Susan Greenfield, the first baroness to address delegates to the Print Power seminar, is a worried woman. The renowned neuroscientist has measured the effects of too much screen time on developing brains and it is not good news. Neural pathways do not develop, the frontal cortex is over stimulated and excess dopamine is produced.
The same effect is seen in those that are addicted to gambling, the obese (addicted to food), in schizophrenics and in the brains of very young children, who as every parent knows, suffer a short attention span and whose brains have yet to be moulded by experience. Or, she claims, by reading a decent book.
It was a powerful endorsement for print, away from the usual reports about the open rates for direct mail, the impact of a printed catalogue or the power of personalisation. Baroness Greenfield mentioned studies which show that text viewed on screen with visible hypertext links and no doubt intrusive advertising, is not absorbed as well as text sitting on a printed page.
“Digital is asking us to multi task,” she told the packed out Stationers Hall. “But is multi tasking always a good idea? No.”
In contrast to enthusiastic video game players, those who spend time with books enjoy the story arc that these provide and this can create empathy with the characters, a life experience lived via the medium of the novel. She produced a picture of a video game princess alongside that of War & Peace. Which, she asked rhetorically, would we be more likely to engage with?
“Print isn’t just print, it’s much deeper than that. It enables you to think,” she says
Engagement was a recurring theme throughout the day, from a brief opening presentation by BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold to the closing presentation from DMA managing director Rachel Aldighieri.
Likewise the emotional impact of print ran through all the presentations, including that from Jonathan Porritt which delved into the urgency of decarbonising our economies and moving to circular economies in order to avoid environmental disaster. Human beings, it seems, are addicted to print. While most discussed the tactile virtues of printed objects, few spoke directly about the emotional impact.
Designer Wayne Hemingway talked about his love for vinyl LPs having amassed more than 10,800 albums, all in printed sleeves. “As human beings we have feelings in the end of our fingers and we like possessions. I want the feeling of the vinyl, that something has art applied to it, that it has been made by a human being, and that doesn’t happen with digital. People want to know the provenance of what they buy,” he said.
Hemmingwaydesign exploits print in its wallpapers, floor coverings, the Red or Dead fabrics it used to own and the signage around its projects for housing or student accommodation. It makes these spaces more human.
While print is almost universally liked, the problem is that print is not always used well, and compared to the lure of what Kim Willis later called “shiny new things”, print may lose out.
The presentation from ad guru Dave Trott demonstrated this with devastating effectiveness. He asked the audience if anyone could recall any of the 1,000 advertising messages that we are subjected to each day from the previous 24 hours. After a minute, four hands were raised tentatively. “That’s 200,000 messages and we can only remember four. British advertising used to be the best in the world. Not any more.
“The reason that most advertising is rubbish is because it is being made by marketing people,” he said. “And everyone in marketing is hypnotised by technology and complexity. There is no creativity, because nobody is thinking.”
The aim for advertising is to achieve stand out, to become viral. This is not a new phenomenon, he explained, as a video of an ice cream van blaring out Greensleeves played. The song was, he said, written by Henry VIII to court Anne Boleyn, yet is instantly recognisable today. That is viral before YouTube, Google and Facebook, Trott pointed out.
He too drew on explanations of how the brain works to show that we will instinctively group together things that share similar characteristics including, for example, television commercials. Only when one commercial is distinctive enough to break free from this tendency does it become separated and achieve breakthrough with viewers.
If there are 19 similar commercials during a programme and one that is different, that one will sit in a group of it’s own and so achieve 50% mind share, compared to the 50% shared by the 19 undistinguished ads. It is how the mind works. “By achieving separation this you immediately reposition all the competition,” Trott said.
But advertising can work. Tiffany Darke, creative content director at agency Method, outlined work for News UK that demonstrated the effectiveness of print and how print has a number of valuable attributes over digital.
On the weekend after the referendum result, the circulation of the Times rose 100,000, that of the Sunday Times by 75,000. People wanted information they could trust and turned to newspapers. News UK is building on this insight with a campaign that positions the paper under the tag: “Know Your Times“.
Print is also powerful for the Sun. At the time of the solar eclipse, the paper ran an ad for Oreos, printing a cover wrap on translucent paper. Not only was this seen by regular readers, but also by those buying a paper from the newsstand. Oreo sales for the month rose 59%.
Print delivers the cut through that digital advertising does not. It has authority, delivers for luxury brands and encourages engagement and as the Oreo treatment shows, can be innovative, she said.
Another study for the Times’ online version reflected the reports that Baroness Greenfield had mentioned. Online readers do not like distractions and like to read to the end of a story without flicking to different pages loaded with ads. She explained: “The experience of reading online was dissatisfactory. What if the Times could produce a digital product that protected the reader experience?” This is how Print Business presents information on our website, so these findings were heartening.
Cedar Communications strategist Kim Willis had been involved in the relaunch of British Airways’ Business Life magazine. “We found that business people are technology savvy, enjoy keeping up with the trends and will share the report they have received from the Harvard Business Review by email because it raises their social capital.
“But they also enjoy reading the magazine. This is because when they have been through the airport and finally reach their seat, it is time to switch off from the world. The magazine does this.”
Consumer magazines produced for supermarkets are among the highest circulation titles in the UK while at the other end of the scale house is the in-house magazine for hipster friendly club Soho House. “Print today is operating in a much more complex environment, in a multi-channel world which is the world I inhabit.
“Print has a number of attributes, where the importance can vary. It can be about creating demand for a product in a new area, to position a brand as an authority in that area. It can be used to build relationships and loyalty.
“Print does something different to digital. It has a different impact and that has value for brands.”
This does not make print the shoo-in choice. It must still demonstrate that it can be the right channel and you have to track the impact it has and to understand what works.
The DMA would agree. Managing director Rachel Aldighieri continued to stress that print must prove its relevance. “Relevancy,” she said, “beats simple personalisation.” In an echo of Dave Trott’s complaint that the state of above the line advertising is poor, she said that the DMA was highlighting the plight of the copywriter, a role that had been downgraded in favour of the data scientist.
Print matters too across society. If Two Sides was set up to counter Greenwash myths, and Martyn Eustace raced though the successes it has had in Europe and North America, Keep Me Posted was set up to ensure that consumers are not forced into the receipt of digital statements and invoices. Its head Michael Gold stressed the continuing importance of transactional print, saying that 81% of consumers think that it is very important to have the choice of how they receive communications from service providers.
While this largely affects the elderly who either lack access to computers or the facility to use them fluently, it also affects the young who can be unused to running their financial affairs and be uncomfortable with SMS and other channels pushing easy access to credit.
Print is the sober channel to protect consumers and the campaign would like that protection enshrined in legislation. The opportunity exists with the upcoming Better Markets Bill. It chimes, he said, with Theresa May’s pledge to head a government for everyone.
Print perhaps does not yet need the status of a protected species, and there is an increasing appreciation that print, to borrow a phrase from the golden age of British advertising, reaches the parts that other channels cannot reach.