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How Your Brain Reacts to Print vs Digital

Speak to any online marketer, and they’ll tell you that digital advertising is the way of the future. Speak to any scientist who studies advertising’s effects on the brain, and they’ll tell you something else.

How Your Brain Reacts to Print vs Digital

As technology advances and we spend more time staring at screens, digital advertising has undeniably become a larger part of the overall marketing landscape.

But just as technology has advanced in the fields of consumer electronics and digital marketing, it’s also advanced in the field of neuroscience—and somewhat paradoxically, science has revealed that physical marketing pieces and print advertising pieces make a more substantial impact on the minds of prospects and potential customers.

A growing body of scientific research is revealing that print media has a more substantial effect on the human brain than digital media. Specifically, science suggests that print has the following advantages:

Print is More Engaging

In a recent article for the market intelligence website What They Think, Heid Tolliver-Walker summed up the results of multiple scientific studies that examined the respective impacts made by print and digital media.

She writes, “there is something about the way our brains process information on the printed page that is different from that in digital form. It is better understood, more deeply embedded, and is recalled with more detail. It also creates a more powerful emotional engagement that translates into purchase intent.”

Studies have shown that people spend more time engaging with print media than with digital media. Whether it’s because looking at the printed page is easier on the eyes, or because digital media offers the opportunity to click away and onto something else, people spend more time with direct mail and print advertising than with digital.

Print Evokes More Emotion

In addition to being more engaged and spending more time with print media, people also have a stronger, more emotional response to what they see in print.

As Tolliver-Walker notes above, print evokes, “a powerful emotional engagement that translates into purchase intent.” For advertisers, it’s that last clause that matters most: print has been shown to be more effective than digital advertising at converting people from prospects to purchasers.

One reason could be because print advertising doesn’t just have a psychological impact, but also a physical one. People pick up, touch, flip through and engage with print marketing in a way that’s impossible to do with digital advertising. This physical interaction further imprints the message of the marketing material in the mind of the reader.

While print’s increased ability to evoke emotion has been proven by science, it also makes intuitive sense. Receiving a compliment or positive message will make a person feel good, but when that positive message is reinforced with a positive physical interaction like a hug or a pat on the back, it resonates even more.

Print is More Memorable

Not surprisingly, since people spend more time with print ads and have stronger reactions to them, messages shared in print have also been shown to linger in the mind of the reader longer.

When people are asked to recall the messages they consume through advertising, print ads score higher than digital across all aspects of memory: people retrieve messages from their minds faster, remember their details more accurately, and have more confidence in the message itself.

This is great news for advertisers because all of this translates into a higher willingness to purchase and pay for the products featured in print advertising.

Physical Ads Convey Value Better

Print and direct mail offers another key advantage over digital: it’s more effective at conveying the value of a product or service than online ads.

This is owed to the fact that print has the ability to make a physical, neurological and psychological impact on its readers all at the same time. When a piece is printed on hefty stock, uses high gloss pages and contains large, full-page photos of products or people, it automatically conveys value even before any words are written about the products themselves. Print advertising embodies the message of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message.

Digital ads, by contrast, lack the advantage of a physical form that can convey messaging beyond the content of the ad itself. Whereas digital can only use a combination of words and images to convey its message, print advertising takes the words and images and imprints them on to a physical product that has the power to further extend and reinforce their messages.

While digital advertising has become a popular choice among marketers, it makes a substantially weaker impact on the brain when compared with print advertising and direct mail fulfillment. Advertisers looking to make the strongest impression and evoke the most emotion and purchasing intent from their prospects and customers should focus their efforts on high-quality print pieces that will make the maximum impact.

For more information about how direct mail printing can help your business, call Troi Mailing Services in Canada at 1-866-486-9350 or contact us here.

About: Seamus Barton
Seamus Barton - Author
Seamus Barton joined Troi Mailing Services in 2014 after graduating from York University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional Writing. As a manager of print and direct mail solutions, he sees how words play an important role in personalizing any experience. Seamus’ passion for writing motivates him to provide frequent direct marketing content that supports each Client’s individual needs. Please chat with Seamus about commercial printing and direct mailing campaigns, or about how to marry digital and physical strategies for optimal Smartmail Marketing success.

You can connect with Seamus on LinkedIn or by calling Troi Mailing Services at 1-866-486-0423 or via email at Read his latest article featured in Direct Marketing Magazine on “Dimensional Mail: Marketing’s Buffet Lobster

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