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Richard Marks 

Should advertisers place their trust back in newsbrands?

Should advertisers place their trust back in newsbrands?

Experts believe that advertisers should use newsbrands more, but will their message be heard, asks Research the Media's Richard Marks

It's been a tumultuous few weeks aboard the good ship United Kingdom and, as the Shakespearean dramas have played out, newsbrands have been at the very centre of the stage.

Yesterday here on Newsline, Ray Snoddy dramatically highlighted the continued power of the press - for good and bad - as demonstrated by Chilcot, the Referendum & the downfall of Andrea Leadsom. Unsurprisingly print sales have leapt by up to 20% in the last couple of weeks.

A cynic might point out that, with the majority of national newspaper print readers being told to vote for Brexit, newsbrands were benefiting from a crisis that some of their number had helped to midwife. You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.

Whatever your political preference, can we agree that the last few weeks demonstrate that newsbrands do still have that power to influence, even in an age of social media and opinion echo chambers?

So isn't it therefore logical that this power and influence might benefit the advertisers who appear in their hallowed pages? The timing of the Newsworks Effectiveness Summit this Wednesday could not have been better. The event set out to demonstrate the value to advertisers of newsbrands, with a particular emphasis on their print versions.

Spoiler alert: they think newspapers are highly effective.

However, sitting in the audience I was struck by a delicious irony. In their fervent support for Brexit, the leave-supporting newspapers seemed to be ushering in an era in which 'experts' are derided and 'common sense' trumps hard facts. Quite how far that logic extends is debatable.

What does that dentist know? He's just an 'expert'. My mate down the pub says just attach that gammy tooth to a string, tie the string to a doorknob and slam that door. Experts? Sod 'em.

Nonetheless the British desire to leave - or just to punch Westminster on the nose - trumped expert opinion and 'facts', with some newsbrands as cheerleaders.

And yet this morning we spent a few hours in the company of what were clearly 'experts' who told us how effective newsbrand advertising is. And how did they do this - via primarily using survey research - double irony! After all, it was survey research that told us that the country was swinging towards Remain - so much so that Farage initially conceded after the ballot boxes were closed.

However, despite the madness of the last few weeks, I do still retain a belief in expert opinion and facts, so I resolved to put these thoughts to one side, settle into my seat and review the evidence presented from three separate new studies.

Overall the argument was an extremely confident and cohesive one. Refreshingly the event did not focus overly on bashing the online world, or diminishing the value of digital.

As Newsworks research guru Denise Turner put it, the objective was not to get into an argument with digital about 'my ROI is bigger than your ROI', but rather to determine what media planners should see as the optimum mix between print and digital media. The core claim being that newsbrands - particularly multi-platform ones - are a sales 'multiplier' and enhance the business effectiveness of TV, online and social.

Analysis of over 500 econometric marketing mix models by the company Benchmarketing concluded that the pendulum had swung too far in terms of the balance between newsbrand and other digital spend.

Although newsbrand spend has declined, Sally Dickerson concluded that the level seen in 2013 was actually the optimum balance to maximise ROI and that - as a result - money should be going back into newsbrands to restore that balance.

The first challenge is that digital data has created a fixation with short term effects"

At times the detail given was extremely specific, split by supermarket, financial and automotive. However the overall message - if we still live in an era where we respect experts - was clear: print newsbrands boost overall campaign ROI by three times on average.

Meanwhile Peter Field had been tasked by Newsworks to wade through two years of data from the IPA's databank - 78 case studies - and split them into campaigns that had a high usage of newsbrands and those that did not.

Campaigns that did include newsbrands generally drove significantly higher increases for what Field referred to as the 'holy trinity' of market share, price sensitivity and customer acquisition. Field's work also claimed to show powerful uplifts when newsbrands were used alongside television.

Again, the emphasis was on the role of newsbrands in amplifying the effect of cross-media campaigns as a whole. As BDRC's James Myring put it, the argument being made was not that print is better than digital advertising, but that print 'activates' digital when it comes to brand building. 2+2 = (more than)5.

Rufus Olins had promised that the arguments would be 'detailed and well-evidenced' and there was indeed loads of detail and a lot of evidence. You can review that evidence on a special microsite. However, newsbrands face two challenges if this event is going to actually move that pendulum of marketing mix in the way that they hope.

The first challenge is that digital data has created a fixation with short term effects. Whilst Field rightly derided the 'toxic issue' of short term effects, Alex Steer of Maxus pointed out that 'The short term is here for the long term'.

Advertisers aren't going to wait months before evaluating campaigns, so models need to establish which short term metrics are the best predictors of long term impacts.

The second challenge is how clearly the Newsworks argument can be made at a boardroom level. The large audience at the lovely Ham Hotel was a mostly sympathetic crowd of industry professionals. How can these arguments be boiled down into a form that will actually have an impact on the key senior decision makers at advertisers and planners?

Investing in digital is seen as forward thinking and print may be seen as retro. Too often those gut feel decisions are made by people living within a connected tech bubble that they assume is the same for everyone else.

The real danger is that these facts, these expert opinions, are dismissed in much the same way that some of Newsworks stakeholders told the British public to dismiss facts and predictions and go with their own personal experience and beliefs.

"People in this country have had enough of experts," claimed Michael Gove, backed by a Greek chorus of sympathetic newsbrands. Ironically the future of newsbrand advertising may depend on him being wrong.

Richard Marks is managing director of Research the Media

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