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Advertising media are the delivery mechanisms, or media vehicles, for all non-personal communication. Advertising media includes television, radio, print, and digital media. Each medium has several strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand the different applications of each medium and the relationship of each communication channel to the target audience. Successful advertising is dependent on delivering a message to the target audience through the most effective advertising medium.

Advertising in the United States precedes the Declaration of Independence by three score and a decade. Advertising Age published a timeline (2005) revealing the past 295 years of advertising in America. The first newspaper advertisement appeared in a Boston Newspaper and was published in 1704. It was composed as a simple classified advertisement to sell an estate in Long Island (Advertising Age, 2005). Throughout the same century, articles and news stories gave way to advertising.

In 1843, Volney Palmer opened the first advertising agency (Holland, 1974). The agency, originating in Philadelphia, could only draw upon print media as a communication channel for their advertising campaigns. The first American-based advertising agency was formed eighty years before advertisers acknowledged the radio as a media vehicle, and over a century before television was invented.

At the turn of the twentieth century, newspaper and magazine advertisements were responsible for the lion’s share of revenue from print media advertising. In 1900, receipts from newspaper and magazine advertising topped 150 million dollars (Sherman, 1900). Advertising agencies found creative ways to position advertising for not only competing with other advertisements, but also vying for time against the articles. Compelling headlines atop an article were no match for a catch phrase and illustration in an advertisement. In his early twentieth century article, Sherman (1900) acknowledged that advertising had become a reader’s priority (p. 3). Individuals were actually reading the advertisements in a publication before they would read the articles.

A few decades into the twentieth century, the radio was beginning to be recognized as a viable alternative to print media. At the very least, radio could be used in conjunction with print media for enforcing a brand. The additional communication channel offered options to advertising agencies never before considered. The concept of cross-media advertising was born.

When television was invented, advertisers were already accustomed to creating advertising messages for electronic media. While it should have been a simple transition, developing marketing campaigns for television introduced several new challenges to advertisers.  The influence of both print and radio advertising is evident in early television advertising. Postwar television advertisements seemed to be nothing more than a spokesperson reading a script, but with the simple visual element of a printed sign or poster resting on an easel.

James Schwoch (1990) attributes the slow transition to the fact that radio performers were tasked with promoting a product on the new medium (p. 55). They were not accustomed to facing a camera while being illuminated by excessive lighting all the while surrounded by large production crews. As a result, television advertisements were nothing more than radio ads with the addition of a moving picture.

In much the same way as electronic media gained the advertising spotlight over print media, digital media has become the communication channel of the twenty-first century. Advertising agencies are only beginning to understand the extensiveness of digital media. Just over forty years ago, the Internet was discovered. The Internet of today in no way resembles the humble beginnings of four decades ago, but rather a powerful communication channel with the combined benefits of both print and electronic media to advertisers. With a plethora of options for delivering an advertising message, media planners are tasked with choosing the media best suited for the advertising campaign.

Depending on geography, a consumer may be exposed to several thousand commercial messages per day (Arens, Schaefer, & Weigold, 2009). Each message is competing for attention, and ultimately to raise awareness about a particular product or service. Every advertiser has the same advantages and disadvantages with advertising media. While advertising is a very crowded playing field, savvy media planners who understand the strengths and weaknesses of each advertising medium level the field. Technology has contributed to the expansion of advertising media from traditional print, through broadcast channels, and into the digital world. Early adopters of new media usually enjoy the benefits of a less crowded playing field, but at the risk of not reaching a broad enough audience. Riding the coattails of technology is a risky proposition usually reserved for the advertisers with products and services attractive to a digital audience. Companies are perceived as trendy or leading edge when using the latest technologies to host and deliver advertising messages.

With several advertising media options, a media planner is tasked with identifying the medium best suited for the campaign. Reach and frequency are considered for each media alternative—weighed against the strengths and weaknesses of each medium—and if deemed a proper fit, added to the media mix for an advertising campaign. The four top-level media alternatives include television, radio, print, and digital. Within each medium are contained specific ingredients of the media mix.

