Comparing Online and Offline Advertising

Mathew twittered about this iMedia Connection article by Robert Moskowitz the other day, and it piqued my interest. Its thesis is that because offline advertising costs a lot more than online advertising, it must be much more valuable:

According to Michael Hirschorn, for example, writing in the January/February issue of The Atlantic magazine, “Already, most readers of The [New York] Times are consuming it online. The Web site… boasted an impressive 20 million unique users for the month of October… The print product, meanwhile, is sold to a mere million readers a day and dropping….

“The conundrum, of course, is that those 1 million print readers … are worth about five figures a page to advertisers, [and] are far more profitable than the 20 million unique Web users, who… could support only 20 percent of the [newspaper’s] current staff…”

The article goes on to cite a bunch of ad executives as they opine on the differences between the two landscapes. There’s a great deal of hedging of bets, lingo and hand-wringing about the state of the industry. What’s illustrative, I think, is how little discussion there is of actual measurement.

Measure, Measure, Measure

We aggressively discourage our clients from spending a cent on advertising that they can’t measure. And I’m not talking about the invented metrics of the ad industry–“brand impression” is a synonym for “might have vaguely glanced at your billboard on the subway”–but actually measuring actions that potential customers may take. This limits their offline advertising options, but if you can’t measure outcomes, why throw money at it?

I was holding forth on this measuring theme at a little brainstorming session for Hollyhock, an extraordinary retreat centre on Cortes Island. It’s the answer I always give to busy marketers who say “I’m already swamped, how do I do this social media marketing stuff, too?” I tell them that they don’t necessarily have to. They just need to analyze the value of all the work they do, add social media stuff to the mix, and see what’s most valuable. If your billboards outperform your Twitter account, then stick with what works.

Speaking of advertising, I read a couple interesting posts on TechCrunch over the past couple of days about the state of the industry. First, it’s shocking to see how rapidly the newspaper industry’s revenue base has declined. The rate of newspaper advertising decline has been accelerating for the last six quarters. Likewise, that article points out that online advertising has declined slightly over 2008.

On the other hand, today’s TechCrunch article is more upbeat. It cites Interactive Advertising Bureau numbers that claim that, after a dip mid-year, online advertising numbers are recovering.


  1. While I appreciate that online marketing should be a MAJOR factor in any company’s marketing plans. I should by no means be treated in the fashion explained above. YES you can measure the response. Great. Let’s not forget about the billions of people who still read the newspapers, magazines, watch TV and listen to the radio. Let’s have a little balance in your marketing message. Preaching that you should only advertising when you can measure the results is not a responsible approach, especially when you position/market yourself as a marketing expert online. I have been in advertising for decades and have seen companies lead down the online garden path only to realize that their target audience doesn’t get its directions from the web as certain sectors don’t
    (yet). This grave error results in lost time which really equals vast amounts of money waiting for your potential client to pick up your blog, go to your face-book profile or receive your Twitter message. A well designed, effective print ad campaign will drive business to your website. Yes,SEO and all the nuances involved are an IMPERATIVE component. Component being the operative word.

  2. Interesting article found on twitter. We are a software co in the UK and we develop software to help media agencies to measure the effectiveness of offline media (TV, Radio, Press).

    We have only just launched this product in the UK and we are already getting brilliant feedback and interest here.

    So you don’t have to be a massive ad agency with a team of statisticians or analysts crunching data, this is a web tool available to anyone who wants to measure direct response advertising!!

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