Pulp and Paper Canada

Advertising Trends: Paper’s battle to capture the eyeballs

October 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Advertising spending, both by volume and distribution over different media, is a sensitive indicator of economic health and media effectiveness at reaching the consumer. Advertisers continually search…

Advertising spending, both by volume and distribution over different media, is a sensitive indicator of economic health and media effectiveness at reaching the consumer. Advertisers continually search for novelty in their approach and new angles appear continuously. For paper media products that depend on advertising, there is a constant battle for “eyeballs” or consumer attention. While the big picture is showing a decline in the proportion of advertising allocated to print media, paper products do fill a unique role in their interface with the consumer. While this role makes paper advertising effective, especially in combination with other media, paper is and always will be in a constant battle for consumer attention. Paper will take a smaller piece of an expanding information pie, but it will always be there.

Gross advertising spending for 2002 rose 2 – 6% [depending on the data source] over 2001, fuelled by increases in nine of the eleven media categories. Big ad spenders are the automotive sector and there is high growth in motion pictures and prescription drugs. This is a turnaround from the severe declines that matched the economic bubble burst and spending probably will not fully recover until 2004. Experts see the recovery as fragile and heavily dependent on US consumer sentiment. However, advertising spending continues to fall for both national newspapers and syndicated television.


While newspapers, magazines and related paper products offer great diversity in ad placement and presentation to achieve desired effects, their share of the total ad dollar has been in decline over the past 10 years. This is not so much about alternate media as it is about a decline in young readership for newspapers and allocation of scarce consumer attention over more media choices. Newspapers and magazines face an uncertain future, though how uncertain varies by category [The Economist December 7th 2002]. Premium titles with high value content are more secure than the crowded middle-market, which will see some structural change. TV also is facing serious long-term threats from TiVo and PVR technology where consumers can easily skip ads. Meanwhile, Internet advertising [still only 2% of gross ad spending] may take-off with new “search or content-related” models based on what the surfer is actually doing or seeking. With this rapidly changing landscape, there is a sense of panic in adland, which is reflected in the plethora of new marketing books with hair-raising titles such as “The End of Advertising as We Know It.” We can expect more creative advertising and marketing to the detriment of print and TV. For example, product placement is reaching new levels with James Bond [Die Another Day] promoting beer, watches and cars. The move is toward stealth advertising.

The bottom line for paper is to exploit those product attributes that differentiate it from the fierce competition of other media. This is about understanding and exploiting the consumer / paper interface. People like using paper, because in many ways, it mirrors the way we think. People spread paper over their desks or their reading environment not because they are too lazy to file it, but because it is a physical representation of what is going on in their heads; it is a temporary holding pattern for ideas and information inputs which cannot yet be categorized or even decided upon how they might be used. For example, paper’s importance to the air-traffic controllers’ high tech job illustrates some of the reasons why it survives. The continuous paper-based “flight progress strip” allows the flight controller team to annotate progress [in speed and altitude for example], more easily than from text on a screen. The marks on paper can be seen and shared more easily by several people than can digits on a screen, and paper can be moved around, thus conveying more information. Paper’s most compelling attribute is a shelf-life or browse-time attribute that effectively captures more eyeball time. Research has shown that ad spending per consumer hour viewed is highest for print media [see FutureViews, March 2001]. Put another way, ad spending in paper media is the best bang for the buck in terms of consumer attention.

Why is this important?

Paper media products will be in a continuing battle for consumer attention and in order to survive and prosper they must continually research new means of delivering the advertiser’s message. New spaces might be: smart magazine pages, newspapers that smell of coffee, scratch and talk, interactive inserts. How can stealth marketing be exploited in the paper medium? However, there are warnings in the air for direct mail; it is akin to intrusive spam, telemarketing, pop-ups and unwanted faxes. Direct mail could be subject to emerging laws and penalties being devised for telemarketing and spam, thus necessitating different business models for this advertising strategy. Other new spaces that can steal ad turf from paper: ads in aircraft, WiFi in MacDonalds and Starbucks, sponsorship ads on government projects, ads on cars.

Alan R. Procter is an international consultant helping organizations exploit the future in their business strategies. He can be reached through www.alanprocter.com

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