As a consumer, how often have you picked up a magazine, found a
handful of loose inserts inside and, mildly irritated, thrown them in
the bin without a second thought?
Perhaps you’ve found a few under your feet in the street or on a
newsagent’s floor. If you’ve ever visited a newspaper or magazine
printer, or a wholesaler, you may have found the floor littered with
inserts. And what about an advertiser that supplies a publishing house
with 2.5 million inserts, only to discover that copy sales fell below
two million? The potential waste is alarming, both in print and media
As an advertising medium, inserts have grown phenomenally in volume in
the past few years, mainly because of an explosion in supply
opportunities. Most newspapers have invested in expensive machinery
which allows them to add sections and carry loose inserts. Distribution
methods now allow precise regional targeting if it is required.
It is a very lucrative business for publishers, especially where a
multitude of inserts are carried and advertisers are generally happy as
long as the medium delivers a cost-effective return.
But the effectiveness of inserts is only known privately - and
predominantly by direct response advertisers. As a vehicle for
non-direct response advertisers, the unwelcome prospect of vast
potential waste is a major turn-off.
Inserts are probably the least accountable medium in existence. The
value and accuracy of an insert certificate is questionable, given the
complexity of the process and the potential bias of those responsible
for producing it. The Direct Marketing Association Insert Council is
looking at the issue of best practice, with the possibility of the Audit
Bureau of Circulations providing a service. This is clearly a very
welcome development, but the ability to monitor accurately the value of
inserts placed in a title will, I suspect, remain a pipe dream.
Another disadvantage of inserts is the lack of quantitative and
qualitative research, which would be invaluable to speculative users of
the medium and advertisers wishing to understand how the medium
interacts and communicates with recipients.
TGI is a familiar planning tool to many clients, advertising agencies
and media specialists. It examines product use versus media consumption
habits. Traditional media can be analysed as broadly as ITV or as
narrowly as readers of Motorcycle News, but inserts do not feature. A
question or two about inserts in the survey could give a valuable
The credibility of inserts falls a long way behind that of other major
media. With greater and greater amounts of revenue being channelled into
the medium, it is time to recognise its growing significance by
insisting on less waste and more research. Response rates would
inevitably improve in the process.