Lately, it seems like digital media is stealing all of the oxygen from the room, and for good reason. eMarketer estimates that digital ad buyers in the US will spend $191.09 billion in 2021, a 25.5% increase over last year. No doubt retail and the surge in eCommerce has played a sizable role in pushing digital ad spending up, but just because the Internet economy grew seven times faster than the total US economy in the past four years, doesn’t mean that’s where all the action is happening now. Traditional — dare we say “old” — media buys still have a measurable, real-world impact on ad campaigns, and these channels deserve recognition.
While we’ve been fretting over third-party cookies and click-through rates, traditional media channels have been maturing like fine wine. Are you ready to pop the cork and discover why they’re still worth it?
What is Traditional Media?
Before we explain exactly what makes traditional media buys a good investment in our post-digital era, we need to clarify exactly what traditional media is. The answer may seem simple — traditional media is anything that isn’t digital media, right? — but it’s a little more complicated than that.
The line between what’s considered traditional and digital has blurred. “Traditional” media channels are usually considered to be: print/direct mail, radio, TV and out-of-home (OOH), but what do you call watching TV on Hulu or reading a magazine on your iPad? Obviously, simply calling some formats “traditional” and some “digital” does not adequately describe them.
For the purpose of streamlining the definition then, let’s think of traditional media as any channel that delivers one-way communication. TV, billboards, newspapers and radio all meet that bar. Digital media, on the other hand, could be described as any channel that encourages two-way interaction and engagement of some kind. Think of your social media ads, paid ads on search engines or display ads.
Why Are Traditional Media Buys Still Worth It?
Now that that’s out of the way, we can get to the fun part: exploring what makes these channels great.
Traditional Media Improves Brand Awareness and Recall
Consumer perceptions of brands aren’t established overnight; they take time and exposure to grow. To successfully drive someone toward making a purchasing decision, you need to target messaging for all levels of the buying process, and traditional media is perfectly positioned to drive exposure and awareness.
Print: Print advertising in particular drives brand awareness and recall more so than digital channels. According to Newsworks, ad recall for print newspapers reached 77% in 2019/2020, much higher than the 46% for digital news brands. Nearly half of print readers (49%) are paying closer attention to ads, and they’re 147% more likely to have an emotional reaction. Other research has found that people find print easier to read than digital content, allowing them to focus on the content and spend more time with it.
OOH: OOH advertising is also a great channel to activate for a brand awareness campaign, especially post-pandemic. According to research from the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA) and The Harris Poll, 41% of Americans report noticing billboards, outdoor video screens, posters and other forms of OOH advertising more now than before the pandemic began. In urban cities, that number jumps to 55%. Selecting inventory along roads and highways should prove to be particularly successful, with 83% of consumers noticing OOH along highways and 82% noticing these ads while traveling locally around their town.
Radio: Of course, the central benefit of traditional media buys are how they allow you to immerse consumers in your brand’s messaging, thus driving brand recall. Alongside the visual channels, print and OOH, audio also helps your brand enter the consumer consciousness. Multiple campaign effectiveness studies conducted by Nielsen over the years have shown an average lift in radio ad recall of 82%.
TV: If you’re already using digital channels to drive brand recall, adding a traditional channel such as TV will significantly improve performance. In one study, adding TV to digital campaigns more than doubled brand recall.
Traditional Media Buys Boost Online Traffic
Simply increasing your brand’s awareness and recall isn’t all traditional media can do, though. These channels also have the power to drive consumers online to learn more about your brand and its benefits.
Print: Research from Newsworks indicates that 27% of consumers who see print ads also tend to visit the advertiser’s website, an increase from 12% in 2009. Purchase intent of consumers who notice print ads increased, too, reaching 22% in 2020 compared to just 7% in 2009.
OOH: Similarly, a quarter (24%) of adults who have viewed an OOH ad searched for information about the advertised brand online and 17% visited the brand’s website, according to Nielsen’s Out-of-Home Advertising Study.
Radio: Even ads on the radio, a media channel mostly enjoyed while consumers are driving, will increase web traffic for your brand. As the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) reports, Radio generates a lift of 29% on average in Google search activity.
TV: It’s TV ad buys that may be the most effective at driving online traffic. As research from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) suggests, there is a direct correlation between TV advertising and website traffic. As their study demonstrates, both DTC and non-DTC brands across all life stages see an immediate double-digit increase in unique visitors to their digital platforms during their TV launch month. Younger brands (those three years old or younger) benefit the most from TV ads, seeing an almost one-quarter increase (23%) in average website traffic within the launch month alone.
Investing in Traditional Media Improves Revenue
But, will you actually see a positive return on your investment in traditional media buys? Without hesitation: definitely.
Print: In 2018, the Data & Marketing Association (now the ANA) found that direct mail has a 9% average response rate for house lists and 4.9% for prospect lists. Compare that to digital channels such as Email, Paid Search, Online Display and Social Media, which average response rates of less than 1%, and it’s obvious why many businesses still invest in this tried and true channel.
OOH: Since consumers encounter OOH ads when they’re away from their homes and closer to the point of sale, it should be no surprise that they have the ability to drive purchasing decisions. According to the OAAA and The Harris Poll, OOH influences purchasing decisions for over a third (34%) of consumers in urban areas.
Radio: It’s no secret that radio has an impressive reach in the US, but if no one is prompted to make a purchase based on a radio ad, it wouldn’t be a very useful channel. So a few years ago, Westwood One partnered with Nielsen to determine exactly what the ROI for radio advertising was. They found that radio delivered $12 in sales for every $1 spent on advertising.
TV: If you think TV is a channel whose only purpose is to spread brand awareness, you’d be mistaken. Research from Accenture, commissioned by NBCUniversal, shows that TV generates two to four times greater brand ROI at all stages of the sales funnel than other high-growth media channels such as social media or short form video. Furthermore, it's nearly equal to Paid Search in its average purchase intent ROI, delivering 83% greater return than the average return of all media channels.
Don’t Put All Your Media Eggs in One Basket
While we’d never tell a client they shouldn’t utilize the power of digital marketing to some extent in their media plans, we also wouldn’t want you to ignore the effectiveness of traditional media buys. Our advice? Do a little of both! Mixing digital and traditional media together has proven to be a potent combination, and our media stewards are happy to help you nail down your marketing recipe. Since 1985 — way before Facebook and SEM — we’ve been helping business plan and buy media of all forms, so our media buyers have the knowledge and expertise to guide you through the process and get you the highest ROI possible. To start working with our media stewards, contact us today!