By Baljot Saral

Given how thoroughly most businesses, small and large, are dependent on new media (even solely dependent), it seems like somewhat of a truism to claim that print advertising is dead.

Most people spend a significant amount of time online, and it feels counterintuitive to invest a lot of money in a medium that, on its face, seems unlikely to provide a significant return on investment. But is print advertising really down and out? It is a contentious issue among advertisers.

The numbers tell a fairly black and white tale

It is hard to argue with the data. Year over year, companies across the board are upping their digital marketing expenditures, while expenditures on traditional forms of advertising either remain static, or drop. It is, likewise, impossible not to notice that commerce (and much of human life) is becoming more and more a digital affair.

People are glued to their phones, tablets, laptops and other smart devices for hours every single day, and people tend to consume their news and entertainment online. Why then should companies bother investing money in a medium that doesn’t reach the wide audience it once did?

The death of print advertising as a function of declining readerships

One of, if not the primary reason for the sharp decline in print relevance is that readership numbers for many print publications have plummeted. One’s first impression would likely be the logical one: less readers, less penetration, less profitable.

But some marketers have made the astute observation that while numbers have certainly dropped off, they have not disappeared entirely. Some people are still reading print, and those people have stuck around for a reason: they are a publication’s most engaged readers. That, at least, is what some experts at the American Marketing Association contend.

Targeting the people most likely to want, or be interested in a product or service is what companies of all sizes pay large sums of money for. Finding and categorizing these people for companies is the big-data-analytics business model of social media giants like Facebook. So print advertising may be for niche markets, products, and services, but there is good reason to believe that it is not altogether obsolete.

Despite a noticeable exodus, many people still like print media

It might seem hard to believe people still feel an attachment to print media. However, a 2015 article in PrintWeek entitled “Print is still the consumer’s choice when it comes to reading” presents study results illustrating that print is still heavily favored by readers of all ages.

People from all age groups, with those over the age of 65 showing the highest percentage, maintained that they were better able to understand and retain information in print as opposed to digital.

The fact that older adults are more comfortable with print medium should come as no surprise, but the marketing implications of that fact are worth taking note of for small businesses. The Baby Boomers are a sizeable, wealthy market who are often overlooked in favour of the coveted 18-35 demographic, and those businesses who cater to people born in the Boom bracket would do well to keep this market’s preference for print in mind.

The pitfalls of digital

It can be easy to get swept up in the digital fervor, especially as a small business trying to carve out a place in a market dominated by big players. However, recent studies have shown that throwing piles of money at digital advertising isn’t necessarily a winning strategy.

In fact, data analytics demonstrate that the vast majority of digital ads go completely unnoticed (only 9 percent of ads are viewed for more than a second). While the internet is certainly the biggest, and for those able to harness it, the most important marketplace, jumping on the digital bandwagon without a sound digital strategy is not necessarily the logical move.

While it is certainly true that print will continue to cede ground to digital as the years go on, and big data analytics that help refine target demographics becomes more and more accessible to smaller businesses, there is still quite clearly a market for print ads.

If done right, print can be a great way to reach customers looking for something specific, or those who prefer traditional over new media. While that market is harder to reach, and results can take longer to measure, to say that print is dead is an overstatement, and a potentially costly one at that.