Rules of engagement

TV and newspapers are excellent platforms for delivering highly-engaging creative content. The differences in how they engage complement each other, amplifying the impact of the campaign at delivering sales.

View the PDF of this article here or download below.

The same, but different: How newspapers & TV engage audiences

Television works well with the emotional, and newspapers with the rational. It’s less well understood that newspapers also deliver strong emotional experiences, or that television engages viewers on a rational level. Where they differ is in how they activate responses.

Television is limited to the amount of content that can fit into a 30 second commercial, while newspapers allow for substantial copy. As for emotion, strong images, headlines and effective copy can activate emotional responses, but sound and moving images make it easier to trigger emotion.

Just as important as the constraints and features of any medium is how people consume it. TV viewing is a more relaxed, passive act than newspaper reading, which is active. While television viewing is generally an automatic “bottom-up” process, newspapers are a systematic goal-driven “top down” process.1

Both processes provide advantages to advertisers.

The evidence is overwhelming

A 2006 study conducted by Millward Brown compared consumers exposed to both TV and newspaper ads with consumers who were exposed to ads in a single medium. Respondents’ emotional affinity with brands was 85 per cent higher than respondents exposed to TV alone. They were also more likely to find a campaign “involving” (+12%), “distinctive” (+11%) and “interesting” (+14%), and less likely to find it “ordinary” (-8%), “boring” (-5%) or weak” (-6%).

These effects were reflected in sales. Tracking on the effects of four campaigns on 13 million customers showed a 5 per cent incremental increase in sales among consumers who bought newspapers that ran the ads.2


Defining “engagement”

There’s considerable confusion around what engagement means. The Advertising Research Foundation alone produced three white papers in 2006-07, the first of which ran to 7,000 words and covered 25 different definitions of engagement.3

Depending on the source engagement may be a wide range of processes, such as attention, emotional involvement, interactivity or time spent with media, ads, brands or customers.

In this article, engagement is defined as “the degree of mental involvement with an experience”.

Engagement isn’t a binary on/off state. It changes from moment to moment.

Engagement isn’t limited to rational/analytical reasoning or emotional responses. It includes cognitive functions such as memory, attention, perception, and evaluation, both conscious and unconscious. Different ads trigger different types of mental activity.

Thinking in terms of an “experience” instead of a single ad or brand takes into account the interplay between these factors. The choice of media channel and previous exposure to a brand influences how an ad affects a reader or viewer.

Three types of engagement:
1 with brands  2 with media  3 with ads

Many marketers are primarily interested in building engagement with brands; establish “an intimate long-term relationship with the customer”4 which “turns customers into fans” and you have a loyal customer for life.5

This sounds attractive but isn’t a realistic strategy. As Byron Sharp shows in How Brands Work, brands grow by attracting new buyers, not by building a core of highly-loyal customers.

The top 20 per cent of customers usually account for just over half of a brand’s sales, not 80 per cent as is commonly believed (the “80:20” rule). Furthermore, this 20 per cent of heavy buyers aren’t necessarily “fans”. Many are heavy category users, some are attracted by promotions, and others shift between brands over time.6

Data from emma (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia) supports this argument. Over a four week period 91 per cent of Woolworth’s shoppers also bought from other supermarkets, 92 per cent of Coles shoppers also shopped elsewhere, as did 95 per cent of IGA’s customers and 98 per cent of Aldi’s.7

If successful brands don’t need highly-engaged customers, does media and advertising engagement matter?

Absolutely. To understand why, we need to consider how people make purchasing decisions.

What matters most is how consumers decide what to buy

Different purchase decisions make different demands on consumers, depending on the category, their experiences with the brand, and their personality.

Category is the critical element. Some buying decisions require more thought than others.

A low-cost (financial, time, social status, self-image) purchase decision, which has minimal long-term impact on the consumer’s life – potato chips, washing powder, beer – generally needs little rational evaluation.

A high-cost purchase decision, which may have significant long-term impact on the consumer’s life – a new house, car, holiday – often demands a significant amount of rational evaluation.8

Consumer decisions vary in how much time and effort required

ConsumerDecisionsLow involvement purchase decisions only take a moment. A shopper pushes a shopping trolley down the aisle, checks that bread is on the shopping list, glances at the brands on offer, then moves on to the next item.

High involvement decisions are different. A new car buyer will often take several weeks checking articles in newspapers, searching online, talking to friends, and reading catalogues before taking several test drives and choosing a model.

