The ultimate guide to print advertising from types to examples

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In a world where digital advertising is the default for many companies, print advertising offers a tangible and compelling way to physically put your products and messages in front of people. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about print advertising, including what it is, the difference between print and digital advertising, and the types of print advertising.

Table of contents

What is print advertising?

Print advertising is any promotional material printed on physical material—images and text that promote products and services, share your business’s messages or reinforce brand identity. There are many types of print advertising from newspapers to direct mail to vehicle stickers. 

Print advertising brochure example

You might think that digital advertising is the best choice for your business. Global print ad revenue is declining year on year while digital continues to grow, and it’s easier to measure the impact of digital advertising, with its viewing and clickthrough rates, than a city center billboard.

Yet, despite digital screens’ presence everywhere, print has proved the more credible type of advertising. A survey of US consumers found that 82% trusted newspaper and magazine ads and 69% trusted billboards and posters. At the bottom of the pile? Mobile phone ads (39%) and online popups (21%).

Additionally, survey after survey has found that readers understand more when they read print. Print cuts through the clutter of our digital lives, offering something people can hold in their hands or see in the world around them—a poster on a metro platform, a leaflet your sales rep hands to local people with a smile or a newspaper supplement with gift ideas circled in biro.

Man on phone reading newspaper

Screens are everywhere, but print can cut through the digital noise. Source: via Depositphotos

The benefits of print advertising

Besides trust and engagement, print advertising has many advantages:

  • Choose your potential customers by targeting different readerships and locations. For example, pick a billboard in a specific part of town or mail it to a particular neighbor.
  • Ensure your message lingers. Vinyl vehicle stickers or monthly magazine ads last far longer than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it digital ad.
  • Place your advertisement so that it owns a physical space. A poster or a printed package sits in the real world, where it does not have to compete with other pop-up ads or notifications.
  • Relish the real. Print offers tangible, physical reminders of your brand and services. That battered loyalty card, pulling customers in for one more purchase? That direct mail envelope, that lands with a bounce on your mat? They mean more than an email or an e-voucher, and your business will feel the benefit.
  • Select the approach that suits your business. Print media’s many different forms offer creative flexibility, from newspaper advertisements that use blank space or vibrant color to catch the eye to chunky brochures that cover your entire product line in detail.

There are a host of reasons why you might invest in print advertising, but the first step is to consider the approach that’s right for your small business.

Types of print advertising

There is a wide variety of print advertising, ranging from a poster that could cover four entire football fields for an American sandwich chain to a Dutch microchip ad drawn on a silicon wafer that’s too small for the eye to see. It’s a set of brochures you just printed for next week’s trade show and a 2000-year-old mosaic advertising fish sauce. Let’s explore the main options for print advertising.

Newspaper and magazine ads

Advertisements are a crucial part of newspapers’ and magazines’ revenue. While the rise of digital ads has hit many publications, physical circulations remain impressive around the world: over 100 million newspapers are sold daily in both India and China, while Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun has a circulation of over seven million. Newspapers and magazines can be a cost-effective way to reach large numbers of readers, especially when you factor in the high levels of trust print advertisements inspire.

pensions newspaper advert

Advertisements in newspapers are highly trusted. Source: Harles via 99designs by Vista

All newspapers and magazines come with a geographical focus. That might be a local town or village, a region or a country, and even global publications tend to have a readership based in certain locations. But that’s not the only audience segmentation on offer. Different publications and different sections within newspapers or magazines allow advertisers to target news junkies, sports fans, people of different socio-economic backgrounds and political persuasions and people with different interests, from South African fashion-lovers to British model railway fanatics.

Newspaper and magazine advertisements offer real creative opportunities, and advertisers can exploit layouts to produce memorable copy. The cost of advertisements will vary based on the circulation of the publication, and the size and placement of the feature, from small and usually low-cost classified ads through quarter- or half-page features to inside covers, inserts and promotional supplements.

Brochures, leaflets and flyers

These printed materials may be distributed by hand or mailed out. While in a newspaper or magazine your advertisement will sit alongside other content, here your promotional copy takes up the whole of the publication. Key types include:

  • A flyer, a card or a piece of paper with information on one or both sides—the simplest and least expensive form.
  • A leaflet, a paper or card folded in a range of styles including half-fold (in half), tri-fold (into three equal panels) or gatefold (two panels that open to reveal a third, larger panel).
  • A brochure, multiple pages arranged like a short magazine.
Leaflet for Republic Spine & Pain

Leaflets can present detailed information, contact details and QR codes. Source: MarCreative™ via 99designs by Vista

This range of forms gives brochures, leaflets and flyers more freedom than digital marketing, which often comes with character-limit restrictions. Layouts can be made visually pleasing with images highlighted in fold-out leaflets, while brochures can be dense with facts and pictures.

Brochures, leaflets and flyers can target neighborhoods, particularly when they are posted through doors. Passing out printed materials on high-footfall streets or shopping centers will help you promote your business locally and can provide a useful starting point for conversations about your services.

The biggest drawback of these printed materials is that they are often viewed as throw-away items, and some people may barely look at them before disposing of them. Choosing the right message, design and materials can increase your chances of success—and encourage readers to take them home to refer to in future.

Direct mail

In direct mail, targeted advertising materials such as postcards, letters or catalogs are sent directly to potential customers’ mailboxes to promote products, services or special offers. As with hand-distributed leaflets and brochures, these printed materials can be formatted to suit the message you wish to convey.

