Which type of media channel -- TV, newspapers, radio, Web -- is most effective in getting ad messages noticed and responded to? A new Nielsen study, underwritten by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), says that newspapers -- both print and online versions -- come out on top. 

The study, underwritten by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), queried 5000 adults on a variety of engagement metrics over a four week period in December and January. The report is intended to help marketers and agencies determine their media choices by responses to advertising, not simply by audience numbers.

Aggregate Engagement

NAA president and CEO Caroline Little said in a statement accompanying the report that “this first-of-its-kind national study by Nielsen clearly demonstrates that newspaper print ads get noticed more than all other media and drive the highest purchase intent,” thus demonstrating “the highest level of engagement.”

The central focus of the study is engagement, and, in the aggregate score for eleven metrics of

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engagement, print or online newspapers scored 43 percent, followed by TV stations and their websites at 37 percent. Radio and Internet both received 41 percent.

The eleven metrics included trust and ethics, how connected the media makes people feel, the value or inspiration it adds to life and the effectiveness of the advertising.

Interestingly, the differences in the aggregate scores for engagement -- arguably the summary figure for the report -- seem relatively minor, with only a six point range from TV stations at 37 percent to newspapers at 43 percent. Given that the margin of error of the study is plus or minus 1.4 percent -- that is, a nearly 3 point potential span of error --the NAA’s touting of newspapers’ superiority in the aggregate appears somewhat exaggerated.

Trustworthiness

Similarly, trustworthiness was within single digits for newspapers, radio and local TV, ranging from 51 percent for local NBC TV to 58 percent for national newspapers in print. The more significant drop occurred with Twitter/blogs at 46 percent and social networks at 37 percent.

When looking at advertising effectiveness directly, with such metrics as “usually notice ads,” “likely to purchase” or “best place for Black Friday shopping,” print newspapers came in at 41 percent, above radio’s 34 percent and the Internet or TV/TV online, which had 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Local TV has the highest overall audience, with 90 percent of adults watching content over network-connected local stations, 80 percent watching cable TV of some kind weekly, and 82 percent listening to radio weekly. Social media is now approaching those kinds of numbers, with 73 percent reporting that they spend time each week on such services as Facebook.

Newspaper Reinvention

The NAA and the newspaper industry are actively working to reinvent themselves in this multi-channel world, as evidenced by a recent NAA study about newspapers’ rising revenue and the recent announcement of a major new digital version of the newspaper staple, the ad circular.

Such a study as this one about effectiveness across media channels is highly relevant to today’s multi-channel environment, but there are two cautions about the NAA’s characterization of the study as “clearly” demonstrating newspapers’ superiority.

The first, of course, is that the study was paid for by NAA. While there is no suggestion of influence on the results, having one of the media subjects sponsor such a study, and then the study finds in its favor, cannot help but raise eyebrows. This is compensated by the fact that the study was conducted by the neutral and reputable Nielsen, but still.

Some Clear Strengths

The second caution is that, while local newspapers ranked 17 points above the next highest media channel in a category such as getting the best information about Black Friday shopping, many of the categories, such as those noted above, were within single digits -- a narrow edge at best, given the subjective nature of the categories, the self-reporting by consumers and the margin of error.

For instance, the study could have asked which media channel is trusted more for delivering content related to breaking news stories, or about ads relating to software or movies, and it’s doubtful newspapers would have been on top. The study itself takes a somewhat more restrained approach characterizing the results than does the NAA’s press release.

The main point here is that the study, in my reading of it, shows that newspapers are holding their own against other media, and have some clear strengths (e.g., Black Friday), but not that there is a “clear” demonstration of their engagement superiority across metrics.