Businessman Notepad Roi Word Concept

Traditional advertising, including the print format, can be seen as a drain on company resources rather than a investment. A few years ago Lord Alan Sugar quipped he had written many books about advertising: “…cheque books, that is,” he famously said with a wry smile.

In a fast-changing media landscape, gone are the bingo cards that were an honest (if imperfect) attempt by publishers to quantify the return on investment. Today’s webmasters can provide a multitude of metrics to online advertisers, so what have publishers to offer by way of measurement for print advertising? Essentially, the answer is… data. Lots of data.

The sort of data available will vary from publisher to publisher. Most of the time, it includes readership figures including circulation, geographical location of the readers, job functions, purchasing influence within the organisation and size of the organisation. All that information is compiled on a regular basis (yearly or every other year), and media companies invest a great deal of money learning about their readers. They do so because what they ultimately sell is access to an audience.

Obviously, the quality of the editorial content is essential to a magazine’s success. Equally important is building a high quality audience. It is by looking at the data that a publication’s relevance to an advertiser can be ascertained. So far, so good.

But is there a fail-proof way to tell whether an ad is seen by the readers? Sadly, the short (and refreshingly honest) answer is: no, there isn’t. Many factors such as ad creative or actual ad format, play a major role in an ad being seen properly or simply glanced over. That’s not mentioning external factors over which an advertiser will have no control whatsoever.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to evaluate print advertising results. We have seen ‘vanity’ URLs being used by advertisers, for instance. These are URLs whose domain is bought specifically for a campaign. Some URLs can be unique to an ad – and at times unique to a media title. One can easily see how complex this can become. Frustratingly, it doesn’t guarantee better tracking: countless people might make enquiries by phone and thus be entirely missed from the stats. The same is true with QR codes.

That doesn’t mean advertising doesn’t work. It forms part of a key branding exercise. It defines who you are and it helps express a promise to potential customers. In our next post, we’ll look at the new ‘decision timeline’ – that is to say, the process buyers go through when considering products – and what it means to advertisers.