Print media encompasses any message that is produced on printed surfaces (Arens, Schaefer, & Weigold, 2009). Print media includes—but not limited to—newspapers, magazines, billboards, posters, and brochures. Print media is the oldest form of advertising communication. While evidence of print media used in advertising can be traced back to 3000 B.C., developments during the preindustrial age are responsible for the birth of print media in modern advertising.

Magazine advertising is a member of the print media mix. Magazines have been established as one of the best methods for communicating an advertising message to a select audience—second only to direct mail. The articles and editorial within a magazine are written with a particular audience in mind. As a result, any advertising within the magazine will be exposed to the same target audience. Additionally, magazines offer a longer shelf life than many other advertising media.

Magazine advertising, compared to other print media, requires a longer lead-time and advanced planning by advertisers. The frequency at which a magazine is published results in limited exposure and latency between campaigns. As digital media is becoming the preferred publication platform for both publishers and subscribers, hard-copy magazine circulations are declining. One ongoing debate surrounding magazine advertising revolves around the question of whether or not a consumer is willing to pay for access to extra advertising (Depken and Wilson, 2004).

Newspapers attract advertisers that are looking for more frequency and a concentrated reach. George and Waldfogel (2003) explain the importance of advertising in newspapers to consumers that share a similar preference (p. 765). Consumers will sometimes discuss an advertisement with other consumers. The cost of advertising in a newspaper is substantially less than advertising in a magazine. A daily newspaper offers advertisers the ability to reach a local or regional audience quickly and often. Newspaper advertising is not limited to printing within the pages of the actual newspaper, but extends into inserts and supplements using the physical newspaper as a carrier of externally printed content.

Newspaper advertising is idea for advertisers attempting to reach a mass medium. Newspapers are one of the few print media that a consumer may interact. It is not uncommon for a reader to highlight or circle classified advertising and clip coupons from an advertisement in a newspaper. Advertising in a newspaper is less competitive than in a magazine. One reason is because of market relevancy. In a publication such as a magazine, the reader demographic is narrowed to an audience interested in the variety of content contained therein. Every advertiser in a magazine is competing in the same market.

As with any advertising media, there are several shortcomings associated with newspaper advertising. Newspapers are printed on paper not suited for reproducing high quality images and graphics. Inconsistent and inaccurate color is a concern for an advertiser tasked with branding a corporate logo and imagery. A newspaper is responsible for delivering news and information to a local or regional area. Advertising, while an important revenue stream, takes a backseat to articles and editorial. Newspaper ads are typically placed at the discretion of the newspaper editor.

Television and radio are referred to as electronic media. Electronic media offers capabilities not available in print media. By using either television or radio as the media vehicle, advertisers can give their campaigns a voice. In the case of television, advertisements leverage the benefits of full motion and rich audio. Both television and radio have the potential to reach a large audience with an advertising message blurring the lines between informational and entertaining.

Arens, Schaefer, & Weigold (2009) polled adult viewers before concluding that television can stake claim to the most authoritative, influential, persuasive, and exciting of all advertising media (p. 328). The same survey reveals that radio is positioned well below newspapers and magazines in the authoritative and persuasive categories.  Television offers advertisers more options for the creative team to design and distribute an advertising message. Sight, sound, and motion are used in tandem to breath life into an advertising message. Prior to the Internet, television was the only medium that could reach a target audience and touch several senses concurrently.

Broadcast television advertisers can draw upon several advantages electronic media has over other forms of advertising. The mass coverage offered by broadcast television attracts national advertisers. The broadcast television medium has a low cost for exposure. Advertisers weigh the advantages—such as the ability to isolate a market segment by choosing the programming within which the advertising will air—against the various disadvantages associated with broadcast television.

Some disadvantages are not unique to broadcast television, or even electronic media in general. Ad skipping, bypass, or opt-out technology is prevalent in almost every advertising media. A newspaper advertisement can be easily overlooked as a reader chooses to concentrate only on editorial. Radio advertising is bypassed simply by station surfing during commercials. Digital media, the newest member of the media mix, is not immune to ad skipping techniques. An Internet user is in complete control of the browsing experience. They can easily click and move away from the advertising content. Broadcast email leverages automatic filters to trap unsolicited email messages.

