The Second Act of Print

You’ve been hearing it for years now—the last days of print advertising are here. Social media, online content, e-books, and other virtual platforms are the established channels of the marketing frontier going forward. Magazine and newspaper ads will soon be ink-stained memories quickly disappearing in our digital rearview mirrors, perhaps forever.

Well…perhaps not.

We can all see that print’s dominance as an advertising medium has passed. But there are new approaches to print advertising bubbling up that are injecting a surprising amount of reader engagement and interactivity onto the page.

In the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine, Motorola featured an ad touting its Moto X smartphone. One of the Moto X’s unique features is the ability for users to choose the color of the phone’s body and buttons from a wide palette of colors. To highlight this customization feature, Motorola designed the ad to enable readers to change the color of the Moto X phone shown in the ad. The reader pulled a tab at the bottom of the page to activate a super-thin battery. When the reader touched one of 11 colored buttons on the page, the phone’s body appeared in that color.

Nivea created a print ad for its sunscreen lotion that included an actual phone charger. The ad featured an insert with a small solar panel on one side and a plug-in charger receptacle on the other side. Readers simply connected their mobile phone to the receptacle and turned the insert over to expose the solar panel to sunlight, thus powering the charger.

In addition to new uses of print as an experiential medium, there are several other reasons for its staying power. As a new generation has become firmly entrenched in online communications and virtual experiences as established norms, there is a growing desire for more permanent and tactile engagement with the world. While the Web offers timeliness and wide dissemination of content, it also lacks intimacy and a physical presence, both of which print offers.

Another argument for print is that while it may no longer be seen as the lead dog in most marketing campaigns, it can still be a highly valuable member of the pack. Rent the Runway, JackThreads, and Birchbox are online-only lifestyle and fashion retailers that are embracing catalogs as a part of their marketing arsenal in order to be at more of their customers’ touch points during the day. Whether you’re a traditional marketer or an e-retailer, it always makes sense to spread your message across multiple channels than to rely solely on one platform. And with more marketers cutting back on print advertising, this naturally means that there are more opportunities to stand out in print as well.

Finally, sentimentality is a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated. Often, niche audiences gravitate to the past—look no further than the resurgence of vinyl records. If a segment of your customer base embraces traditional media and/or is skeptical of online communications, there’s no reason to look past print. And given the almost daily occurrences of major security breaches and hacking scandals involving digital media, it’s understandable why people would want to take refuge in the analog world.

So talk about print marketing communications shouldn’t be in the past tense just yet. It’s a perfect example of how something that’s perceived to be old, when used intelligently, can be new again.