Design Editorial

Is Print Ready for its Official Comeback?

Use the psychology behind print to build emotional “brand moments.”


Engagement rate, views, downloads, impressions… dog-eared pages?

The prevalence of analytic capabilities means marketers can track content’s performance in real-time, and in a nation where the average home has 10 connected devices, these results begin to pour in almost immediately. This immediacy is satisfying, and in a race for consumers’ eyeballs (and wallets), it can be irresistible to double down on digital tactics, particularly when magazine readership, newspapers subscriptions, and virtually everything analog appears to be in steady decline.

However, digital isn’t everything. I recognize that it’s not a popular perspective, but in over 25 years of creating custom communications programs, I’ve seen the power of print rise, fall, and be steady. The truth is, print marketing is a valuable medium. Yes, I mean now, in 2022. It’s tactile, it’s experiential and studies have shown that print methods demand consumer attention, are popular with ever-coveted millennials, and when paired with other methods, can even result in increased spend.

So why is there often hesitation towards print marketing? The answer is simple: impatience. Measuring the success of print content requires control group testing, which takes longer and, admittedly, is a bigger investment before knowing the return. However, regardless of the effort involved to ensure its worth, some brands are proving the value of print marketing and are seeing returns on these investments. Full magazines and catalogs, in particular, are enjoying a branded content moment and are proving that they are as much about product as they are about holistic communication.

For many brands, the key to driving sales is more complex than simply offering coupons or special offers. Instead, it’s about going beyond the commercial experience to aligning your brand with an ethos that drives a consumer towards your product.

Know who your real audience is.

If you’re like me, you received a glossy catalog on hefty stock paper from Amazon, Shutterstock and probably others this past holiday season. Why would Amazon go to the trouble to design a print catalog when it has direct access to you via phone notifications, email, social and programmatic advertising, and television spots? Because you’re not the audience. Your children are. Amazon touted the mag as a “Holiday Kids Gift Book, packed with over 90 colorful pages of gifts and activities for kids — including an interactive augmented reality experience to explore.” The kids are the ones begging for gifts, and what better way to capture their undivided attention that to send them 90 pages of entertaining content — just for them!

Use psychology to your advantage.

Put simply, print does things that digital just cannot. A study by Canada Post showed participants an assortment of digital and print ads, then asked them to recall what they’d seen. Almost 80% remembered the print ads, while only 44% remembered the digital. Researches attributed the disparity to the staggering difference in cognitive load, which is measures the mental effort required to comprehend a stimulus. According to another study by Millward Brown, print also activates the brain’s emotion centers in a way digital doesn’t. Some savvy senior marketers are recognizing this potential for emotion and turning to print to build “brand moments.”

Leverage print’s luxury and premium appeal.

Fifty-five percent of luxury brands’ ad spend in 2019 went to print, and for good reason. With digital users under a constant deluge of messaging and content recommendations, it’s critical for luxury brands to distinguish themselves from the chaff. For the same reasons Amazon created an fun-filled catalog for kids, a high-quality publication stands out instantly against a pile of junk mail and bills. Véronique Louise, global branding and media director at Moët Hennessy, said it best: “Print is a natural place to belong for luxury brands – they share similar values. In a world of fake news and superficial images, where time is lacking, print publications stand for substance and meaning.”

Think outside the herd.

Whenever an idea or trend seems to have the industry’s unanimous approval, there could be opportunity. Branded print publications are not always the answer. Many brands are highly successful with other formats, but for some print content can offer a tactile and deeply experiential engagement with a brand’s message. Print can certainly worth the effort involved—even if ROI isn’t immediately apparent.