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Does newspaper advertising beat social media?

By Patricio Robles
Newspapers? Dying? Social media? Rising. That’s the conventional wisdom, at least, and marketers seem to be buying into it.

While spending on social media marketing is still relatively small, it’s increasing rapidly. At the same time, anyone selling newspaper ads has probably given some thought to a new profession.

But is the conventional wisdom wrong, either wholly or partially? Should marketers be less upbeat about social media marketing, and more upbeat about what newspapers can offer? At least one consultant thinks so.

In a post on his blog, digital strategist Paul Williams argues that there’s a lot to like about newspaper advertising, and a lot to dislike about social media marketing. His argument is based on five points:

* Print is targeted. Different newspapers deliver different but well-defined audiences, allowing for targeting. Targeting a message via social media can be much more difficult depending on the platform.
* Major newspapers have a lot of credibility. “The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post have been around for ages” after all.
* Print’s reach is well-established. “I can count on the fact that the newspaper is delivered to the tens (or hundreds) of thousands that have asked for it,” Williams writes.
* Print ads are clearly ads. As Williams puts it, when you see an ad in the newspaper, “you know the game” — somebody is trying to sell something to you. Contrast that with social media, where direct sales pitches are often frowned upon.
* Print is actually faster. A print ad purchase delivers an immediate audience. Social media, on the other hand, demands time for those who wish to build up a meaningful following.

All of these are good points, and one might even agree with Williams’ assessment that “Social media is our gold rush. With the zillions of tweets, Diggs, blog posts, and Facebook updates all panning for attention I’ve only heard of a few who have ‘struck it rich’ as a result.”

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that comparing social media platforms like Twitter to newspapers is the worthwhile thing to do. While the allocation of an advertising budget is for all practical purposes a zero sum game, anyone looking to market a business should also remember that different tools are required for different jobs.

Depending on your goals, social media marketing may have a lot to offer. But newspaper advertising might have a lot to offer too.

On this front, Williams’ most important comment in my opinion is this:

Newspapers are ancient. The same stuff our great, great grandparents read. We didn’t invent them, so we aren’t in love with them anymore.

Marketers love shiny new toys, but they shouldn’t ignore old school platforms either. Power tools may be sexy, but sometimes a good old fashioned hammer or screwdriver gets the job done more efficiently. When it comes time to deciding which tools to use, marketers need to remember that getting the job done is the goal; the tools are simply a means to an end, no matter how much we love them or don’t love them.

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