People remember print ads better

Print ads are better absorbed by our memory. One week after seeing them, we remember them better than we would digital ads.

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📝 Intro

Digital ads (e.g. Facebook ads) tend to be among the easiest channels to implement, measure, and experiment with.

But it’s not by chance that print ads (e.g. magazines, direct mail) are still chosen by experienced marketers as an effective part of their marketing mix - even if they’re often more expensive.

This study finds that people react differently to the same ad if they see it on Vogue’s website vs Vogue’s print magazine, for example.

Researchers used fMRI brain scans, eye tracking, and biometric body measurements to discover that print ads are better absorbed by our memory.

P.S.: Fascinated about how different senses affect our memory? Take a look at how adding a scent to a product helps us remember it much better two weeks later.


Previous insight: Ingredient branding (All insights here)

People remember print ads better than digital ads after one week

Impacted metrics: Ad performance
Channels: Ads | Image ads | Direct mailing | Print ads
For: Both B2C and B2B
Research date: September 2021

📈 Recommendation

When choosing which channels to use (e.g. email, search ads) don’t neglect print ads (e.g. direct mail, magazine ads, brochures).

People remember print ads better than digital ads. Therefore, they can be more effective - even if they are more expensive.

🎓 Effects

  • People remember print ads better than digital ads one week after encountering them.

  • Experiments were mainly organized in two phases:

    • First, people were shown a series of print and digital ads while researchers tracked their eyes and biometrics (heart rate and skin conductance, two signals of interest). They were tested right after to see how much they remembered.

    • One week later, they were recalled by surprise and either:

      • Their brain was scanned using fMRIs to measure their memory activity while they were re-shown the ads (or snippets of them) 

      • They were directly asked how well they remembered the ad contents, context, and brand associations

  • Results showed that:

    • People spent more time looking at print ads, their pupils dilated more, and their biometric measurements indicated greater interest.

    • Immediately after exposure, there was no difference in how much people remembered print vs digital ads

    • But when measured a week later, people remembered the content of print ads better and there was greater brain activity in the memory regions


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🧠 Why it works

  • When we come across an ad, we encode its contents into memory traces that we then store to retrieve for later use (if they’re still strong enough).

  • Our engagement with print ads is more intense, so this creates a stronger memory trace. This makes it last longer and gives it better connections with other memory associations (i.e. something may more easily remind us of it - such as a brand logo).

  • Print ads seem to engage us more mostly because touching paper activates another one of our senses, which indirectly involves us more.

✋ Limitations

  • This study is an indirect measure of ad effectiveness. While print ads are more memorable one week after, the researchers did not directly measure their impact on purchases.

  • Researchers used one week as the gap between ad exposure and memory recall because this is a common time frame between ads and purchases. While it’s likely, we don’t know whether the improved memory continues after one week.

  • Participants were asked to study the ads one by one. In a real-world environment, we ignore most ads. This research did not measure whether we’re more or less likely to pay attention to print or digital ads in the first place.

🏢 Companies using this

  • Print media is still one of the largest channels of advertising spending in the United States.

  • Newspaper ads, magazine ads, direct mailing, and brochures are all common forms of print advertising in both B2C and B2B.

  • For example, Google makes heavy use of direct mail packages to high-value potential and existing advertisers.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • If you’re not currently using print ads in your marketing mix, reconsider whether you should introduce them.

  • Although they can often be more expensive, their stronger effectiveness may be worth the cost.

  • They are especially useful if your customer’s buying cycle is not immediate, as is the case with most products (i.e. people rarely see an ad for a perfume and then immediately buy it).

  • Look for print channels that fit your audience and needs (e.g. the Financial Times if you’re selling financial products, direct mailing if you’re targeting specific leads or a specific geographic area).


🔍 Study type

Lab experiments. United States

📖 Research

Venkatraman, V., Dimoka, A., Vo, K., & Pavlou, P. A. (September 2021). Relative effectiveness of print and digital advertising: a memory perspective. Journal of Marketing Research.

[Link to paper]

🏫 Affiliations

Fox School of Business, Temple University; Bauer College of Business, University of Houston; and DIRT Research Technologies. United States

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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