Forget-Me-Not: Science Reveals the Secrets of Print Marketing


Let’s close our eyes and travel back to a couple of months ago. Your friend is on holiday and has sent you a joyful text with a fascinating picture from the exotic country they are visiting: do you remember it? Vaguely? Perhaps not at all? What is more, you may have even deleted the photo after a while to save space on your device. However, if a postcard reaches your letterbox, you may recall more details about it: the stamp, the message on the back, the actual image, and so on. Chances are, it is still on your kitchen wall, and you often look at it with a smile.

Still, in an increasingly digitalised world, there seems to be very little space left for print and paper. With the frenzy of everyday life, we tend to engage with content by scrolling through social media, glued either to our phone or laptop. Marketers have adapted swiftly by rendering their digital ads as punchy and as condensed as possible to immediately grab consumers’ attention.

On a whole, digital marketing is fast and cost-effective. However, print is often more memorable than digital content, and some feel it is more authentic. With recent neuroscience research revealing that print content has the capacity of maximising sensory appeal and that it may ultimately stick with the consumer for longer, let’s have a look at why – according to science – it is certainly worth giving paper marketing another go.

Easier to read and understand

When comparing the impact of paper marketing with digital content through eye-tracking and EEG brain wave measurements, the results were in favour of print. Evaluating the difference in cognitive load – the ability to understand what you have in front of you – print media proved to be easier to digest. In fact, according to a study performed by Canadian neuromarketers at TrueImpact, print content “requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media (5.15 vs 6.37), suggesting that it is both easier to understand and more memorable”. Considering that the ability to comprehend content with ease is strongly linked to brand recall, it is clear that this is particularly interesting data.

It presses the right ‘buttons’

Locked away inside our cranium, the ventral striatum is an area of the brain that has been identified by scientists as an indicator of desire and valuation. Through fMRI scans, Temple University researchers compared digital and print media’s effects on this small brain structure to measure marketing effectiveness. Results showed that paper advertisements, whether direct mail or magazine inserts, sparked more activity inside the ventral striatum. This suggests that print marketing has a more persuasive influence on buyers. While not a total guarantee, activity within this area of the brain can be a reliable predictor of future purchasing behaviour.

Paper creates more emotion

In line with our postcard example, physical material has the ability to both build meaningful connections and stimulate sentiments. This is because it feels much more ‘real’ and tangible to the brain. As a 2009 Bangor University study highlights, paper media allows for a greater ‘internalisation’ of the adverts; by entering buyers’ minds more effectively, people will likely remember the content and the brand for a longer period.  

Long-form print best satisfies contemporary needs

We live in a world that becomes more complex every day. Amidst the numerous controversies of our times, consumers are increasingly demanding transparency. When it comes to pinpointing one’s position on a pressing current affairs issue, from climate change to ethnic minorities or LGBTQ+ rights, it may be quite challenging to express the brand’s view in a succinct, character-restricted statement. The nature of the online sphere requires digital adverts to be short and incisive in order to capture people’s attention. However, this compromises the length and depth of the company’s stance. Long-form print offers the chance to express a brand’s view on a problem that cannot be pinned down in a few words, giving consumers the opportunity to remember and relate better to the company’s ethos.

In a nutshell, print content allows for a more personal and impactful experience. By engaging consumers’ senses on multiple levels and stimulating people’s memory, paper adverts may have an edge over their digital counterparts.

Ultimately, science has spoken: print marketing should not be a dying art. It is, instead, still very much capable of creating engagement and sparking curiosity in people’s minds.


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