Despite the growth of digital media, print advertising remains core to many retailers’ communications, Liz Morrell discovers

In a marketing age where retailers are increasingly turning to digital methods it could be easy for a marketer to forget the age old medium of print advertising.

While for some retailers it is falling down their priority list, for many others it remains the most significant of their advertising mediums and still has very real uses.

“Retailers generally view print as an integral way of communicating with their existing and potential customer base and, although the volume of print activity varies with the type of retailer, as a total market retailers spend about 40% of their offline media budgets on newspapers and magazines making it the second largest invested media,” says Manjiry Tamhane, partner at marketing effectiveness agency Ohal.

Neil Jones, director of commercial strategy at News International, says that retailers account for about 30% of advertising spend for national newspapers - making them the most important sector of advertising for print media. At News International, whose titles include The Sun, News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times, that figure is 34% and for The Sun it is 40%.

“If you look at The Sun, whose fiscal year runs July to June, we have just had the best ever year with all the four supermarkets having upped their spend year-on-year,” he says.

Billetts business director Tim Howett says the retail market has been a vital customer for the print market over the past 18 months with grocers an important part of that. “The grocers in particular have been enormous spenders with multiple insertions,” he says.

Indeed print media is one of the most important mediums for the supermarkets, which generally want to respond quickly to the competition with offer-led promotions designed to get shoppers in-store.

“It’s about the responsiveness and it’s proven to work. For example, with promotions such as Tesco’s recent £5-off-a-set spend we know from the increased sales we get and the increased footfall it gets that it works,” says Jones.

Turn up the volume

Print media also has the advantage of volume and although readership may be declining, the newspaper market remains less fragmented than the TV market in which a marketeer has dozens of channels to target their message through. “It’s about volume of reach. The Sun has got 8 million readers and there are only three programmes - Coronation Street, Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor that have got more than that,” says Jones.

It also allows regular contact. “What print can be really good at is allowing you to have a regular conversation with your consumer and it is a brilliant opportunity to be part of their everyday lives and hit them with offers and ideas to prompt them to go to store today rather than just them feeling good about the brand. It can be the thing that tips them from consideration into action,” says Lori Meakin, head of planning at advertising agency RKCR/Y&R, which works with retailers such as Marks & Spencer.

Flexibility is also key in the print world where retailers can book ad slots a day in advance and still get good prices, allowing them to respond quickly to competitors’ marketing activity. In TV ads need to be booked about six weeks in advance to avoid paying a premium for the airtime.

“You can turn around copy in a day, production costs are much smaller than TV and it is immediate access to a usually finite offer, which is difficult to do on TV,” says Howett.

But TV and print also complement each other well. “Print gives you substance. You can create a feeling or offer on TV but with print you can talk specifics of that offer,” says Meakin.

Tamhane says there are big advantages to using print. “More information can be communicated in a print ad and print can be more cleanly targeted than other broadcast media as different newspapers/magazines will have very different readerships and you can target the ad message to suit. Regional targeting is also easier,” she says.

Jones says the print media market is catching on again and although the biggest spenders remain the grocers,others are also seeing the value of the medium. “Our brand count of retailers has gone up,” he says. It now includes Dixons Retail, DFS, TJ Hughes, Lidl, Aldi, John Lewis and Debenhams. “People have moved away from brand advertising and are focusing on immediacy. It’s announcement advertising - such as a new offer,” he says. For example, ahead of the last bank holiday weekend of the year Tesco took over the first 40% of The Sun, and Asda did a similar thing the following day.

Sale advertising also works well in print media - as evidenced by the likes of DFS for which it is a major focus.

John Lewis spent about £9.3m on print advertising last year and the figure is similar this year - making up just under a third of the retailer’s marketing budget, according to John Lewis marketing director Craig Inglis. “That’s split about 80:20 newspapers and magazines,” says Inglis. “It’s still critically important because it allows us to target the audiences that shop at John Lewis.”

Jones says retailers are changing their habits as a result of the recession meaning their marketing messages have shifted from the luxury of brand advertising to promotion-based advertising. “Grocers have been our staple for a long time but what has been interesting in the recession is that we have seen other retailers come into the mix because of the price message and the benefits of responsiveness and flexibility,” he says.

While newspapers such as The Sun and News of the World focus on staple products such as food, the same price message is also apparent in higher-end papers like The Times. “It’s a slightly different product mix - for instance it’s wine and electronics - but it’s the same message on price,” says Jones.

“Our customers are heavy consumers of the quality press so we use the likes of The Telegraph, The Times, Guardian and The Independent and the weekend equivalents. We use them to get across immediacy offers and use the supplements in the same titles for more branded advertising,” says Inglis.

The retailer also uses a selection of fashion and home titles - from Grazia to Ideal Home - too. Indeed print is of particular relevance for fashion retailers. “New Look uses all the media out there but the backbone of our above the line advertising is still press,” says New Look marketing director Joe Irons. “We are in the women’s weeklies every week and the monthlies every month. It gives us a significant number of our target audience and is very cost efficient for us,” says Irons.

While some may argue digital advertising is more trackable, print can be too, especially if it is a money-off coupon offer or a specific one-day offer, the results of which can be evidenced by the subsequent uplift in footfall and sales. “We have had Delia Smith doing recipes on TV for Waitrose followed with print advertising to offer the ingredients - that is a very measurable way of doing a promotion,” says Howett.

Retailers are excited about online media and there is good reason for it, but Inglis warns traditional methods should not be forgot. “We take a balanced view. We are not dumping traditional media as a result of investing more online and retailers that do overlook print do so at their cost,” he says.

CompaniesPress Spend
Marks & Spencer£11.1m
John Lewis£3.6m
Furniture Village£2.2m