Bringing Audience Engagement to Traditional Media: Interactive Print Ads

Audience engagement has quickly become a key concept in the online arena, with everyone from multimillion-dollar brands to mom bloggers carefully monitoring their audience statistics and making increasing engagement a primary objective within their social media strategy. But why should this effort to encourage and increase engagement be limited only to online media? Can’t the basic principals we have learned to engage audiences online be brought back to traditional media? In his recent post, 'Engagement': Fashionable Yet Bankrupt, Martin Weigel reflects upon the meaning of ‘audience engagement’, finding it to represent almost anything to do with audiences’ responses from the behavioral actions of “linking, bookmarking, blogging, forwarding, following, referring, clicking, friending, liking, +1-ing, playing, reading, subscribing, posting, printing, reviewing, recommending, rating” to the more cognitive responses of finding something “compelling, exciting, gripping, surprising, shocking, unpleasant, boring, soothing.” Weigel goes on to explain how the behavioral actions of Web 2.0 are no more than updated versions of far more traditional behaviors, whereby technology is providing “people many new ways in which to respond to marketing communications.”

Whilst we are now working with a wide range of new technologies that enable audiences to easily share and recommend marketing material as well as directly interact with adverts and companies, when engagement concepts are stripped to their core we see that their basic purpose is still the same as always – to hold an audience’s attention beyond a fleeting glance. Online interactive advertisements and social media campaigns have enabled a prolonged interaction between consumer and brand, far greater than that offered by a print or TV advertisement. However, the interactive techniques we use to engage audiences in the digital world can, to an extent, be transported back to the traditional formats to encourage a greater engagement with these media.

For decades, advertisers of cosmetic products have attached samples or ‘scratch-and-sniff’ elements to their advertisements to increase audience engagement. Now new technological developments can enable advertisers to integrate digital elements into traditional advertising through QR codes, branded and/or virtual reality apps, or links to hosted videos, thereby increasing audience interaction and engagement. A perfect example comes from Volkswagen, who released a virtual reality test drive app for mobile devices to promote new vehicle features such as headlights that track bends in the road and cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the car ahead. A print ad was simultaneously released to promote the app and provided a road visual for audiences to test-drive their virtual cars on. A similar trend has seen the use of QR codes or URLs linking to external videos that enrich the print content. For example, the Mercedes Rear-View Mirror ad in which the reader positions their smartphone over the rear view mirror of a car internal visual to view video playback of the car speeding down a road.

Whilst more expensive executions, especially compared to digital counterparts, a physical interaction still holds greater power and influence over a consumer than a virtual equivalent. Take, for example, Peugeot’s Airbag ad, where the reader hits the car front visual to simulate a collision, upon which an airbag attached to the following centerfold of the car interior inflates out of the page. A similarly effective, yet lower budget, execution is Carlsberg’s Probably the Best Ad in the World, in which readers are instructed on how to fold the advert into a functional bottle opener.

Bringing audience engagement techniques back to traditional media, we can create interactive traditional executions that prolong an audience’s interaction with an advert and brand whilst providing valuable engagement and memorable experiences that ‘cut through the clutter’ of the modern ad landscape. Keep an eye out for this type of ad – they are likely to come to prominence as the technology becomes more mainstream.