise in a newspaper. Selling youth-oriented products? Find a different medium: the under 45 crowd is getting their information elsewhere.
- Wealthier demographics. This is highly correlated with age; older people make more and have more disposable income.
- Known distribution. The ad sales people can tell you how many are printed, returned and distributed in a given area. Do not confuse distribution with people attending to your ad, though; they are two very different things.
Why newspaper ads don’t work
- Passive medium. Newspapers are the least disruptive of perhaps all mediums, with the exception of yellow pages advertising. By that I mean they only engage people visually, and this only happens if the reader views the ad, and after scanning it quickly, decides to pay attention to it. There is no sound, movement or interactivity.
- No targeting. They are primarily “dumb” ads; you pay for all the distribution, but only a small percentage of the readers are likely to have any interest in what you are advertising. This is also true for radio and television advertising, though with these you can target by time of day and programming. In contrast, an online ad can target women in Hawaii who are between the ages of 40-65 that have looked at the Ford website. Online advertising offers targeting options far superior to any other medium.
- Fleeting. Try to recall three ads (from the hundreds) that were in last Sunday’s newspaper. Newspaper ads just don’t seem to have a lasting impact on readers (see #1 in positives for exceptions) unless there is a high degree of advertising saturation. Hawaiian Solar is a company I have in my mind because of their daily, and very clever I might add, print ads. Most ads—if they are even noticed—have very little lasting effect. I always cringe when I see a business spend huge sums on one or two full page ads and then stop advertising. If you are planning on print advertising, plan on a lot of money over a long period of time for the most lasting results.
- Expensive. For a reasonably small ad in one of the main sections, expect to pay hundreds of dollars. Repeat that for several days or a few weeks and you’re looking at thousands of dollars. A solid online pay-per-click campaign could provide thousands of pre-qualified potential customers to your website for the same amount.
Simply put, even if a newspaper ad may be effective, it is not necessarily cost-effective and a good value relative to other mediums.
The right question to ask is not whether newspaper advertising is effective, but whether, of all the mediums available, is it the best choice? The answer to that is often “no,” though it is occasionally “maybe” and “yes”. Sure, other mediums can take more time and require more owner involvement, but that’s the point: newspapers often don’t work because the readership is not engaged in your product or service, or, in many cases, the readership is just the wrong demographic.