Print vs digital advertising

Insight from RAMetrics


In an increasingly digital world, the fate of print advertising is often called into question. Does the rise of the internet mean the death of newspaper ads?

This is a topic of debate which frequently rears its head and we have to acknowledge that, in recent years, the circulation of newspapers has fallen. However, according to the latest PAMCo data, news brands are healthier than ever before.

Data shows that readers’ increasing appreciation and demand for journalism as a trusted source of information has never been greater. Daily digital national news readership is up 20% year-on-year, this translates into an extra 3.7 million people reading national news brands online every day. Across the total news sector, there are now 49 million monthly readers, which is more than Google and Facebook respectively.

The knock-on effect that declining print circulation seems to be having on advertising spend is disproportionate, with the decrease in spend far outpacing the declining print audience, which is still a significant 20 million a week, representing a third of the population.

Evidence shows that print effectiveness is growing over time and as a result, bucking the overall trend of decreasing campaign effectiveness. Furthermore, print readers tend to be the most engaged and attentive. According to the latest IPA TouchPoints data, readers are spending 24% longer reading their newspaper during the coronavirus pandemic, working out to a significant 1 hr and 40 mins of quality time on the days they read.

News brands’ high engagement provides healthy returns to advertisers and brands, both in terms of short-term business metrics such as sales and market share, but also longer-term business metrics such as price sensitivity, loyalty, customer acquisition and profit.

The IPA Databank Study shows that including new brands in the marketing mix means they are becoming more effective over time at driving longer-term business effects, vs campaigns that don’t use new brands.

Campaigns that use news brands are significantly more likely to drive and deliver sustainable share growth, attract new customers and also increase loyalty among existing customers. They reduce price sensitivity and therefore reduce the need to rely on short-term cost-cutting promotions, which leads to bigger profits and a larger ROI.

When looking for some substantiation as to why news brand advertising is becoming more effective over time, we can look to RAMetrics, a database that tests hundreds of ads and articles across multiple measures, within both print and digital news brands to provide benchmarks that help us understand how new brand ads are likely to perform.

RAMetrics data highlights that print ad recall has improved significantly over the past decade, by an impressive 67% between 2009/10 and 2019/2020, from 46% to 77%. We see similar uplifts when comparing other brand measures among readers who noticed the ads – paying close attention to ads has more than doubled, from 23% to 49% and readers are also 147% more likely to have an emotional reaction. Action metrics have improved too, visits to the advertiser are up by 75% and to its website by 125%, with purchase intent more than tripling over the decade, from 7% to 22%.

The trend is similar for digital news brands. Ad recall has increased by 109% from 22% in 2009/10 to 46% in 2019/20. All brand and action measures have improved among readers who’ve noticed the online ads, attention is up 129%, from 24% to 55% and likeability has increased by 111% from 28% to 59%. Digital news brand ads are perceived more positively than they were a decade ago, an increase of 117% from 29% to 63% and they are also seen as increasingly beneficial, up 105% from 22% to 45%.

We know from our work with group M that advertising in quality environments, more specifically on news brand websites, drives greater engagement and greater brand response – significantly higher than industry standards.

Eye-tracking shows that ads on news brand sites get noticed more and for longer. As a result, the inclusion of digital news brands within the advertising mix drives both short-term and long-term business effects.

When comparing and contrasting the performance of the latest print and digital news brand ads, among those who have read the newspaper or visited a news brand website, print outperforms digital across all brand and action measures:

  • Ad recall is 1.7 times higher for ads within print news brands than it is for ads appearing in digital news brands (77% vs 46% for digital)
  • Branding is 185% stronger in print advertising vs digital advertising (37% vs 20% for digital)
  • Readers are 152% more likely to pay attention to print advertising vs digital advertising (38% vs 25% for digital)
  • Print ads are 141% easier to understand (52% vs 37% for digital)
  • Readers are 139% more likely to say that print ads are interesting to them (39% vs 28%)
  • When it comes to driving action, despite digital being a tried and tested response vehicle, RAMetrics data points towards print advertising driving higher levels of web visits (20% vs 19% for digital), recommendations (32% vs 23% for digital) and discussions (20% vs 14% for digital). 
  • Digital ads are less recalled than print ads but they are more effective than print ads at converting engaged readers into action takers (64% vs 55% for print).


RAMetrics data suggests that digital ad performance is better compared to print ad performance among news brand readers who recall seeing the advertising. This holds true across several engagement measures such as ‘likeability’ (59% vs 49% for print); ‘fresh approach’ (69% vs 54% for print) and easy to understand (81% vs 68% for print). The same goes for action metrics such as ‘looking for more information’ (47% vs 30% for print); ‘visit advertiser’ (46% vs 25% for print); ‘visit website’ (44% vs 27% for print) and ‘recommend’ (49% vs 41% for print).

News brands provide advertisers with direct access to an incredibly engaged audience in an effective and trusted environment. Both print and digital news brands perform very well separately in delivering important business effects, but there is a strong multiplier effect from using both in combination. Having both print and digital news brands in your campaign mix deliver almost three times the business effects of campaigns using just one platform.

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