Digital, Baby, You’ve Got a Lot to Learn…

Print magazine publishers, rather than quivering in their boots in the face of digital disruption, now have a thing or two to teach the digital side about customer experience. Are they listening?

Digital advertising, the supposed “savior” of the print magazine industry, has turned out to be not-so-much.

“Fraud. Ad blockers. Mobilegeddon. Slow page loading. Low ad rates. Let’s face it: Digital advertising, which was supposed to rescue us from the decline of print, has run into a mess of problems this year on the way to saviorhood,” writes D. Eadward Tree in Publishing Executive.

“Instead, it’s print magazine publishers who are speaking out and offering the digital folks some important lessons,” Tree continues.

He’s spot on. This is probably one of Tree’s best, most insightful articles in a long time. And that’s saying something. For starters, let’s realize that consumers are tuning out those mobile and digital ads.

“A recent Hubspot study found that the ads consumers hate the most by far are pop-ups and mobile phone ads, while magazine ads are the least objectionable. Hatred is rarely the beginning of a beautiful customer relationship,” Tree explains.

Add to that the growing mistrust of ad metrics, (like Facebook’s three big gaffs), and advertisers are beginning to see that “all web metrics are, to put it politely, heifer droppings,” Tree adds.

He also notes that print publishers long ago learned an important (and painful) lesson, and survived to tell their tale.

“In the print world, we learned long ago that keeping advertising separate from editorial wasn’t enough. If reputable publications ran sleazy, spammy, or scammy ads, readers became outraged and put less trust in our content. They didn’t want to hear excuses about ad networks and remnant agencies,” he explains.

“They still don’t, but somehow we magazine publishes forgot that lesson when we went onto the web. Readers didn’t value our ‘premium content’ if it appeared beside old-fashioned snake-oil ads, and they don’t appreciate it today if it’s accompanied by newfangled ‘content recommendation engine’ clickbait,” he notes. (Need proof of the wisdom of this? Major publishers are dropping those “promoted story” links, in an effort to protect their brand.)

As Tree explains, magazine readers taught us there is a limit to the ad-to-editorial ratio; go beyond on that, and the readers revolt. The same is happening now in digital. Seems publishers have forgotten that, regardless of platform, readers are still human and still react the same way to overly intrusive messaging. Or maybe it’s simply digital reaching puberty…it thinks it knows better, but at the end of the day most media brands would be on the street without print paying the rent.

Given the massive fraud, the mobile bloat, the rise in ad blocking and diving ad rates, the idea that digital can “save” print’s future is looking unlikely. In fact, more media brands are beginning to realize they’ve been chasing a future that doesn’t exist by committing so entirely to a dysfunctional content and ad strategy.

If publishers really want to succeed on digital platforms (and there is much value to a brand to do so, if they do it right), they need a good lesson in how magazine ads work.