Defying Digital: The Resilience of Print Advertising in the Modern Age

In a world gone digital, does print advertising make sense for businesses trying to reach new audiences?

Businessman in suit reading magazine with morning coffee
Photo: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

The average person spends more than six hours online each day. Who has time to read magazines?

It turns out a lot of people still appreciate print, as well as the ads within those publications, if they’re done well.


Here are a few stats from News/Media Alliance’s 2022 Magazine Factbook that might just blow your mind:

  • 122 print magazines were launched in 2021 (compared to just 60 in 2020).
  • 92 percent of all paid magazine subscriptions were for single-copy print.
  • 3 out of 4 magazine readers who see an ad take action.
  • 88 percent of adults read a magazine in the past six months.
  • Devoted magazine readers tend to have a higher household income.

“We know print remains a powerful channel to reach consumers, and they trust and welcome recommendations from their favorite print and digital publications when they are looking for ways to improve their lives,” said Rebecca Frank, vice president for research and insights at News/Media Alliance.

This is particularly great news for cannabis brands that struggle with advertising restrictions from major online platforms like Google or Meta.

So, let’s cut to the chase. What do cannabis businesses really need to know about print advertising in 2023?

An integrated marketing strategy is key

“Any successful integrated marketing strategy includes a thoughtful mixture of print and digital advertising—a.k.a. paid media,” said Ricardo Baca, founder of Grasslands, a cannabis marketing and public relations (PR) agency. “[Paid media] works together alongside earned media such as PR placements and owned media, which includes content marketing on brand websites as well as social media marketing.”

The best integrated marketing strategies, Baca continued, share the same message across all the different channels of earned, owned, and paid media.

“If we’re deciding between a digital and print ad, we look back to our goals and objectives for the campaign at hand,” said Baca. “Once we review our campaign’s north star, that usually dictates where we’ll be buying the advertisements.”

Baca emphasized that one of the biggest misconceptions about print advertising falls in line with a wider misunderstanding of marketing in general.

“Some brands think they can make one marketing spend in one channel and see immediate impact, and that’s just not how it works,” he said. “Each marketing channel has a different benefit and hits the target audience at a different stage of the marketing funnel. We call it integrated marketing for a reason—and lesson No. 1 here is: How are you aligning your marketing strategy with your funnel’s purpose of awareness, consideration, conversion, and beyond?”

These very insights reflect Isaiah Taylor’s experience as media director at Advanced Nutrients.

“When taking a holistic approach and building an economy of marketing repetition, it is understated how valuable tangible print ads can actually be in order to activate a scalable outcome,” Taylor said. “Customers see digital ad banners, then a social media post, and then if we’re lucky, they’ll catch a print ad which they will then sometimes recognize as the staple for their decision-making.”

Inspiring action from the target audience

Print advertising often can lead to the final decision being made when weighing what product to choose, Taylor noted.

“We’ve surveyed many of our customers, and what they’ve remembered most was our print ad,” he said. “The difference between a digital banner ad or social media post and a print ad is that the customer didn’t choose to see the digital ad, whereas a print ad feels like the choice of the customer because they owned every action up until opening the magazine and viewing that ad.”

Wil Walker, chief revenue officer at Display Dispensary, revealed how a smart mix of digital and print advertising launched the business into a substantial sales cycle.

“Our first ad with mg ran in September 2020. By December our sales tripled month over month. Traffic to our trade show booths was crazy, and our lead gen went through the roof,” Walker said.

But how did Walker and his team measure their return on investment? This is notoriously one of the biggest hang-ups with print ads.

“It wasn’t Google analytics, our [search engine optimization], or even seeing the ads that confirmed our strategy was working,” Walker said. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard ‘I saw your ad in mg Mag, and I think we need your expertise’ or working our trade show booth seeing potential clients come in with the issue and a bookmark on our ad, I’d have a lot of dollars. That’s all the feedback we needed.”

Finding the right partner for your print ads

Print ads work for specific reasons. Whether it’s the final impression as part of an integrated campaign, the cachet of appearing in a relevant publication, or the tactile, aesthetic value of the ad itself, print advertisements tug at the reader’s emotions in an unobtrusive, clutter-free way.

However, none of this works if your ad sucks. Fumbled storytelling and carelessly designed layouts will compromise any print ad effort from the start.

Walker revealed how Display Dispensary had grown cold on print advertising until they finally met the right publishing partner, which made all the difference for the success of their ads and the company’s bottom line.

“They understood our brand and knew what objectives we aimed to achieve through our media strategy,” Walker said, adding the folks who’d sold them ad space previously were just salespeople who didn’t care about his brand.

“It’s crucial to have a partner who comprehends your brand and its goals,” he said. “Moreover, having someone who can provide honest feedback and identify when our ads aren’t performing well and point out areas for improvement is invaluable.”

Finding the right partner is a crucial part of the equation for a successful print campaign, Baca agreed.

“Sometimes a cannabis brand places a buzzy ad in a [business-to-business] publication, and the entire industry is abuzz—which speaks to the power of the right messaging-creative pairing,” said Baca. “But all too often, brands aren’t collaborating with the right partners, so their ads end up falling flat. It’s an important reminder that simply making the decision to place a print advertisement is only part of the battle. That’s when the real work begins, to make sure you’re getting the best [return on investment] on your print ad placements.”

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