Digital’s No Good Horrible Rotten Year … and What It Could Mean for Print

The print industry is facing a strange paradox.

“Print is a proven important component of any media plan, effective on its own – and as part of a wider media plan, whereby it actively enhances the ROI of TV or online in the mix,” writes Ulbe Jelluma in Print Power.

“Yet worldwide digital ad spending will reach $223.74 billion in 2017, and represent 38.8% of total paid media outlays, according to research from eMarketer, while print continues to decline.”

So, print ads are proven to boost ROI, yet we are still pouring our money into digital. We all know that famous quote about the definition of insanity, folks…

Many of us in the print industry (self-included) believe that this year marked a real turning point in the prevailing attitudes toward digital advertising, as senior marketers realized the underlying problems with digital advertising.

“The reality is that in 2017 the bloom came off the rose for digital media,” said Proctor & Gamble’s CMO Marc Pritchard at DMexco. “As little as 25% of the money spent in digital media actually made it to consumers.”

Pritchard famously told the digital ad agency to “grow up” last spring, citing fraudulent ad supply and sketchy metrics that send so much ad money to waste.

He’s not alone.

“Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of ad and media company WPP, also suggests that clients are looking at their overall media mix and questioning whether they have “over-invested” in some new media alternatives at the expense of established mediums,” Jelluma continues.

Sorrell, I should note, was saying in 2013 that his clients were “spending too much on print and not enough on online and mobile.” And the world listened. Yet just two years later, he retracted, saying he’d had a change of heart.

“I think actually we are starting to see with traditional media, particularly newspapers, a bit of a pendulum swinging back because the market will realize they are more powerful than people give them credit for,” Sorrell said in 2015.

Yet big, fast trains don’t stop on a dime – unless they are forced to take a cold, hard look at the condition of the tracks. And 2017 may be the warning bell they’ve needed.

“…digital is now a $200bn industry,” P&G’s Pritchard continued at DMexco. “We have to stop giving digital media a pass and insist it grow up.”

We need to face the bitter truths about ad tech and insist on accountability from third-party platforms. We need to know where our ad dollars are being spent, and not risk our brand reputations through unsavory associations. We need to stand up to the 99% duopoly and control our own distribution destiny.

Beyond that, we need to get much better at talking about the real power of print to impact important metrics. We need to tout the benefits of advertising in a known platform with finite edges.

And we need to question everything.

“At the Festival of Media in London last week Lidl’s head of media Sam Gaunt said the marketing industry was ‘guilty of overselling programmatic’ – although he concedes it is the ‘future’ of media spend – and that the brand gets much better ROI from press, radio and TV advertising,” Jelluma notes.

We can’t ignore the dichotomy there – the “future” of our industry is being “oversold,” even as brands admit they get better results elsewhere.

The one thing we can say about 2017 is that it served as a giant wake-up call to many marketers. Let’s hope they keep those eyes open moving forward and aren’t lulled back into complacency.