The Effectiveness of Combining Online and Print Advertisements: Is the Whole Better than the Individual Parts?

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Wakolbinger, Lea M., Michaela Denk, Klaus Oberecker. (2009). The Effectiveness of Combining Online and Print Advertisements: Is the Whole Better than the Individual Parts? Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 49, No. 3. 12 pp 360-372.

Reviewed by Jason Dong, 2010

Executive Summary

Marketers have increasingly made online marketing an integral part of their multi-channel communications strategies. There are certainly advantages to using online marketing including economies of scale, direct fulfillment, exceptional targeted advertising capabilities, and of course the ability to track advertising.

Wakolbinger et al. have taken this knowledge of increased spending and usage of online marketing and set out to determine whether a multi-channel marketing approach is more effective than using any one single channel for a marketing campaign. Their hypothesis was that a combination of marketing channels should a) yield higher values in advertising effectiveness (measured via five different recall and recognition metrics) and b) between print and online individually, neither when used individually, show any difference in influence on advertising effectiveness when directly compared against each other.

Their experiment was carried out on university commerce students in Austria. They created a fictitious nonprofit organization (NPO) and placed ads promoting the NPO in a local newspaper and its corresponding website. Different groups of students were assigned to different test conditions. All of the students were then surveyed to determine whether they were able to recall the NPO ads.

The experiment yielded results that were contrary to the authors’ hypotheses. There was no discernable difference in brand recall or recognition between the print-only and online-only groups. This was consistent with previously conducted studies. The more interesting conclusion was that there was also no statistically verifiable conclusion that the combination of print and online was more effective than using print or online alone.

Finally, the authors conceded there was certainly room for further research regarding the effectiveness of mixing and matching different advertising mediums and look forward to more research being conducted on integrated marketing communications with online playing a significant role.


Overall, this article was full of very useful information of online and traditional marketers alike. Executing integrated marketing communications strategies and plans involve numerous players from different business areas. These campaigns also cost a lot of money as each channel individually has unique costs to produce a final marketing deliverable as part of the larger campaign. Thus, it makes complete sense that marketers will want to spend their money most effectively and results like what was derived from this experiment are good to know and may serve to dispel preconceived notions that the more channels a customer is bombarded with the same message isn’t necessarily better.

For the web analyst, there are already inherent challenges in determining what advertising element to attribute ultimate conversion to from an analytics perspective. This challenge becomes more complex when dealing with multichannel marketing campaigns with online components integrated into each tactic (i.e. online discount codes on print material, vanity URLs in television ads, tracking codes on external online ads, etc.) and trying to determine which tactic to assign “credit” to for conversion. As a result, it sometimes becomes very difficult to analyze, report, and make recommendations either in the middle or end of campaign. This article reinforces the need for the web analyst to work that much closer with their marketing counterparts and be active in the planning and execution of multichannel campaigns. The web analyst brings with them a wealth of knowledge of how previous campaigns have performed and the analysis and recommendations need to be disseminated to those who formulate and decide on how a company markets their products. The web analyst would also know for companies that sell multiple products that online may not always be the best to have in the mix.

Whatever the campaign’s objective is, whether it is awareness or sales or both, it is incumbent both traditional and online marketers to use the appropriate mix of tactics for their marketing plans by performing due diligence in knowing who their customers are and using the right channels to reach them. It is especially important not to get caught up in the hype of spending frivolously on placing online ads everywhere given the steady press from various sources that internet ad spending is on the rise. I highly recommend this article to online and traditional marketing practitioners who are involved in managing and executing integrated marketing communications plans.

A single copy of the full journal reviewed above is available to members of the Web Analytics Association. To request a copy, email Shannon Taylor.