Print Matters

An Ad is Worth 1,000 Words

In our era of interactivity, exuberance for video, and mobile apps, I couldn’t help but find myself lost for a couple hours this weekend; winding my way through image searches after discovering a remarkable print advertisement. Yep, I said print.

A Picture Says 1,000 Words

I had cause to observe an unusual trend of late.  Despite the explosion of Pinterest and Instagram, and the repeated affirmation that Design and user experience are critical to brands, business owners continue to overlook the simple and substantial impact of an exceptional ad.

Print and billboard being immeasurable (unless you know what you’re doing), today’s marketers tend to avoid the medium; overlooking the fact that the avoidance by advertisers makes print media one of the least expensive options available.

The print ad that first caught my attention?   A magazine ad showing a *print* wrapped Fedex truck:

Nothing to click, no one to call, and no way to measure (truly, that’s not actually true, check out what Zipcar and Wrapify are doing).

Still, you get it.  You know it, you believe it.  A simple but creative design in a well executed experience.  Print works.

As I drove to work this morning, a billboard on the side of the road displayed one of those ads to advertise.  No one was utilizing the space to promote their brand so the company behind the billboard was using it to educate business owners with a simple message, “Drive people to click.”  I chuckled, “drive” on a billboard.

Outdoor advertising company Reagan published a USA Touchpoints  / Outdoor Advertising Association of America study which evaluated the impact of “outdoor” (billboard) along with Television ads.  Now, I know what you’re saying, “Television ads?!” but just go with my point for a moment as I’m not justifying TV commercials, in this case, but rather the efficiency of a simple visual.  No, impressions aren’t everything but in advertising, reach and frequency, inexpensively, and with the right ad, can move millions.

Joshua Lawton, founder of Abraxas Technology, is developing the technology that actually provides analytics about billboards.  Billboards, he and Neilsen argue, drive the most online activity.

“In this digital age it’s hard to imagine what propels the most online activity,” Lawton shared. “Believe me, when I first started digging into the numbers and reports, I was shocked. I’ve come of age and took my first knocks in business during a time in which ALL of traditional media was dying. Or so that’s what I was being lead to believe. Banner ads, click throughs, SEO, you name it, that was the new tried and true method upon which you could base your whole media strategy on. Sure people were still advertising in newspapers and in magazines, but the question that rang out like a chorus from around the business world was “Why?”. As Adwords and then Facebook ads grew in both impact and market value, a sector of the traditional media was forgotten by many of the enterprising business men and women. Yet, like the Little Engine That Could, this traditional media platform has steadily grown in both impact and in market value. I would suggest that more people remember the Amazon billboards that read, “We sell drum kits and ear plugs” than any online marketing they saw.”

Intriguing.  A great many companies are putting cameras and other devices on billboards to count cars, types of cars (economic data), etc.   It’s only a matter of time before they are as good as Toll Road Cameras and associate license plate with address to tie demographic data, mailing address, adding mailbox inserts… and ultimately tracking when drivers and passengers look right at the ad.  It’s already being done based on your location with companies like Roostio pushing deals on the spot… imagine spotting a Billboard and your phone pings you to get directions to the store around the corner, right now, with a deal that rivals shopping online.

All that said, I didn’t want to dig too deep into data and arguments in this article, I had fun digging up some exceptional print ads and so rather than justify the point, I thought I’d let the ads speak for themselves; that indeed a simple advertisement speaks 1,000 words:

Frustrated with Fake News?  Take a look at how BBH London is showing readers that The Guardian provides the whole picture; with a pie chart suggesting that their stories are researched.

How is National Geographic reminding kids and parents that the world is an amazing and beautiful place to experience?  FoxP2 just showed us:

Band Aid turned to the influence of film media through print.  Who else can heal the Incredible??

Nikon cameras detect faces hauntingly well….

Our film and photography friends know that optics matter.  True of advertising, camera lenses, and telescopes

Old print anew, particularly poignant to those of us working on startups 24/7


Print works.  Executed well and whether in a magazine, a newspaper, or a billboard, even the behemoths of our new media era have turned to a simple visual design to create brand equity, send a message, and effectively reach their audience with little more than the perfect image.

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Print Matters

by Paul O'Brien time to read: 3 min