Direct marketing is more personal and has a higher open rate than email. It suits businesses who do not have a strong online presence, or whose customers prefer “real-world” interactions. Yet while some consumers will welcome a letter from a trusted brand, direct mail faces some of the same challenges as email marketing, and will sometimes be perceived as spam. Refining your mailing list and your message is essential.

Some of the most successful direct mail campaigns have been imaginative, such as a Nestlé campaign that mimicked the UK post office’s missed delivery package to say that their latest chocolate bar, the KitKat Chunky, was too “chunky” for the recipient’s mailbox, instead offering a coupon for a free bar at a participating shop. An amazing 87% of recipients went on to claim the free confectionary, proving that direct mail can hit huge conversion rates.

Billboards and posters

Billboards and posters aim to grab people’s attention in public spaces. Billboards are typically around 4m tall and 15m wide and are often placed next to highways or rail lines, while smaller posters or banners are more common within urban centers or public spaces. 

Billboards and posters are great for targeting specific locations, although geographical constraints can also be a drawback. They require maintenance if they are long-standing, and unlike digital billboards, cannot be updated easily or in real time.

Using flyers and posters to promote your business

Source: via VistaPrint

Because they need to be eye-catching, both posters and billboards usually keep their messaging simple, with a single compelling image and a small amount of text, although posters can handle a little more detail because the viewer is usually closer.

Posters and billboards are a great way to target specific, high-footfall places and offer a blank canvas for marketers to exploit with memorable images or slogans. In Canada, McDonald’s ran a series of billboards that featured fragments of its Golden Arches and directions to nearby restaurants, playing on the chain’s ubiquity and iconic branding.

Product packaging

Printed packaging is a great marketing material. Boxes, labels and wrappers can feature branding, product information and promotional messages. Some, like Chanel perfume bottles, are treasured objects in their own right, while others, like Apple’s iPhone packaging or Coke’s can and bottles, make opening the product a core part of the brand journey.

Perfect Moment craft beer can

 Branding starts with packaging—here the great outdoors suggests the epic flavors of this IPA. Source: Active Theory✦ via 99designs by Vista

Indeed, research suggests that 70% of consumers form an impression of a brand just based on the packaging of its products. Packaging can help you distinguish your product from its rivals, but it also allows you to put an advertisement in the hands of someone who already loves your product enough to buy it.

But packaging has its limits. The packaging material must be rugged enough to contain and protect your products. Space is limited, and you may need to share it with essential information such as ingredients’ lists or barcodes. Packaging is great on its own, like so many forms of print advertising, but it works best as part of a multi-pronged marketing strategy.

Vehicle wraps and stickers

If your business uses delivery, sales or service vehicles, vehicle wraps and stickers are an easy promotional tool. They display your logo, color scheme, slogan, website or social media handles. Vinyl wraps are cost-effective and can be replaced as often as you choose without the ongoing cost associated with billboards. Wraps don’t clamor for attention—they communicate your brand messages to the neighborhoods your vehicles pass through. It’s an organic, cost-effective way to say “we work here”.

Similar items may be worth considering if your business doesn’t have its own vehicles or if you want to extend your promotion beyond your delivery routes. Door hanger advertisements can be hung on door handles, while stickers can be handed out or given away with products. If customers like your brand enough, they’ll put up your advertising themselves!

Trade show displays

Printed banners, backdrops and signage are crucial if your business plans to make its mark at trade shows, conferences and exhibitions. These tools are the backdrop and props with which your representatives and salespeople perform:

  • introducing products
  • starting conversations
  • generating leads
  • expanding your network
  • leaving potential customers with a positive impression
people standing and talking at a trade show fair with custom signage

Source: via VistaPrint

Less expensive pop-up exhibits, more costly panel displays or flexible modular displays are all options. Banners and signage can set the scene and carry key brand messages, while leaflets, brochures, and samples give attendees something to take home. The cons of trade show displays is that your competitors may be there too, and if the event isn’t right for your business, your gains will be marginal at best. Researching the event carefully and preparing your display to play to your strengths can help you get the most out of them.

Coupons and loyalty cards

Customers love a good deal, and coupons and loyalty cards offer just that. Give away coupons in magazines or via direct mail. They drive trade, attracting new customers to your business or encouraging old ones to return with discounts or free products. But they can also target specific offerings, whether you use them to introduce profitable new product lines or offer up old stock.

Like much print advertising, loyalty cards can have a pleasingly old-school tactile appeal. They can be a great way to encourage loyalty to small businesses. But, like coupons, they must be used carefully, with an offering that won’t hit your bottom line, and a card that’s designed well enough that readers want to keep it, collecting stamps that mark their journey with your products. 

An assortment of coupons

Bright colors and bar codes: the best coupons are appealing and functional. Source: via Depositphotos

The differences between print advertising and digital advertising for your business

Instead of questioning whether to use print or digital advertising, you should use both. There are many types of print advertising and many kinds of digital advertising, all with pros and cons. Print stays in readers’ minds far longer than the digital adverts we skip and scroll past every day, which makes it a powerful weapon to use alongside digital.

For most businesses, a mixed strategy that bridges the gap between print and digital is the best way to help you show customers how remarkable your business is. Multi-channel approaches can target different demographics, drive traffic between different media and see your brand flourish in different environments. Flexible, trustworthy and tactile, print advertising can be a vital part of your marketing mix.

Our fully customizable brochures, posters and flyers can help your business make the most of print advertising, and we can handle every step of direct mailing.