Black Friday's print bonanza and the enduring value of high-quality attention
A view from Rian Shah

Black Friday's print bonanza and the enduring value of high-quality attention

Print ads for Black Friday deals boost ROI but advertisers have gone too far in switching to digital, says OMD UK's chief strategy officer.

The Americans gave us Black Friday, referring to the day after Thanksgiving in which US retailers discount thousands of products. Hence its name, because it pushes retailers' accounts from the red into the black.

A series of images and numbers illustrate how Black Friday came to the UK. For the images, it’s freezing-cold shoppers waiting for shops to open at 5am, bargain hunters coming to blows over discounted TV sets.

But the numbers tell a more positive story: in 2014, we had seven days of Black Friday advertising, starting on 25 November. In 2015, we experienced 14 days of campaigns and £8m in media investment – a 300% increase.

In 2016, Amazon (which claims it introduced Black Friday to Britain in 2010) launched its campaign in The Times on 14 November signalling ‘new deals every day’. Amazon hopes to win a disproportionate share of what will be a record for online consumer spending – a forecast £901m in a single day.

The e-commerce poster child for precision targeting and algorithmic recommendation, Amazon has recognised the value of one of the oldest forms of media planning in retail – the print advertisement as a shop window.

In a time-sensitive promotion where the ability to quickly catch people’s attention is the sine qua non of effective communication, the power of print endures. Lumen eye-tracking research from 2014-15 showed that attention to print advertising on Black Friday is increasing over time, and that specific Black Friday-branded advertising experiences still further attention, with advertisers benefitting from the noise around the category. We see a type of clustering effect, where the volume of communication enhances, rather than diminishes attention.

As a result, people really do shop the ads as they would windows during Black Friday. The Lumen research also showed that while people tend to look at one or two deals in a catalogue-style ad, they seek out many more in Black Friday ads – with 83% looking at more than three deals within a single Tesco Black Friday ad.

It should come as no surprise that, when time is of the essence and the stakes are high, retailers resort to print as a proven means of generating high-quality attention. What is surprising is the extent to which retailers have reduced their share of print advertising as part of their day-to-day trading rhythm – even as attention becomes a more precious commodity.

Since 2011, UK retail brands’ share of investment into print newsbrands has almost halved from 30.1% to 16.5%. Whilst print remains the second most important channel for the category, Newsworks’ effectiveness analysis demonstrates that advertisers have gone too far in their flight from print to digital channels.

The inclusion of print improves total retail campaign ROI at all investment levels, boosting returns by 2.8 times versus campaigns without print. Crucially, it is in the relative levels of print investment where retailers are missing out on significantly higher returns, of up to an incremental £6.50 per every £1 invested. In most cases, a return to 2013 levels in terms of share of spend, at 27%, would maximise total campaign revenue ROI.

In fact, the presence of print not only improves total campaign performance, it has a powerful accelerating effect on other media channels as part of an integrated campaign. At higher share levels it improves TV ROI twofold, online display and video ROI fourfold, and radio ROI tenfold.

These effects are not simply a result of the magnifying effects of the layering of media channels. It is also a feature of brands feeling the liberating effect of not having to use channels do multiple jobs, and none of them very well. The fact that retailers now have so many ways of reaching customers is an opportunity to create clearer roles for individual channels as part of integrated campaigns.

When thoughtfully nurtured, a Black Friday campaign in newspaper titles, as richly disparate as they are, can make a huge difference to a product or brand. And those in high places in retail know it. 

Rian Shah is chief strategy officer at OMD UK.