Cable television advertising boasts a few advantages over broadcast television advertising. Considering the programming on cable television is more specialized, advertisers can compose a more relevant message and select a more specific target audience. Cable television advertising is also less expensive than broadcast television advertising.

One distinct disadvantage of advertising on cable television is fragmentation. The selection of channels and variety of programming on cable television reduces the audience saturation for each station. The quality of cable television, especially the smaller local stations, is a factor a media planner may consider when developing a strategy.

Satellite broadcast television is competing heavily with cable television for market share. Consumers are not concerned with which option offers less commercials, but rather more channels. When the competitive dust settles, the consumer is mostly concerned with price and value. The average household spends less than one-half of one percent of their budget on television services (Goolsbee and Petrin, 2004, p. 365). Revenue generated from advertising funds television programming.

Radio advertising shares many of the same benefits of television advertising. One difference is the fact that radio is considered a one-on-one medium. An advertiser can format a message and leverage the predictability of a listener. Radio stations concentrate on a specific genre, which in turn attracts a particular market. Satellite radio is a threat to traditional radio. Unlike television, satellite radio is a subscription service with many stations commercial free.

Cost and audience are the two main advantages of radio advertising. Radio stations typically have loyal listener base and the cost to reach the audience is less than television advertising. Considering that radio is only heard, advertisers are challenged with describing a product without the benefit of a visual element. Radio advertisements tend to sound similar, especially if the disk jockeys are the spokespersons on several advertisements.

The Internet has exposed several new concepts to advertisers. Unlike the other advertising media, the Internet requires a consumer to pull or request information. Whether through a link on a popular search engine or typing directly into the address bar of a browser, a consumer invokes a request. In marketing terms, the consumer skips several stages of the purchasing cycled and quickly becomes a prospect or hand-raiser.

The Internet is a fresh new venue for advertisers. The same rules that a media planner would apply to other advertising media hold true for digital advertising. The demographic of Internet user is very broad. A single advertising strategy for each campaign is not practical. Individual web sites have a specific target audience. Advertisers select web sites that attract a target audience within their market, and then purchase space for listings, banner ads, and hyperlinks.

E-Mail advertising is one of the most popular and least expensive forms of advertising. Irresponsible advertisers with a blithe disregard to the long-term effect of oversaturation have created undue challenges for future advertisers hoping to leverage this medium. There are several ways for advertisers to differentiate themselves from solicitors and make it past junk mail filters. Using a CAN-SPAM compliant email service is a must.

Internet advertising is interactive. Individuals can interact with content and provide real-time feedback. The Internet is global. Consumers are using the Internet to become better informed about products and services. Many consumers research a product on-line and compare pricing before making a purchase (Brown and Goolsbee, 2002). The disadvantage of Internet advertising includes the cost to reach a target audience. Search engines use a pay-per-click model and advertisers bid for positioning on the search term results page.

Several mainstream insurance companies advertise across all advertising media. Each campaign is targeted to a specific demographic and delivered using the communication channel most widely accepted by their market. While each advertising media is used concurrently during an advertising campaign, the specific strengths of each medium are leveraged. Brown and Goolsbee (2002) recognize that the Internet fosters price differentiation within the insurance industry (p. 482). Moreover, insurance companies actually encourage consumers to shop pricing of their competitors.

Insurance companies use print media and electronic media to enforce their brand and drive traffic to their web site. The corporate web site is positioned to be their best salesperson on their best day. The Internet has become a virtual extension to many businesses. In addition to a traditional storefront, many insurance companies created a click-and-mortar environment to reach beyond physical boundaries.

Doraszelski and Markovich (2007) report that more than $280 billion was spent on advertising in 2006 (p. 557). The ability of advertisers to recognize the advantages of one advertising medium over another creates measurable results and a guaranteed profit for agencies and the companies they represent. Digital media is currently enjoying the spotlight from advertisers. However, the traditional tried-and-true media vehicles remain a plausible option. Individually, each media is a powerful communication channel. Combined, as in a cross-media campaign, they become exponentially more effective.


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Arens, W., Schaefer, D., & Weigold, M. (2009). Essentials of contemporary advertising. McGraw-Hill Irwin. Boston.

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