Will the debate over print versus digital advertising ever be over? Probably not, but that might be in part because it’s such a fascinating question to consider. Strong advocates of digital marketing might be more inclined to say that print is dead, but there is plenty of evidence to indicate otherwise. One of the most interesting facets of the discussion is in terms of trust, and how people perceive printed versus digital advertising.
In September 2015, the Nielson research group released an extensive report—called Global Trust in Advertising—that provides some fascinating insight into how much trust people place in various different advertising formats, including a mix of traditional offline formats as well as online formats.
For print advocates, the data confirms what we’ve been saying all along: while 63% of people trust TV advertising, 60% trust print advertising, and 58% trust magazine advertising, only 48% of people say they trust online video advertising, 47% say they trust search engine advertising, and 46% of people say they trust the advertising they see on social media platforms. While these are pretty high figures, they are still substantially lower than what the two traditional forms of marketing—print and TV—can achieve. Another interesting figure is that the level of trust in social media advertising has not increased in the last couple of years, which means that familiarity is not having a positive effect at this stage.
Oddly enough, this research indicates that even Millennials are more inclined to trust print over digital advertising. It seems a bit counter-intuitive; after all, this is the digital generation—the first to grow up entirely in the digital age, the first to grow up in a world where the internet has always been in existence. And yet, the allure of print lingers even for this generation. According to the Nielson data, millennials, and to a lesser extent Generation Xers, are highly willing to trust print advertising, and highly willing to act on the advertising too.
Why Does Print Inspire Trust?
Trust is a hugely important concept for all kinds of marketing and advertising. Consumers are not likely to spend much money on products they don’t trust, or buy from companies they don’t trust. So achieving the level of trust that prompts people to open up their wallets is one of the core goals of advertising.
With digital marketing, inspiring trust is all about engagement and repetition. Many brands now employ social media platforms that allow them to engage directly with their audience, and this direct interaction helps them develop trust. Repeated brand interactions—in the form of regular social media updates—are an important part of that too, because it helps build the level of familiarity that trust requires.
So that’s social media, and digital advertising. But what is it about print that inspires trust? It’s not the direct engagement, because that’s not something you can achieve with printed advertising. Repetition certainly has something to do with it, especially if you are combining print with other kinds of advertising. But there’s more to it than that. There’s something intrinsic to print that you don’t get with other advertising formats, and it is partly those inherent qualities that enable print to inspire such a high level of trust.
The obvious answer is that print is tangible. Unlike digital media, consumers can physically touch and hold printed advertising, and that’s what’s responsible for the higher level of trust that it’s able to inspire. But that can’t be the whole story, because TV advertising also inspires a high level of trust in comparison to digital formats. And TV isn’t a tangible thing, so there must be other factors that contribute to the difference.
For older generations, it’s most likely to be the higher level of familiarity that gives print the edge. For those of us who grew up with print and TV, those forms of advertising are naturally what we trust the most. But what about millennials? They haven’t grown up with the same exposure to print, so again, there’s something else at play.
Perhaps it’s something even simpler than the tangibility of print: perhaps it’s just the longevity. Print has literally been around for thousands of years, and print advertising for hundreds. Even TV has several decades under its belt. Digital formats have a lot of ground to make up in terms of longevity, so it’s likely that in terms of trust, print will continue to retain its edge for a long time to come.