Jagran Prakashan is a large Indian media company and its senior VP of strategy, brand and business development, Basant Rathore, speaks to WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das about why the print medium continues to hold sway in India and what its strengths are as a marketing platform.

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

Key insights

  • Print does not intrude – it gives complete control to readers to choose what they want to read without distractions.
  • Marketers find regional press geared up to deliver audiences and the heightened marketing activity fuels consumption growth.
  • Print’s unique ability to localise and customise, together with its mass reach, make it an important part of the media mix.
WARC: What makes the print medium still bankable in India for marketers? What are the unique opportunities the medium offers?

Basant Rathore: The print medium was always bankable in the past and continues to remain bankable going forward. There are several reasons for this:

  • The print medium has scale. Amongst the thousands of media vehicles available today, the print medium continues to provide scale and, at the same time, has this ability to localise and restrict messaging within a select geography.
  • In today’s complex and cluttered media environment, context plays a very important role in getting a marketing message across. Context can be derived from content, location, device and timing. And print delivers on all these counts – content customisation is built into the DNA of print. Print is content delivered at home. Print is one of the best “handheld” devices, which gives the reader complete control of what he/she wants to read. Print is delivered in the morning, when the cognitive functions are at their peak.
  • Print has credibility. In an era where content democratisation is the order of the day, citizens naturally gravitate towards mediums that deliver credibility. Apart from providing context, the print engagement quotient gets a boost due to its credibility.

I firmly believe that media brands that engage deeply with their readers also create a great environment for marketing messaging.

When and how does the print medium trump over other available options as a marketing platform?

Apart from the factors already mentioned, print gives complete control to readers to choose what he/she wants to read. By doing so, print does not intrude. It gives the reader complete control over time and attention. In contrast, a medium like TV doesn’t. Even watching video online is punctuated by pre-rolls, mid-rolls, videos on social media suddenly break into ads that the viewer would otherwise want to skip. So, when a marketing message goes in through print and readers choose to give it attention, the communication chain is completed.

It is a lean-forward medium where the reader’s 100% cognition is directed towards the act of reading. There’s no multitasking happening, unlike TV where one can watch, mute, and be distracted.

Print provides for uninterrupted reading. Try reading a 300-word article online and you will encounter several hyperlinks on the way that interrupt the process. There would be banners flickering on the side. While watching a serious talk show or a debate on TV, there would be an unannounced ad break, which the viewer might find disturbing. Print steers clear of these disturbances. Even the advertising on the page offers a choice to the reader to accept or reject. In doing so, the print reader is engaged.

Print brands that create deeper engagement with their readers also create a great advertising environment. There are obvious carryover effects from engaging content to the advertising carried in print.

How is the medium holding its own in India at a time when digital is on the rise?

In an era of multiplicity of information sources leading to misinformation and fake news, the normal tendency for people is to look for anchors of trust. Print provides this trust. In the online world, under the garb of personalisation, echo chambers are being created and opinions are polarised.

During the pandemic, all sorts of myths and rumours were doing the rounds. In research conducted post-pandemic, print newspapers emerged stronger on trust. As per an Ormax study in 2021, there was a huge drop in the credibility index of news on digital media. In fact, there was a drop in the credibility index for all news media except newspapers.

Having said that, we see the rise of digital as an opportunity due to several reasons. One, it gives content creators the opportunity to take our content beyond the current geographical boundaries of newspaper circulation. More people around the world are consuming more news and that’s a big opportunity for the entire news media ecosystem.

Additionally, I see digital as a useful ally. We’ve done enough research across Tier 2 and 3 markets, which all point to a system of balance of news consumption. It begins with reading the newspaper in the morning, followed by digital news consumption during the day and ends with watching news on TV at night. So from a content creator perspective, I see newspapers setting the agenda in the morning and conversations through the day are driven via digital/online media and capped with a debate on TV (if there’s one) at night.

So print, digital and TV can create a virtuous cycle of news conversations during a typical day. Print continues to go strong on agenda setting and helping readers form opinions on issues that face the contemporary world.

As a group that publishes the nation’s No 1 daily and with established strength in the regional space, what are your comments on the national versus regional story with the print medium?

Regionalisation, according to us, is the rise of languages.

One of the overarching reasons for this rise is that language defines our cultural identity. What really is gaining importance is not the “medium of education” but the medium in which we dream, the medium in which we think and the medium in which we understand “who we are” and how we deconstruct the world around us. It’s not for nothing that Indians have rediscovered the pride in their language.

I see this regionalisation of print taking place at different levels across the country.

On the one hand, thanks to the large-scale migrations to larger metros that have happened over time, there are large sets of audiences who want to consume content in their (respective) language. Therefore, there are pockets of regionalisation in large metros.

At the same time, the rest of India is dominated by languages and over the last decade or so, we’ve seen phenomenal growth in that.

To put it in perspective, if we look at the growth in reach of regional languages versus that of English over the last decade or so, languages have grown at 6x of English at an all-India level. In the 40 lakh plus towns, languages have grown 2x of English and in the rest of India, languages have grown 21x of English.

