Print Advertisements For Apps: Does The Medium Fit The Message?

Our Newest Print Advertisement

According to cliché–and confirmed by experience–when you work for a startup, you take on a bewildering variety of tasks. That includes making ads, and making ads might include print advertisements. Print Advertisements? For a mobile game?

Experience also confirms the expression “it takes forever to do anything.” While the ad  below looks simple, it sure took a lot of time and work to produce. Is it worth the investment of time and money?

4 Simple Ways To Improve Your Math -- A recent Bubbly Primes print advertisement

A recent Bubbly Primes print advertisement (Fall 2016)

One of Our Oldest Print Advertisements

Let’s compare the new ad to an earlier attempt. Here’s one of our very first ads, from a bit less than a year ago. It’s not bad, but it’s not as strong as the more recent one, either in terms of graphic design or in the ad copy (writing). I learned an awful lot in the time between creating those two ads. Of course, adding color draws attention.

One of the first print ads for Bubbly Primes from Fall 2015

This is one of the first print ads made for Bubbly Primes in Fall 2015. It was printed in the winter recital brochure for a ballet school.

Counterintuition

Nuhubit Software Studios LLC  has bought print advertisements in the past. We placed them in local kids’ programs that make sense for an educational-game maker like us. However, I can’t help feeling a little skeptical, wondering how effective print ads may be for software. If we sell the product online, shouldn’t the advertisements be online? Maybe, even though that’s certainly true, it’s not exclusively true. After all, who would dispute the value of online advertising for non-digital products? Most of us seamlessly transition between online and real world existence all day long. The more fluently we transition, the more relevant such ads might be.

Pencil drawing of a lonely fork in the road with billboards (including one for "Bubbly Primes - Math Game!") and birds.

The idea of advertising a mobile game on a billboard almost seems comic, but big companies are doing it.

This point takes the discussion beyond print. Lately, I’ve frequently been passing by a billboard that’s currently advertising an entertainment video game. Huh? A billboard for a phone game? When I pass it, I wonder how well it works. Are they running the billboard because they know it works? Or because they want to collect data about whether it works or not? I suspect they think it works for them. I wonder how they measure its effectiveness.

Do Big Companies Know What They’re Doing?

Big video-game companies run ads for mobile games on TV and in movie theaters, and they have been doing so for years. They’re not just collecting data at this point; they must know that it works for them. Or maybe not. A 2016 marketing survey revealed that “28 percent of U.K. & Ireland marketers said traditional print, outdoor, and broadcast advertising was overrated.” On the other hand, a large number of respondents to the same survey concluded that “the most ineffective tactic is paid advertising.”

As much as big companies, with access to lots of great data, might seem like knowledgeable monoliths from the outside, remember what they look like on the inside. People make decisions based on intuition, based on incomplete data, and based on perverse incentives set up by management that sometimes see complex people as simple machines.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself. -- Groucho Marx

And, I’m afraid that whether or not data supports a definitive answer for a given product, it’s dangerous to draw conclusions that are too sweeping, because as online ads change in effectiveness, so do offline ones. The specific eclipses the general.

What Should A Small Company Do?

Right now we only purchase print ads in very relevant (and local) markets. After all we’re a startup. In fact, we’re a “bootstrapping startup,” which means we don’t have lots of money for experiments. Also, we don’t have lots of data or experience with advertising. Does that sound dire? Not really. As always at Nuhubit Software Studios LLC, education is important and that even applies to us learning about advertising! When we don’t know about something, we go out and learn about it.

We read some books. Here are some recommendations that could be helpful to other novices in the world of ads. Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy is considered a classic. It’s easy to read, and the observations are, presumably, timeless. The presentation is usually concise and interesting. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan & Edward Boches is far less concise, but dense with insight. Finally, although it’s not a recommendation (because I haven’t read it yet), I am looking forward to reading Designing For Print by Marina Joyce. I haven’t read it yet because it hasn’t been printed yet. However, I heard Joyce interviewed on the excellent podcast Creative Honey, where she pitched the upcoming book and provided useful advice.

What anyone with a small budget can do, in addition to educating themselves, is learn by trial and error. Make an ad. Run it. See how it works. Collect data. Analyze the results, and use any knowledge gained the next time around. Back in 1923, seminal advertising writer Claude Hopkins advocated this very approach in his book Scientific Advertising. Anyone can do it, but, no, it’s not easy. As with any real-world experiment, collecting the data, determining its reliability, and separating signal from noise may be hard.

The trick is figuring out which variables helped the campaign or hindered it: The visuals? The message? Or the medium?

The Medium Is The Message -- Marshall McLuhan

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