Should We Market Print as “Honest” Marketing?

By | November 19, 2013

Yesterday, I read a very interesting article about research showing that more than half (51%) of online advertising reaches a completely irrelevant audience.  “Non-category” audiences, they were called. This means they had never even made a purchase in the product category in question.

Then today there were two marketing emails that got under my skin. One was from a company that used “Re: Infographic” in the subject line. I occasionally send emails following up to information in infographics, so this was somewhat plausible. Turned out, it was for how to earn $36,000 online in a day or something. Instead of just spamming it, I replied and called the guy out on being dishonest. I couldn’t believe his reply:

We’re quite sorry for this. I know it does pose a very negative image to us. I’ll make sure that email coordination are closely monitored to refrain from this ever happening again. Please accept my apologies.

Good thing I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee at the time. I would have spit it across my keyboard.

Okay, he’s a spammer. But I also received one from a reputable company this morning too. The subject line was “Quick question.” I didn’t recognize the sender, but it was an individual not a company. I was skeptical, but that’s a pretty personal subject line. It’s possible it was from someone asking about an article, looking for a source, or checking my schedule for potential work. I opened it to find an advertisement for a seminar. Quick question — want to attend a seminar? Want to buy golf balls? Want to earn $36,000 in a day?

Online marketing is ripe for misleading and downright dishonest subject lines, poor targeting, and misuse. It’s not online’s fault.That’s why we have spam regulations and opt-out and unsubscribe links. Professional, well-designed online and email advertising can be really helpful, too. At the same time, the channel is an invitation for abuse.

What if, in a world in which people are increasingly mistrustful of what they receive online, print were marketed as the “honest” channel? You can put “Re:” in a headline if you want, but no one is going to mistake it for a reply. You can put “Quick Question” on there, too, and the recipient won’t think it’s a personal communication. If you open a junk mail envelope, you won’t end up on a spammer’s list simply because you broke the seal.

Print is what you see is what you get (most of the time). That can be very refreshing in the online world where what you see is not always what you get. What if we made that part of the dialog about the benefits of print?


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8 thoughts on “Should We Market Print as “Honest” Marketing?

  1. JW

    Heidi, this is an excellent article which is very thought provoking. I believe that there is a tangibility with print, its a snap shot in time and of intent, we all know that offers in the electronic world are fleeting and some sites even change their pricing as the traffic to sites increases. The printed piece reaches us, but, we can chose to review it when we chose to be offline, it is (and should be today) a personally relevant communication that most importantly today, the originator knows the recipient wishes to receive, this, sadly is something that electronic marketing still seems to deny, from email, banner adds to the ever intrusive SMS marketing tactics, it gives the printed piece an authoritative perspective over its modern counterparts.

  2. Patrick Whelan

    I don’t judge online marketing by spam any more than I judge print marketing by the junk mail I receive. That being said, I think that print does have the benefit of being perceived as more trustworthy which falls under the effectiveness claim. And of course, at the end of the day, we know its all about the targeted, use of appropriate multiple channels to deliver the best ROI.

    P.S. Great article and very proud to have you as our editor!

  3. Phil Brown

    I agree with your conclusions Heidi but why do you call out ‘junk mail’ in your rationale? Direct Mail is what you meant I am sure. It is a respected sales tool: sophisticated, targeted and expensive, hardly worthy of the term ‘junk’.
    Keep on writing; kudos to jonest hard copy.

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Hi, Phil.

    I meant junk mail because I was making the direct comparison to spam. To me, mass, undifferentiated bombing of the consumer is “junk” anything, whether print or email.

    I love print, but just because it’s print doesn’t stop it from being junk sometimes. Whether one receives an unsolicited communication with irrelevant information bombed to you by a mass marketer who knows nothing about you other than that you (hopefully) are a living, breathing human being inside a home who might possibly, if hit with the right product on the right day, buy something, to me, is no different in print or email.

    It’s just that if you get an unscrupulous marketer up to no good, that marketer doesn’t know you’ve opened the envelope unless you respond to the communication. Unlike email, which the moment you open it, you’ve been transferred into the “live and active email” list, which is promptly distributed to all of the other unscrupulous marketers who will pay for it.

    So assuming that an email and print communication are equally junk, the print communication carries less risk to the opener.

    This is NOT saying that all direct mail is junk. I didn’t say that and I don’t mean that. But certainly, as in any channel, some communication is just undifferentiated junk. Every channel suffers from that.

  5. Bob

    I think print – direct mail – junk mail is also abused in very much the same manner. I get “Important Documentation: Open Immediately” or Important Account Information: Time Dependent!” all the time and usually it is ads for siding or credit cards. . .

  6. Gina Testa

    The conversation is probably less about spamming and misleading subject lines and more about relevancy. After all—those items are so easy for consumers to ignore and disregard…honest or not. So regardless of the platform, marketers need to focus on personalization and relevancy to cut through the clutter.

    But that said, Heidi is right—studies have confirmed that people view printed marketing to be the “most trustworthy” of media channels. Since the invention of paper and printing, there has always been a connection a consumer feels to a printed piece, whether it be a book, direct mail piece or magazine. This connection is achieved by leveraging human senses such as vision and touch, which encourage trust. So honesty is the best policy, but don’t forget about relevancy too.

  7. Rachel

    One of the things about print marketing is that connection you’re almost guaranteed with your audience. Everything is a lot more personalized and seen as less spammy than sending emails, that probably go to a junk folder. With print, what you see is what you get.

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