Contradictory, right? And yet, those few words accurately convey the dizzying debate that’s been waged for years regarding the validity of the printed product. And by printed product, I am referring to the printed word versus a digitally-delivered message. Postcards, brochures, and yes, the humble business card.

Since the advent of the internet, marketers and creative agencies have been keeping a keen eye on the advertising horizon to try and gauge when that last sunset will occur for the seemingly-displaced print medium. These would-be Galileos of Adstronomy, however, were lacking a major component in their predictions — the scientific support. Until recently, that is.

Scientists vs. Soothsayers

Recent studies were conducted using eye-tracking, high-res EEG brain wave measurement and fMRI brain scans (3D imaging of specific structures) to measure cognitive load (ease of understanding), motivation (persuasiveness), and attention (how long subjects looked at the content).

Most notably, tests revealed that paper advertising activated the brain’s ventral striatum area more readily than digital media. The ventral striatum has been shown in previous studies to be an indicator of desire and valuation (there’s that left brain/right brain “Buyology” reference again).

The Power of Paper

Print is traditional, historical, trustworthy. It’s part of our ancient history (Google “papyrus” … the Egyptian term, not the tacky typeface voted Worst in the World!).

So, given that paper is engrained into our culture, perhaps our reluctance to let go of this delivery dinosaur is that we have a hard-wired attraction. That, or it’s simple logistics:


Behold the master mammalian multi-tasker: A mythical creature believed to be adept at simultaneously executing a myriad of activities with great dexterity. Did you catch the term “mythical”? At the risk of being crude, I have come to believe that multi-tasking would be more aptly dubbed “half-assing”. These days, its all-too-common for a human to take phone calls while answering email while watching YouTube while checking Facebook. Not only is this methodology highly inefficient, it’s proven to be a major challenge to marketers trying to be heard above the digital din.

Cue the printed piece.


Paper messages allow humans to focus and engage without the cranial cacophony constantly hurled at us within the computerized realm. And with heightened engagement comes better relay and retention of your marketing message.


Print advertising appeals to one’s sense that digital cannot touch. Literally. Print offers the ability to deliver vivid graphics while serving up tactile stimuli. And that sensory connection has proven to increase message retention and brand bonding.

Demuddling the Mixed Message

It may seem more than a tad counterintuitive for a web designer (such as myself) to be touting the prowess of print while delineating the downfalls of digital. And yet, the science cannot be ignored: Paper messages can be more impactful and memorable than those delivered electronically.

But now that we’ve dissed digital, it’s imperative to acknowledge its ample advantages. Print lacks its electronic cousin’s advanced genetics, including instantaneous delivery, localization, real-time editing, powerful personalization and targeting, audio and video, and a myriad of others.

So what’s a marketer to do? The strategy is simple: Exploit the power of both by using print as a springboard to the digital platform. Present your prompt via print that steers the reader to a digital doorway where they can consume the bounty of your brand (as in, buy something!).

But how long will print’s viability hold? What’s the expiry date? No doubt the ponderers will continue to pontificate, and the bloviators are bound to bluster. Meanwhile, let’s talk about how to team up these two titans of the trade to tout your brand!