The bread buyer is unlikely to pick up a packet from each brand, read what types of grains it’s made from, feel the texture of the crust, and read a review. Conversely the new car buyer is unlikely to stop off a dealership on the way home and pick up a $60,000 impulse purchase.

People vary in how they make decisions. Some people are more inclined to critically consider brand choice for trivial items, others make major purchases based almost entirely on non-rational factors, such as colours or packaging.

Engagement matters. Except for when it doesn’t

Most of our purchases are low-involvement decisions. We don’t need long lists of reasons to buy. In many cases “I’m more familiar with this brand” is sufficient to tip the scale.

Low-involvement processing of an ad, clearly identifying a brand and connecting it to a category, is sufficient. Advertising works to build and reinforce awareness, and serves to remind people about brands at the point of purchase. So a low engagement ad can still be highly effective.9

(This doesn’t suggest highly engaging ads don’t work for low-involvement purchases. Increasing levels of awareness and consideration is never a bad thing, and it’s useful for buyers who are new to a category, or when promoting new variants or promotions.)

Television excels at this because the way people view TV – relaxed, with lower levels of attention – is sufficient for effortless peripheral processing of ads. This is sufficient to nudge a brand in the consideration set, even when the consumer is unable to recall having seen the ad.10

Newspapers contribute by providing additional brand reinforcement for readers who only scan an ad. It lifts purchase intention for those who consciously note elements, such as price and place-of-purchase.

Highly engaging ads have more impact on high-involvement decisions. The buyer is deliberately making a decision, and brands in the initial consideration set are more likely to be purchased. The more positive feelings they have towards the brand, and the more they are attracted to specific  benefits, the greater the likelihood of purchase.

Newspapers excel at allowing readers a chance to evaluate the brand in more detail. The higher level of mental activity – on average a reader devotes twice as much attention to processing a print ad than they do processing TV – increases their capacity to understand and remember the content.

The combination of TV and newspapers is one of the four most effective methods for driving consumers to websites, an important consideration for high-involvement purchases.11


Putting engagement into practice

Considering what effect you want the ad to have on the consumer goes a long way to deciding what tactics to use in the ad. Every campaign needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and hard and fast rules don’t always work, but here are a few useful thought-starters:


The tactics and type of engagement may vary, but what doesn’t change is this: using television and newspapers together takes advantage of the unique strengths of both media channels. It’s the most powerful combination for generating sales.



1 1 Print advertising: equal to TV in building brands/Robert Heath and Stuart McDonald/Admap/April 2007

2 Neuroscience and the power of newspaper advertising/Maureen Duffy and Anne Foster/Admap/September 2007

3 Engagement: definitions and anatomy/ Plummer, J./Advertising Research Foundation/ March 2006

4 Beyond loyalty: meeting the challenge of customer engagement, part 1/ Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) (2007a)/2007

5 Customer engagement, buyer-seller relationships, and social media/C.M. Sashi/ Management Decision, Vol. 50 No. 2/2012

6 How Brands Grow/Byron Sharp/ 2010.

7 emma (Enhanced Multimedia Metrics Australia), 12 months to August 2014

8 This is strongly influenced by Rossiter and Percy’s work on low involvement/high involvement decisions, originally published in Advertising Communication Models/John R. Rossiter, Larry Percy/Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985, but more fully developed in Advertising and Promotion Management/ John R. Rossiter, Larry Percy/1987.

9  Media Planning: Recency planning/Erwin Ephron/Admap, February 1997

10 Low involvement processing – a new model of brand communication/Robert Heath/Journal of Marketing Communications Volume 7, Issue 1, 2001

11 The other three are customer email, TV and newspaper advertising, direct mail and search engine links; Search is as essential to each campaign as to the whole brand/Ross Barnes/Admap: March 2009

The author: Brian Rock is Research & Insights Manager at The Newspaper Works. Previous experience includes 11 years as Strategic Insights Manager at Network TEN, 3 years as Research Director at Mitchell Media Partners, and 8 years lecturing in Advertising and Marketing at RMIT University.

We hope you have enjoyed the information presented here. Connect with us for more insights and news about our industry.

If you have any questions or if you want to know more about how to apply the strategies discussed, please get in touch: or 02 96926300

View Part One of the series here.

View Part Two of the series here.

View Part Four of the series here.

View Part Five of the series here.


1 comment

Leave a comment