Although this makes me a dinosaur to the youngest of Millennials, I graduated from my undergrad in a different decade. At that time, I was mildly frustrated with the core curriculum as it mainly focused on traditional media with only a slight spattering of references to the internet and social media. Once I started working, I realized that it wasn’t an intentional gap in curriculum. Rather, it was just difficult to study because, it was still so new.
Flash forward to my recent experiences and I realize that current communication students almost exclusively study new media and technology, and know very little about print — especially print advertising.
In one sense, this is good. They are focusing on the most modern tools available. However, completely skipping the history leading up to the digital age puts them at a disadvantage. By starting with print, I learned a lot about disclaimers, attention to detail, and working with an established client. Below are five reasons why new media students should understand print advertising.
1. Print is a major part of your client’s advertising history. Unless you only plan to work with companies that are less than ten years old or, never advertised, your clients are going to have a long history with print advertising. Even if you want to recommend no future print ads, you need to understand which parts of their media mix were successful in the past and why. Otherwise, you won’t have a clear frame of reference for your client or their past customers.
2. You’re likely going to put something on paper. It’s just going to happen. A client will eventually request a media mix that involves sending something (even something small like a business card) to a printer. I’ve been horrified to find account coordinators or graphic designers, who have only worked digitally, sent improperly packaged files to the printer. Or they overpaid for traditional media because they had no frame of reference for pricing. Or they set an unrealistic timeline because they don’t know how a print shop or newsroom works. Since they never really thought print mattered, they had no idea why these were a problem. These are mistakes you don’t want to learn on-the-job, if you can help it.
3. Print is key for certain demographics. For example, my grandparents just participated in a high-tech pitch for a new hearing aid. It was through video chat, and built around a cool show of digital equipment and modern technology. At a $6000 price tag, I’m sure that display was extremely well thought-out. But, you know what made them come in for the pitch? Direct mail. Yes, they came in for a free “tune-up” of my grandfather’s hearing aid, knowing full well they would be pitched a new device.
But, they felt it was worth it because they trusted the offer that came in their snail-mail from their own personal doctor. Even though my grandparents have email, Facebook, and smartphones, they trust personal offers in the mail more. Many demographics are skeptical of offers and coupons delivered digitally because of the spams, scams, and privacy.
4. Principles from print advertising translate to digital. Both webpages and newspapers follow similar rules about the placement of information. In fact, careful composition is a study that started back before Newsies shouted out stories.
For example, I was bored to tears at the thought of proofreading newspaper ads for my automotive clients. At first, I didn’t care if the VIN numbers were listed right or, if the correct model of car was pictured. It wasn’t sexy, or cool, or brilliant. Then, it was time to send my first ad to print and I panicked. I realized, that once an ad is released, it’s out there. Sure, small retractions, or corrections can be made but, the effect of any misinformation would be devastating.
I think any new media student should take this principle into consideration. We’ve all seen those PR nightmares where a flippant tweet or distasteful ad couldn’t be removed from the internet before it was captured with a screenshot and spread across the web.
5. You need to understand the non-digital experiences. The track-ability of any digital advertising is the main pitch of all advertising on new media. However, your clients likely did gain invisible, untraceable benefits over the years from traditional media advertising. The data is not as immediate or tangible but, I promise you, it happened.
Completely dismissing this effect is a little ignorant, especially to long-standing, flourishing brands. If you want to shift a client toward a digital-only, or digitally heavy plan, you need to find a way to get that awareness without throwing out the baby with the bath water.
For example, long-standing fashion and home brands still buy ads in paper lifestyle magazine’s. Why? Are you sure they are all idiots?
They purchase those ads because it does still work as a specific experience for a certain consumer. So, you need to prove that you’ve found that market elsewhere and explain why digital will reach that person better. If you can’t find that specific market, or if it’s become really splintered in the digital world, you may need to look for a different mix for your media dollars.