Bennett Coleman is a Mumbai-based Indian media conglomerate and the publisher of The Times of India. Malcolm Raphael, senior VP and head of trade marketing, innovations, creative strategy, tells WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das why the print medium’s benefits continue to be strong for both readers and advertisers.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on print media in India. Read more

Key insights

  • Bennett Coleman says no other medium offers the immediacy and impact that consumers seek in today’s highly cluttered market.
  • Rekindle the romance with print creativity because the fascination with video is so high that many have lost touch with creativity in print.
  • Magazines, unless very niche or technical, are not relevant today because they have failed to rediscover themselves.
WARC: How powerful is the print medium for brands and marketers?

Malcolm Raphael: Unlike most other markets, in India, the newspaper still comes to your doorstep every morning. It’s therefore a very strong morning habit. Newspapers here are advertiser-funded. The subscription price is so low that you don’t even feel the pinch. These are two key aspects why print is so strong in this country.

It’s a paradox that the need for print has grown stronger post-pandemic because of digital. There have been so many stories about how fake news became another “pandemic” along with COVID-19. We also know about the kind of fraud happening today in digital. Credibility and authenticity are the pillars print stands on and will continue to do so as long as there is misinformation and fake news.

This is exactly how it still benefits brands and marketers. In print, you know exactly where your advertising is going to appear. The context and environment, there are no surprises.

On the other hand, we have read about ads of many brands, including kids products, appearing on porn sites and among content that is highly undesirable. It was ridiculous that when the Cyrus Mistry accident happened, a Mercedes-Benz ad appeared within the report (online) that spoke of the Mercedes crash. This is the lack of control brands and marketers face in digital marketing.

I am not bashing digital marketing but this is only to build the context of why print is relevant.

Also, the power of print is extremely relevant because of the element of discovery. If you look at the consumer journey, especially from a shopping perspective, most often you know what you want to buy, you search for it or go to an online retailer and complete the purchase. How often have you noticed that for the next three months, you get chased with banner ads, video ads, messages etc, trying to sell you the same product that you have already bought? Retargeting as a concept itself is so ridiculous and such a waste of money. That is another key aspect of print wherein the brand or marketer can reach an audience who might not really be thinking about buying at that point in time.

You will come across many reports that say whether it is pricing elasticity, loyalty or growing your business profit, it is easier to target new customers than existing customers. To get an existing customer to pay more for your brand, there has to be some innovation. With print, you are reaching out to customers who are not really looking out for your brand.

A classic example is employment ads. When you put your ad on a job portal, you are targeting the people who are desperately looking for a job. A very small percentage of those candidates would be high quality. It could well be that the ideal person you are looking to hire is somebody who perhaps is not even looking for a job. But then, that candidate reading The Times of India comes across an employment ad and finds it interesting.

You speak of the “morning habit” but there is perhaps a generation gap here too. How do you think print could still appeal to a younger audience with new kinds of habits?

Yes, that is definitely a concern. The whole industry needs to do something to keep the habit going and get the younger consumers into the fold.

But what does a newspaper do? It is a morning feed of curated news across subjects. You are discovering news from current affairs, politics, technology, brands and marketing, business, sports etc. In digital, you get fed the news that you like to read or subscribe to.

Also, today a lot of youngsters who are consuming news on online news aggregator platforms are happy to read just the headlines and the few lines below them. Therefore, there is a dearth of depth of understanding.

What a newspaper actually brings to the table, and we have to find a way to communicate this to youngsters, is the fact that newspapers expose them to a variety of subjects and knowledge that is wider and deeper through in-depth articles.

When it comes to innovation in print advertising, I still think about the Volkswagen India print campaigns from a decade ago. Do you think the industry is still producing innovative print campaigns?

