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India's top brands renew hope in print medium, resume advertising

As circulation gets back to 70-80% of pre-Covid levels, advertisers have re-started including print as the mainstay of their media mix. A full recovery, however, is still some time away. Advertisers are also seeking an effective measurement mechanism for print

After wading through several rough months with poor advertising revenue, things seem to getting back to track for the newspaper industry, albeit rather slowly.

With consumer demand picking up, the reach and credibility offered by newspapers is drawing many brands to advertise in print again. 

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Rajiv Dubey

“The confidence in newspapers has been restored in the last few months and we are back to advertising in print. It started gradually increasing in the last few months and from this month on it will be similar to pre-Covid levels. As a leading FMCG company, we have a huge trust in print and that is what keeps us going back to print,” said Rajiv Dubey, Head of Media, Dabur India Limited. 

Though Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) had to reduce its ad spends for print from last year, it has steadily increased from this year’s Quarter 1. For the automobile manufacturers, print is still their preferred choice when it comes to tactical communication. 

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Shashank Srivastava

“Print ad is more amiable to the lower end of the marketing funnel, which is when we are converting to natural sales. Last year, we had spent Rs 72 crore on print and this year it reduced to Rs 34 crore. In Q1 there was a sharp downturn in spending due to the pandemic. But subsequently, in Q2, our spending was higher and now we are spending 25% of the total ad spends on print,” said Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director, Sales and Marketing, MSIL. 

Even Parle Products, whose major ad spends goes to television, proposes to increase their spends on print in the coming months. 

Krishnarao S Buddha

“Our ad spends for print is not more than about four to five per cent. During the Covid-induced lockdown, we were not able to continue our regular initiatives so we had to reduce a little. But we are expecting that this will shoot up in the next three to four months and then will go back to the same figures,” said Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head, Parle Products. 

The pandemic had forced many brands to shrink their advertising budgets and allocate the funds more prudently. Also with newspapers finding it difficult to reach the readers’ doorsteps, advertisers looked to other alternatives to advertise. 

Amul (GCMMF), one of the highest ad spenders in the FMCG category, had also marginally brought down their overall spends. 

Jayen Mehta

“Amul continues to advertise in print across India in a regular manner. In fact, despite the issues related to printing and delivery of newspapers, we were among the first advertisers to resume advertising in print during the pandemic. This year, the overall spend has come down marginally due to publication-related issues,” said Jayen Mehta, Sr. General Manager (Planning and Marketing), Amul (GCMMF).

India's print industry commanded an adex of Rs 20,000 crore in 2019. But in 2020, it is likely to be less than Rs 10,000 crore. To absorb the impact, the newspaper industry has been forced to undertake several harsh cost-cutting measures.

Srivastava said the pandemic has changed the type, the medium, and the genre of communication. “We can’t do normal communication now. We have to build trust and speak about safety. With regard to the media, in the first quarter, it was mostly digital, especially social media, because there was more consumption there. Television was also good. But print and outdoor were down. It brought down the budgets. But in Q2 and Q3, we have seen a bounce-back in sales and that is the reason why the spend on communications has increased.” 

For MSIL, newspapers aid them in their tactical campaigns. Srivastava believes rural markets are likely to recover faster than urban markets. “Vernaculars are pretty strong in the rural areas. Also, most of the tactical spending happens at the local level and so vernaculars are more preferred. We advertise in English newspapers mostly when we are launching a new product, building brand awareness or brand image,” he added. 

Dabur has been increasing its print spends in the last couple of years. In fact, in the last fiscal, they increased their spends to 18% from the previous year’s 9%. However, this year was quite different for them. 

“We were not print-heavy in the first six months after the outbreak of Covid-19 because circulation had gone down and newspapers were not giving correct information to the advertisers. We have been very focused on our geography, where we sell the most, and we have seen that print works in these markets. Also, print partners in all these markets gave us very good deals,” said Dubey.
These good deals are what brands are looking for in the future as well. 

“We expect newspaper owners to give us better rates so that we are present on the front page of newspapers every single day in the coming year. Print is an expensive medium but it has to become cheaper to stay relevant. Newspaper groups should come together and revise the pricing in such a way that advertisers like us do not only advertise once or twice in the year but are present on a daily basis,” he said. 

“We are seeking better value for our brand. If I’m getting that, I'm fine with going ahead and advertising,” said Buddha. 

Dwindling readership has become a matter of concern. “The concern is more so for the English publications than with the vernacular. We will have to review the situation. Since March-April this year, there has been a huge hit for a lot of print publications. There has been a movement towards digitisation and the pandemic has aided it. There is competition in general for news from mobile phones, which could be from a call, a message or most importantly from social media,” said Buddha. 

Another nagging concern is the lack of timely and accurate tools to measure the effectiveness of print advertising. With digital becoming a more prominent platform, advertisers have got used to getting live time ROI tracking. That sort of minute tracking and response measurement is not possible in print.

“Like television has weekly TRPs, we don’t have those smaller timelines with print to make those fine-tunes of investments. Secondly, the measurement itself seems to be a little less accurate. The most accurate is digital where you can measure the actual number of clicks or cost per lead. This is missing in print,” Srivastava added. 

“There is a frequency of about six months, which is too long a period when compared to television, which is weekly. It is dynamic and fast. Here you are waiting for six months. It is a long period and so many things can change,” said Buddha.

It is the results that keep advertisers going to print. “There is a huge concern with measurement tools because the data is not available frequently. But one has learned to live with it. What works for print is that it is a very result-oriented medium,” said Dubey. 

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