Print vs. online advertising – which is more effective?

Trying to decide between billboards and online banners?

Determining where to spend your advertising dollars is important and print vs. online advertising is drastically different, find out which is more effective.

Print vs. online advertising

The world has gone digital – that’s a fact.

Just look at yourself right now. You are reading this article on a website, rather than a magazine or newspaper. It’s much easier and cheaper to access content online, so why wouldn’t you?

The same principle applies to advertising, although the line is somewhat cloudier. It may be easy to think that the printed world of advertising is dying out, due to the constant rise of the internet, but that’s not completely true. Printed adverts do still exist in abundance and they can offer various advantages over digital alternatives.

It’s important for businesses to understand the differences between each form of media, especially when deciding whether a print or online advertising campaign will be more effective.

Here, we break down some of the key criteria to think about when choosing between print vs. online advertising:

1. Reach

The reach of an advert is quite subjective, as it really depends on what the business is looking to achieve.

For instance, if you run a local village hairdressers, a targeted printed advertising campaign in your village’s local newspaper could prove a lot more effective than running an online campaign. Whether it be posting flyers through doors, or renting out a roadside billboard, printed advertising makes your business immediately obvious to potential customers, but tends to limit your reach to more of a localized area.

If you’re looking to target new customers and get your business seen by more people, online advertising is a much better choice. As creepy as it may sound, online adverts can track people’s personal details, allowing businesses to create specific adverts that target specific attributes. Whether it be their age, location or interests, the advert will automatically target the right clientele, meaning that they will be much more interested in, and likely to click on, the advert.

Winner? Online. 1 – 0.

2. Look & Feel

There’s no doubt about it – a beautiful printed advert looks and feels a lot nicer than an online equivalent.

Readers are able to engage with the colors, slogan and other creative aspects of a printed advert, leaving a much longer lasting impression. Plus, as most digital printers only use the best technology, adverts are often featured in printed media that offer readers more of a premium feel.

When promoting a business at a conference or event, for instance, having high-quality flyers, leaflets or booklets on show can be a lot more effective than using digital advert equivalents.

Commercial printing specialists, YouLovePrint recommend two paper finishes:

Silk – has a satin finish with a slight sheen, and colors appear vibrant and well defined. Text is easier to read on Silk, so it’s a good choice if your prints feature a lot of copy.


Glossy – has a smooth, high‐shine finish and works very well with photography and imagery based projects.

Online adverts, on the other hand, are there to serve a purpose – they’re less good-looking, they’re more frustrating and repetitive when they pop up, but they’re great at what they do. Just take a look at Google adverts as an example – they are simply text-based. No pictures, nothing – bland, boring but brilliant at helping customers find businesses.

When it comes to the true look and feel of an advert though, print definitely takes it.

Winner? Print. 1 – 1.

3. Cost

When it comes to a business’s marketing budget, they will want to make the most out of every pound they spend. No company likes to waste money – they want to see a return on their investment. So, which advertising campaign is less of a gamble?

It’s no secret that printed advertising campaigns can cost an awful lot of money, and they don’t necessarily guarantee results. For instance, a business spend £3000 on a printed advertising campaign, running a small advert in a local newspaper, and come out with nothing gained; no new customers, no new website traffic, no profit. Alternatively, there’s a chance they could come out with everything gained – more customers, and a fantastic ROI. Printed advertising is much more of a gamble but, when done right, can be highly fruitful.

Online advertising campaigns tend to be a lot cheaper. Companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram enable businesses to set specific advertising budgets, meaning they only spend as much as they can afford. From $10 to $10,000, however much each business wants to spend is controlled by them, and they will only need to pay out when somebody actually clicks on their advert. For instance, say you set a budget of $500 a month for an online campaign but you only receive $150 worth of clicks, you as a business will only pay $150.

Online is therefore less of a risk than printed advertising, as businesses only pay out after potential customers have actually engaged with their advert.

Winner? Online. 2 – 1.

4. Customer Engagement

Given that online adverts can specifically target people, you might think that online advertising is the clear winner when it comes to engaging with customers. However, this isn’t necessarily true.

Many internet users now use ad-blocking software to prevent online adverts from appearing on their browser. Likewise, as people’s attentions spans are so limited when using the internet, they’ll often skip straight past on advert, not even registering its presence. If an online advert isn’t relevant and attention-grabbing straight away, most internet users won’t engage with it at all.

On the other hand, printed advertising campaigns tend to register more with readers. This is because, when you buy a magazine or newspaper, you dedicate time to sitting down and reading it properly – you truly engage with its contents, which includes its various adverts. This might not necessarily result in a new customer or increased profitability, but it allows businesses to connect with customers and affect their buying decisions.

Winner? Print. 2 – 2.

5. Ease

Online and printed advertising campaigns can both become easy to do, given the right time and dedication to understanding how to make the most out of them. Creating online adverts may take a while to get your head around at first but, once you’ve got the systems and software sussed, they’ll become a doddle.

It’s the same story with printed adverts too. Although, depending on your design and marketing knowledge, it can sometimes be harder to produce effective printed adverts straight away. With the right printed advert though, it really help a business’s brand stick in the mind of readers.

Winner? Draw – point to each. 3 – 3.

6. Monitoring & Adjustability

Printed adverts are the be all and end all – once a business’ advert has been made and sent to print, that’s it. They can’t change it. What will be, will be.

This could work out brilliantly, or it could backfire completely. The issue with printed advertising campaigns is that you don’t know, as there is no real way of tracking the effectiveness of a campaign.

On the other hand, online advertising campaigns allow businesses to track, monitor and adjust their adverts if they’re not proving effective. Most companies, including Google and Facebook, gather data and statistical insights for businesses to look at once a campaign as finished. This again allows them to see how effective the campaign has proved to be over a certain time-frame, giving them the chance to make any changes during future advertising campaigns.

Winner? Online. 4 – 3.

Print vs. online advertising… the Winner is:

Online adverts just about nick it when it comes down to the two types of advertising campaign. This is largely because they can be better targeted at consumers, more easily monitored for effectiveness, and cost significantly less. They may not be as pretty as printed adverts but they’re a lot more serviceable, as they provide businesses with a higher likelihood of getting a return on investment.

Printed adverts may be dying out but they’re not going without a fight, and they definitely have their various advantages over online adverts. The choice really depends on what the specific business is looking to achieve, as each advertising campaign has their own merits. It shouldn’t really be a choice of one or the other – both need be utilized if a business really wants to be successful. However, between the two, online advertising is the deserved winner.