We have done a lot of innovations in the last few years. Not at the scale of the Volkswagen Talking Newspaper or the Polo launch campaign but the fact that they are still being talked about shows the impact they made. I keep telling clients and agencies that if they can’t afford to spend as much in innovations across markets or full runs, we can still do high-impact innovations on a smaller run. The advantage of print is that we can do a campaign in a single city and amplify it on other mediums. You can even select a split run within a city to do an impactful innovation.

While tech-related innovations might not have happened as often as we would like them to, we have done a lot of print-format innovations.

When the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (in Mumbai) was launched, Reliance did a huge pull-out in velvet paper that was circulated among a lakh or more select audience within the city. We did an eight-page panoramic paper for Sabyasachi a few months ago and that was widely talked about.

There have been various such ideas and innovations. Cleartrip did interesting work last year. There is a lot of creative work happening.

We have a very strong creative team in-house that understands print well. We work closely with clients and agencies to help them bring their ideas to life. We work with various vendors to do work around augmented reality. We constantly work on improving our technology to bring in more innovations, be it different sizes of papers, different substrates etc.

What possibly has not kept pace is creative teams thinking creatively in print. In the last few years, everybody has been chasing video, be it television or digital. The fascination with video is so high that people have lost touch with creativity in print. This has been one of the reasons why we launched the Power of Print IP a few years back. We wanted to rekindle the romance with print creativity among agencies.

Is the media cost a deterrent? Is there a belief that one gets a better bang for the buck spending on other media, say, digital rather than on print?

This is like comparing apples and oranges. What print delivers, digital or other media can’t. We talk about brand building versus performance marketing, effectiveness versus efficiency. Effectiveness is eventually all about building brands, which eventually helps in building shareholder value. And efficiency is all about saying, “Oh! I spent 100 rupees and so, how much should I gain from it?” That is the difference between perhaps print and digital.

How often can you see brands being able to drive premium pricing through digital? They have to come back to legacy or traditional media like print or television.

Therefore, it is unfair to compare pricing. I have actually heard people say how digital eventually becomes quite expensive. Customer acquisition costs could get high with narrow targeting. In fact, from a business point of view, broad-based targeting works out cheaper in the long run, which is through print and television. You are reaching out to a larger audience that is probably not looking out for your brand.

What are your thoughts on the English versus vernacular print story in India? Is it a race where one is leading the other?

There is no race between English vs. Language. We too have language newspapers in our portfolio. In many cases, you may find the same household subscribing to both a language and English newspaper especially in urban markets. Language papers have a faster adoption in semi urban and smaller towns. English is seen as an important language to learn when people move to urban cities to work and take to reading the English newspaper. It is seen as somewhat aspirational.

How does a marketer know when to choose English and national or vernacular and regional?

Most brands should look at both unless they are specifically looking at a local market. Then it comes down to factors like budget, target households, product etc. But largely, it is always a mix of both.

Is the magazine dead?

If you look at the magazines that have been held dear, be it auto, music or even films, these were probably the only source of information for readers. Today, people can follow their favourite stars on social media and get access to information quicker than newspapers or any other medium.

Magazines, unless they are extremely niche or are highly technical, are really not relevant. Unfortunately, at some point in time, magazines failed to rediscover themselves.

How optimistic are you about the medium in the immediate future?

We are super optimistic, especially after closing last year on a huge high. It has been a positive start this year. We are seeing a lot of pent-up demand in the market with multiple categories and sectors coming alive. Our festive period has started.

It is going to be an optimistic run and we are looking forward to beating last year’s numbers and going back to pre-pandemic levels.

There is power in print. No other medium offers the kind of immediacy and impact that one seeks in today’s highly cluttered market. Print remains one of the least cluttered mediums. The engagement in the medium with the brand message is richer.

Today, it is all about creating conversations for your brand and I love this phrase “print-led viral conversations”. When you do great creative work, irrespective of the medium, it will get talked about. The objective for marketers should be to create interesting conversations. Print can trigger those conversations first thing in the morning and take you through the day.