Apart from the fact that there is a general affinity to the language that binds one to one’s culture and the fact that languages have a much wider geographical area to play, there are several factors that have propelled the growth of language press.

What is making the regional markets look promising for marketers?

There are macro factors that are pushing the importance of regional markets, which in turn are attracting attention from marketers who have found regional press geared up to deliver audiences and this heightened marketing activity is further fuelling consumption growth. So therefore, over a period of time, we see a virtuous circle being created.

Amongst the macro factors are the obvious ones like increasing purchasing power, urbanisation, nuclearisation, literacy, rising aspirations, increasing brand consciousness, infrastructure growth, a young demography and the rise of the local economies.

For example, over the last decade or so:

  • Growth in literacy is 2x of population growth
  • Urban population growth rate is 2x of the rural population growth rate
  • Nuclear families have grown 1.6x of the growth in total HH base
  • Sec A population has grown 2.5x of the overall population growth
  • Consumption of branded products has gone up by over 50% across some of the basic food product categories

And if you look at some of the important trend movements, we see that there is a higher participation of working women that is bringing about a change. Industry associations are talking about these markets seriously. There’s a rising brand consciousness and a levelling of lifestyles, and a greater hunger by the small town youth to prove themselves.

If we look at the increasing attention by marketers across types of industries, we’re observing a certain pattern.

Several studies point out that 1-10 lakh towns are driving FMCG growth and there are scores of categories which outperform all-India growth.

With the markets attracting greater attention, regional press too has geared itself to deliver audiences. Significant investments have gone into enhancing the quality of content.

Another important aspect of the regional landscape is that with dialects changing every 25 km or so, content customisation has played a big role in the growth of language media.

Jagran has a strong regional play.

We at Jagran produce over 200 sub-editions, each customised to the region it talks to. By doing this, we invented the “local”. We customised our content for every 30-40 km and brought in local content. Doing so, while we democratised access to content, the local news consumers also became the local newsmakers. We created the local grassroots economy. It was now possible for a boutique owner in Unnao to advertise on the Unnao pages of the newspaper which had news of Unnao. Therefore, the fundamental strength of language press lies in its deep grassroots connect. This strength is unique and difficult to replicate by any (other) media. It is on the back of this strength that language press has grown and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, significant investments have gone into improving efficiency in the delivery of newspapers. Printing facilities have been strategically set up to cater to diverse markets. And then language press has engaged with its readers on a very large scale. The language papers today engage with audiences across strata, sometimes playing mentor to them, sometimes playing the activist on their behalf, sometimes being the thought leader, sometimes playing the role of a change agent, sometimes creating a platform to voice their opinion, and so on.

What does creativity in Indian print advertising look like now? Are we seeing an ample innovation or are just banking on print for plain loud communication?

Innovations are done to draw attention towards communication and get readers to engage with it. As stated earlier, print gives readers the flexibility to give attention to marketing messages that are of interest to them. So if a consumer is in the market to buy a car, then he/she will actively pay attention to any car-related advertising.

Creative/innovative communication will then work better for such consumers as the brand is able to engage better with the reader, hopefully leading to the desired outcome. However, for people not in the market to buy a car, creative communication will at least help build brand awareness and imagery, which at some later point in time (when the consumer is in the market to buy) might result in a favourable outcome for the brand.

While loud communication (read as larger ads) would draw attention, there are several other ways in which brands have leveraged the capabilities of the print medium. Odd sizes, cut-outs, jackets, text wrapping etc, are all creative devices to attract reader attention.

Increasingly, brands are now considering context as a key driving force to draw attention. Placing advertising in the right environment is a clear way to ensure that the brand gets noticed.

My view is that media titles that engage deeper with readers create a more compelling and powerful environment for advertising to work better. There was worldwide outrage in digital media when ads of a few brands were put in an environment that had extremist comments. It just underlines the importance of a compelling journalistic environment.

We must look at what happens beyond the “OTS” and that’s where compelling environment and degree of engagement make a difference. It’s this ability of media to create a superior environment that must be factored in buying/planning decisions, beyond just numerical considerations of reach.

What is your message to marketers on how the medium can be better used in the near future?

There are several challenges but they act as spurs to keep reinventing ourselves. We are the conscience keepers of the world’s largest democracy. The depth of print media is huge and collectively, our news-gathering machinery is unparalleled.

Language print’s fundamental strength lies in its deep grassroots connect. Print’s unique ability to localise and customise, along with mass reach, is what makes it an important part of the media mix. This strength is unique and difficult to replicate by any media. From Jagran’s standpoint, we are clearly focused on creating great content, engaging readers deeply and creating a great environment for advertising in our pages. Combine this with our grassroots level micro-understanding of markets. We are uniquely placed to understand local language and cultural nuances at the grassroots level – this oft-ignored knowledge base is a powerful force that could be leveraged by brands to establish themselves across local markets.