Is print dead?

print advertising image

Paul has spent the last 3 hours searching for “small business advertising” on Google. He’s tried Facebook, Google AdWords, and even hosted a community event, but he’s still in need of new customers. So, Paul texts his neighbor Quinn to see what advertising he’s been doing since Quinn’s pizza shop has been busy non-stop lately. Quinn texts back, “Direct mail and coupon advertising.” “There’s no way!”, says Paul. “Print is dead. Nobody looks at that stuff!” Six months later, Quinn’s pizza shop is still busy and Paul is still searching for new sales.


All advertising must deliver targeting, repetition, exposure, and profitability. Skipping out on advertising because of what it’s called, and not because of what it delivers, could cause you to miss out on new sales and an increase in profits.


When people say print is dead, they mean one of two things:

  1. The paper manufacturing industry is dying.
  2. Print advertising isn’t effective.


If you’re in the first category, I hate to tell you, but that just isn’t true. The United States alone produced a whopping 72 million metric tons of paper and cardboard in 2015 and is only the second largest manufacturer in the world. The paper industry is alive and well.

If you’re in the second group and you think that print advertising isn’t effective, let’s dive deeper into why that may, or may not, be true.

What makes advertising effective?

1. Targeting

Who is your ideal customer? Are they a certain age? Do they share a common interest? Or maybe they live in a specific area? Whatever your criteria are, your advertising should be delivered to these people. If it isn’t, your budget is wasted on consumers who are unlikely or even unable to make an actual purchase.

2. Repetition

While there’s no magic number, consumers need to see your ad many times before deciding to buy. Repetition of your message builds familiarity and trust with consumers. The more they see it the more likely they are to feel they know and trust your brand. Also, the timing isn’t always right. No matter how much a person loves your salon, if they just got their hair cut yesterday they’re unlikely to go back sooner than needed just because they saw your Facebook ad. Your message needs to be in front of them as often as possible to make sure your brand is the one they see when the need for your product or service arises.

3. Exposure

The way in which your advertising is delivered to consumers matters. If it’s hidden in mailboxes or behind tv screens, your prospects are unlikely to see it. Conversely, advertising that is too “in your face” is a turn-off. We all hate those obnoxious website pop-ups. The key is to find a balance. Effective advertising is delivered to consumers with as few barriers as possible without being spammy.

4. Profitability

Effective advertising increases your profits. Not just revenue, actual bottom-line profit. If your advertising isn’t driving sales, it’s not effective.

So, is print dead?

Some print, maybe. Take, for example, newspaper advertising. Newspapers have little to no targeting because distribution is based on the newspaper’s subscribers and that may not match with your target market. The repetition of your ad within a single publication can be as high as you want it to be, but of course, you’ll have to pay more. And even if your target market reads the newspaper, what are the chances that they’ll open up to the page displaying your ad? To be profitable, you’d have to generate at least one sale off an advertisement printed in one place one time.


Compared to a traditional medium like newspaper, digital advertising is much more effective. Digital targeting is often based on multiple demographic factors that the advertiser can choose. Ads are repeated to the same consumer about 2 times in a week, and there’s a high chance the ad will be seen (unless the person’s phone is off or they scroll past it).


Still, some print advertising, like receipt coupons and shopping cart advertising, meet all the same standards that digital advertising does. Ads are targeted to a 3-5 mile radius of your business and can be further targeted based on grocery store demographics. Repetition is comparable to that of digital advertising, and ads are exposed to shoppers in a way that is pervasive while still feeling natural. After all, shoppers expect to get a receipt placed in their hand!


Digital advertising and print advertising can be equally profitable as long as they deliver the four necessary elements above. Keep in mind, we’re not asking you to invest in a printing press! Not all print works, but if it doesn’t work it’s because it doesn’t deliver the key elements of effective advertising, not because it’s inherently print. Skipping out on advertising because of what it’s called, and not because of what it delivers, could cause you to miss out on new sales and an increase in profits.


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