Perhaps there is a link after all…

It's often said that great minds think alike – a saying which sprang to mind when Campaign's Maisie McCabe suggested in her column last week that Newsworks establish a link between retailers' Christmas sales growth and increase in press spend. Suffice to say, we were already on the case, writes Newsworks' Vanessa Clifford in a piece first published by Campaign

2016 was an extraordinary year. People just didn't behave in the way they were expected to, or said they would. Surveys were deemed inaccurate, predictions didn't foresee the main events, experts were confounded. The silent majority found their voices – but only if we listened in the right places.

So, it should not, perhaps, have been surprising that right at the end of the year, a number of the UK's prominent retailers bucked predictions and delivered better than expected seasonal results, with Morrison's enjoying its best Christmas in seven years, Tesco reporting a 0.7% increase in sales at stores open for more than a year and Sainsbury's returning to sales growth. There was also no single winning formula: the sales boost was enjoyed by a wide range of outlets, from premium to discounters, including Aldi, Lidl, M&S, the Co-op, Waitrose, John Lewis and Debenhams.

Yet every one of the trend buckers has spent significantly in newsbrands, and some of the most successful have increased investment year on year. Figures are not finalised at the time of writing, and exclude any digital spend, but Nielsen estimates show, for example, Aldi investing a healthy 28%, Morrison's 26% and the Co-op 21% of their December ad budget in print newspapers. Tesco increased spend by 5% compared with December 2015, while Waitrose (+19%) and Lidl (+14%) both invested more heavily in newspapers across Nov/Dec than the previous year. It's also worth noting that a couple of the biggest losers slashed their newspaper spend a bit drastically!

It would be lovely to say that Christmas success was all down to the power of newsbrands, but that would clearly be foolish. But just as we (hopefully) are learning to re-think our pre-conceptions about the British public this year, perhaps we also need to consider whether it's particularly smart to treat newspapers as a Cinderella medium (and in the case of some media commentators, gleefully anticipate their demise in the same way they were sure about Brexit and Trump).

There is a wealth of evidence in IPA Effectiveness case studies to demonstrate a healthy return on advertising investment for many of the big retail names in previous years. There's also no doubt that TV advertising is extremely effective in delivering these results. But a careful read of the case studies will quickly show that newsbrands also play a pivotal role in the winners' business success. Indeed, Peter Field's analysis of the IPA Databank shows that adding newsbrands to a campaign is highly effective in creating longer-term business effects such as profitability, customer acquisition and loyalty as well as delivering increased sales. Similarly, meta-analysis by Benchmarketing shows that adding print newsbrands to the media mix in the retail category improves overall campaign revenue return on investment (RROI) by a factor of 2.8.

It may not be fashionable in the advertising and media world, or glitzy, or win so many awards, but there is no doubt that for real people, in the real world out there, newsbrand advertising really works.

While no one can yet calculate the effectiveness of ads on Christmas 2016 sales, we can demonstrate that Christmas ads in newsbrands attract and keep the reader's attention. We can prove that Christmas ads deliver more eye-balls, for longer, than at other times of the year. And we can prove that the quality environment of digital newsbrands means that your ad is more likely to be visible and actually viewed than on non-newsbrand sites. Eye-tracking specialists Lumen tested a wide range of print and online newsbrand ads in December 2016, to see which were noticed, what most interested people and how long they spent looking at the ads.

It found that people spend longer reading their newspapers around Christmas – and that includes the ads. Total viewing time for print and digital newsbrand ads increased by 36% in December – that's over 100,000 hours more than pre-December.

People love the magic of Christmas, but most need to deliver the best Christmas they can for their families and friends within a defined budget. They need to keep an eye on prices and value (pun intended) as they seek the best quality they can afford. So they are prepared to invest time in newspaper advertising, in order to aid their choices - provided the creative is clear and attractive. They love a bit of Christmas glamour and sparkle to catch their eye: Christmas themed executions generated 25% more attention than non-Christmas ads in the same papers.

On average, Christmas press ads achieved 86% standout, compared with all ad norm of 75%. That means nearly nine out of 10 newspaper readers fixed their eyes on the ad at least once. For the most successful retail advertisers, such as Waitrose, Tesco, Lidl, M&S, Sainsbury's and Boots, 100% of readers noticed the ads.

Dwell time also increases for Christmas newspaper advertising, with the average ad grabbing attention for 2.3 seconds, compared with a non-Christmas average of 1.8 seconds. There's a wide variation in time spent – some ads take a more "catalogue" approach that invites longer perusal of the goods (and prices) on offer; while others focus on the quality and provenance of a single core product.

Looking at the "heat maps" and visual pathways, it is clear that both approaches work well to attract attention to the key elements, provided the ad is uncluttered and does not confuse. Tesco ads showing a range of products (themed by categories, such as beer, wines and spirits or party food) captured attention with wit and held it for between 3.4 and 4.5 seconds with interesting visuals. Waitrose opted for simple, high impact, striking creative that was viewed for between 1.4 seconds (full page) and 5.6 seconds (Front cover wrap). So, newspaper print ads capture and maintain attention – and this increases at key shopping times. That may be news for some, but it really shouldn't be.

And what about digital newsbrands? Can they really offer a premium advertising context compared with digital native and non-newsbrand sites? Especially at a key time for online sales?

We already had part of the answer, from the ground-breaking work that Lumen has carried out through their eye-tracking panel. It investigated what's actually visible when people are on sites, what is actually viewed, and how long it is viewed for. This shows that online, newsbrands are significantly more engaging than non-newsbrand sites, generating 41% more dwell time on average. This in turn translates into more viewable time for ads, more attention paid to ads and 30% higher ad dwell times. Very clear evidence that newsbrands offer a quality environment, with an attentive and interested audience.

It's particularly compelling when the size of the digital newsbrand audience is taken into account – of the 47 million people who read any newsbrand every month, almost 39 million read on at least one digital device and 17 million read via a computer.

The Christmas period showed that online newsbrands rise to the occasion at prime online sales periods, providing even longer dwell times. While Christmas themed advertising showed a smaller uplift in time spent looking at ads (+5%) than for Black Friday (+20%), this is possibly more a reflection of people looking out for early deals and wanting to order in plenty of time for Christmas than the appeal of the ads per se.

So, who did win Christmas 2016? It's a close-run thing, but Tesco probably takes the honours. Lumen calculate (with assistance from Ebiquity estimates) that total dwell time with Tesco Christmas ads in newsbrands was 16 million minutes. We suspect that sold more than a few bottles of prosecco!

First published by Campaign.

Newspaper print ads capture and maintain attention – and this increases at key shopping times. That may be news for some, but it really shouldn't be

Vanessa Clifford, CEO, Newsworks
by Vanessa Clifford 02/02/17

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