Google+ When Print Outperforms Digital - McKnight Kurland

When Print Outperforms Digital

Adweek-18-January-2016-155x189In January, Adweek covered the findings from the Association of Magazine Media’s white paper titled What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About Why Print Magazine Advertising Works?  In it were some very eye-opening research conclusions that continue to support the concept that print is not dead—nor apparently all that sick.

I believe it supports our theory of the importance of integrated marketing communications and a cross-platform market mix. This is not a competition with online marketing of either/or, nor is it a comment on digital—after all, everything has a digital component. It does, however, present some rationale as to why print remains effective, and underscores the impression many of us have when communications are both engaging AND tactile.

They summarize the findings, in part, as follows:

…our brains may process paper-based information differently from information transmitted on screens. A scan was performed on published research over the last ten years in the leading peer reviewed journals for the cognitive sciences—comprising cognitive psychology, learning and developmental psychology, linguistics and anthropology, as well as the newer field of neuroscience, whose focus on the internal workings of the brain has yielded important insights into human behavior. The results from this review of 150 papers, books and experimental reports suggest:

• Reading on paper is slower and deeper (associated with analysis, inference and reflection), while reading on screen is faster and more in a scanning mode. Digital readers tend to skim, scan and bounce.

• Paper-based reading benefits from more focused attention, less distraction and less anxiety related to interruption, multitasking and cognitive load. More than 20 separate studies found that hyperlinked engagement (alerts, multiple windows, social updates, texts, etc.) leads to lower comprehension and recall.

• Paper-based reading is widely associated with better transfer to long-term memory and clearer comprehension. 26 separate studies found higher comprehension from reading paper.

• Memory and comprehension from paper-based reading is likely enriched by the multisensory experience of holding and manipulating paper and the sense of position effected by the physicality of print.

• In the case of advertising, print advertising activates neural activity associated with desirability and reward—physical materials generate more emotional processing.


So when is print appropriate?

After all, if we’re not talking just advertising, printed marketing materials can quickly impact program budgets. Think about the consumer space and how much direct mail you receive every day. Think about those huge Restoration Hardware catalog tomes or the pamphlets at bank branches and big box stores. You know these organizations wouldn’t spend the cash if there wasn’t significant return. Also think about how many times you press the print icon on your computer.

The answer is that the answer is different for every organization and every program. It depends on the objective of the communications, the complexity of the message, the familiarity of the audience, the ‘sales cycle’ of your offering, the demographics of the target market and so much more.

ksa-postWhen a PR client recently engaged us to rethink their direct program, we discussed the effectiveness of print over digital and the print program won hands down for delivering results.


In a nutshell, the science supports a reasonable contention that the print paper platform itself is responsible for high performance on cognitively complex dimensions such as recall, brand consideration and persuasion. And even though that’s quite a mouthful, you get the point—your brain on print just works differently.


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