Excuse Me, There's a Digital Hair in My Print Media Soup

Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



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As inbound marketers, we're really into digital media. We believe in the merits of channels like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the whole wide interwebs for marketers and business owners to spread their message, and generate leads and customers.

That doesn't mean, however, that we're vehemently against any print media. On the contrary, we see value in any marketing channel that can deliver ROI. It's just often harder to prove the ROI with print media because, well, there aren't exactly tracking tokens in your Sunday newspaper.

That's why we're totally on board with marketers merging digital and print media to try to get the best of both worlds when both worlds work for them. Problem is, some marketers are kind of losing sight of the whole point of this "integrating print and digital media" thing. The result is something that ranges from a plain waste of money (bummer for you, mildly annoying for me) to a complete and total intrusion that makes me long for the days when all I had to do was breeze past the slew of boring ads filling up my favorite magazine. Here's what I'm talking about ... consider these cautionary tales if you're venturing into integration territory.

How Print Advertising Can Get Even More Annoying

1) Social-Print Integration Fail

Let's begin with where the idea for this blog post all started, this inexplicable piece of direct mail our CMO received on Monday. We censored the company name out of the image.

direct mail social media integration

So as far as I can tell, the primary call-to-action in this piece of direct mail is to follow them on social media, and the secondary call-to-action is to call them to book a photo or video shoot. Why, then, are there no:

  • URLs pointing to their social media accounts
  • QR codes we can scan to get to their social media accounts
  • Phone number to call them at to book a photo or video shoot

Not to mention the recipient of this piece of direct mail was not on a mailing list to receive it -- but I think we're all pretty used to the junk mail thing. If I wanted to act on either of this company's CTAs, I would have to go to a search engine to look them up and try to find their social media accounts and phone numbers. Why not just invest in some SEO? It lasts longer, costs less, and the ROI can be tracked -- the way it's been set up, this direct mail post card achieves none of the above.

2) Live Twitter Feed Streaming in Your Print Ad

This story came to my attention courtesy of Mashable, who actually filmed a video of the experience of seeing this magazine ad for the CW's fall TV lineup. You can watch the video in their post, but allow me to highlight a quote from the video that I think embodies what you need to know about this live Twitter stream within a magazine ad:

"So ... now ... now we have to wait ... It takes a gooood, looong time. And by the way this thing is thick, and it's heavy. This board is stiff. So it's still coming up ... Oh, there's the video! So you wouldn't even know, you'd be thinking, 'Oh, it stopped,' but, there's the video. Low frame rates ... So it does the video thing not once, but usually, twice ..."

"... By this time most people have turned the page. More than once. Here it comes ... technology in action ... the longest 30 seconds of your life."

Actually, it's the longest minute and 58 seconds of your life. That's the point in the video that the Twitter stream actually shows up in the ad. And please bear in mind that the ad's call to action is this:

tweets in magazine video

Follow you NOW? I guess I have time, since it took nearly two minutes to get to your Twitter stream. I did have to watch a video first. And then watch it again, since it apparently it usually plays twice.

Mashable went on to say, "Since the ad is Internet-connected, I was curious if the CW would be able to track any metrics around impressions and display time, but Haskins said no."


They do deserve a nod for trying something new, though -- and doing it in a measured way. When I say "measured," I mean with restraint. They only released 1,000 copies of this version of their ad, presumably to test whether it was a good idea or not. Looks like maybe not due to some serious technological glitches, but if anyone has evidence otherwise, let us know.

3) Your Newspaper Now Doubles as an Uncontrollable Commercial

Perhaps the most egregious and mortifying error -- especially for the poor sap who stumbles upon this ad during, say, his morning commute -- is the newspaper ad for VW that belts out an audio commercial on a continuous loop every time you flip to the page. The only way to get it to stop? Closing the newspaper. Effective.

vw ad

So What's Going On, and How Do We Fix It?

First, let's recount what exactly is wrong with this whole approach. First of all, it really irks people when they're flooded with media they don't want to engage in -- and that applies on the internet, too, not just print media. Think about when you visit a website and you're assaulted with music the second the page loads. Or when a video automatically starts playing when a web page loads. Look, I'm trying to read this article at work ... I don't need the whole office inadvertently catching me watch the latest viral video craze. These are the kind of things that make people hate your website.

Same goes for print ads. But I think I get why people are doing these really obtrusive things.

1) Consumers have gotten ridiculously good at filtering things out. Inbound marketers already know this. I mean, how many ads do you stop and read in any given magazine or newspaper? How many pieces of direct mail do you both read and act on? Advertisers need to resort to drastic measures like you see in the last two examples above to get people's attention again in print media.

2) Marketers know they need to better measure their marketing and ad expenditures. But they don't know how to do it with print media. Like I said earlier, there aren't exactly tracking tokens in the Sunday paper. So the only way they can think to do it is by bringing digital to print -- not the wrong approach, just the wrong execution in many of the examples shows above.

3) Transitioning to traditional marketing from advertising tactics is hard. Most marketers know they need to be online, but moving from more traditional tactics like direct mail, phone book listings, newspaper ads, etc. can be uncomfortable. You know, fear of the unknown and whatnot. That's what we're seeing in that first example above -- marketers that know they need to be embracing social media, but don't know how to get the word out there about their social media presence without the crutch of direct mail. And incorrectly used, at that (ever think about a QR code? Well, no, probably not).

So the point here isn't that integrating your print and digital campaigns is wrong ... it's awesome. The problem is that there's still a lot of confusion about how to establish what works, what doesn't, and for what purpose. I mean, magazine ads might work for you, and you don't know it. Or they don't work, and you think they do. Or social media would work for you, but you're relying on direct mail to get the word out with no way for the recipient to actually get to your profiles. Or you just annoy the living daylights out of people with loud, obnoxious, or intrusive digital media in what  we all hoped would be a normal piece of print collateral.

If you have budget to burn, sure, go ahead and experiment with these things. Even if it backfires, you probably have the brand equity to bounce back quickly with some lessons learned, at which point you can dust yourself off and try again. But for the rest of us? A few tips:

  • Approach every advertising and marketing campaign with the question, "How will I know if this works?" so you can measure when your expenditure is worth your while.
  • Another question to ask yourself is, "What's the point of this?" If the marketer in our social media direct mail example had asked him or herself that question, they might realize the CTAs -- getting in touch via phone or social media -- require some kind of way to, well, get in touch. This direct mail would yield more return with just that one little sanity check.
  • Make sure your marketing is lovable. The last thing you should be doing is grinding someone's gears. Check out our guide to creating lovable marketing ... if you want to. If not, don't worry, we will not force it on you via skywriting, pop-up ads, or a book-on-tape whose recording is initiated the moment you open your Sunday paper.

How do you integrate your digital and print media? How much do you still rely on print media? What did the transition process off of it look like for your business?

Image credit: Mark William Jackson


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