Have you ever been in a bookstore and seen a person gliding her fingertips over the book covers? She’s barely looking at the titles, just skimming four fingers across the tops of the stacks. Occasionally she stops, and places her whole palm down on a specific cover, rubbing it, feeling it, petting it. When she thinks no one’s looking, she may take a magazine with a grainy varnish on the cover and gently touch it to her cheek. She’ll put her nose to the pages of a book, breathing in that unmistakable scent of possibility and history.
That’s me. I’m a print geek.
I love the feel of a deeply debossed cover, the tooth of a nubby sheet of paper, the heft of a nice, chunky business card. I’ve spent hours pouring over gorgeous, glittery wrapping paper and greeting cards with special foils and appliques. Don’t get me started on fonts.
Admittedly, my fondness for ink-on-paper (and all its associated collateral) is off the charts compared to most people. But the way print affects us is fundamentally the same: Since more than half of our brain is devoted to processing sensory experiences, and much of that sensory receptivity is devoted to touch, it’s not surprising that print impacts and influences us on a completely different level than digital screens.1
To truly understand the effect that print media has on people, renowned market research company Millward Brown (now Kantar Millward Brown) engaged a team of neuroscientists, a large number of volunteers, and functional MRI equipment. The volunteers were asked to read ink-on-paper content and content on a tablet.
What Kantar Millward Brown discovered is that the way content is delivered to audiences absolutely affects their relationship with that content. Specifically, when people are consuming ink-on-paper, areas of their brains are engaged that would others be lying dormant when they’re reading content on screens.2
Sounds logical. People are using more of their senses when they’re reading a magazine or a book. They’re touching it, hearing the pages turn, and even smelling the glossy pages. It’s all part of the experience of reading a physical book or magazine, so it makes sense that ink-on-paper really resonates. Because of the physicality of paper, people feel more connected to it. They understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screen.3 And not just people like me who are obsessed with print—everyone.
The science proves what print geeks have always known:
When people pick up a printed piece—a book, magazine, newspaper, whatever—they’re more engaged in and receptive to what they’re reading. People seek the story—they read for content. They slow down, and focus on what they’re reading, including the ads, which they appreciate as adding to the experience.
This is in part because with ink on paper, there’s a definitive end. We know when we’re halfway through a great book. And some of us even start perusing our favorite magazines from back to front. Reading on a device is more scattered. Subconsciously, we know that there’s basically no end to the information we’re consuming. There’s always more scrolling, another link, additional websites, so we read more haphazardly. We skim.
Print media makes such an impression on readers that what we read is more easily stored in our brains. Because we’re ‘leaning back’ when we’re reading ink on paper, we’re more immersed, and more likely to absorb and retain the information, including the printed ads. That explains why magazine advertising works, and why magazines’ ROAS are an impressive $3.94.
When people read magazines, books, etc., the weight of the magazine, the texture of the pages, and the visual stimulation makes it more real. It contributes to the ‘Endowment Effect.’ Physically holding something makes it feel like you own it—and your ownership of something makes it more valuable to you than if someone else owns it. And once you own it, you don’t want to give it up. Touching the image of something in a magazine triggers the endowment effect. It’s a surrogate for touching the thing for real.4 There’s no way to achieve this connection with a digital ad.
Of course, digital advertising is very effective—our campaigns succeed for our clients because they’re highly targeted, interactive, and reach people wherever they go.* Digital is an integral part of comprehensive media plans and, when combined with print, it delivers unmatched brand awareness, recall, and engagement. In fact, many digital-first brands are branching out into print, including The Magnolia Journal and Goop, because print’s the original content marketing, and because it works.
And when print and digital team up—with social media campaigns, augmented reality technology, personalized variable data, and so much more—the result is often greater than the sum of its parts.
So the next time you crack the spine of a new book or notice the textured varnish on a magazine cover, take a minute to appreciate what went into creating that experience for you. There’s a little bit of print geek in all of us!
For a more comprehensive analysis of the results of the fMRI study and the science that proves the power of print, download The Print Effect.
*Discover our targeted print solutions that do all of these things, too.
1. A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch. A Project of Sappi North America.
2. Millward Brown: Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail
3. Ferris Jabr: Why the Brain Prefers Paper, Scientific American.
4. Dr. David Eagleman: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.
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