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Twenty years ago if you wanted to advertise, your main choices were print (direct mail, magazines, newspapers, fliers, etc.), TV or radio. Now you’re probably putting much if not all of your focus on the many digital options available to you – including websites, email blasts, social media, apps, text messages and more.

Which makes many wonder: is digital better than print? Today’s neuroscience researchers are trying to find out!


While print and digital marketing both have their place in the marketing mix, recent neurological research has shown that consumers react to them very differently.

Print’s tactility affects us
For example, our sense of touch has a significant impact on how we react to printed marketing pieces. Studies are showing that because we understand the world through our bodies and our senses, what we touch shapes what we feel.

Touch triggers desire
As soon as we touch an object – or even imagine touching it, such as by touching its image on a printed catalog – the “Endowment Effect” kicks in and we begin to feel differently about that object. Specifically, we begin to feel possessive about it. We begin to want that object.1

Put another way, as compared to digital ads, physical ads produce a strong emotional response by triggering “greater brain activity responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which signal a greater intent to purchase.”2 Plus, print’s tactility “enhances a message’s noticeability, extends its memorability, and imbues it with emotion and intimacy.” 3

We find print on paper easier to read
Screen-based reading is also more mentally taxing than reading on paper.4 Printed advertising, such as direct mail, requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and elicits a much higher brand recall than digital media.5 Researchers believe this may be because touch “helps shift the brain into the deep level of engagement” that’s most conducive to building knowledge.1

But digital is important, too
Digital ads capture attention more quickly, and their content is processed more quickly.2 Digital media are also ideal for generating immediate response, and making it easy for recipients to share advertising messages with others. Plus, looked at in terms of costs (not ROI), digital usually costs less.

So which is better, print or digital? The answer depends on your needs.


1 Eagleman, Dr. David, A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuro Science of Touch: Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand, Sappi North America, 2015.
2 USPS Office of Inspector General, “Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response,” June 2015
3 Canada Post, “Breaking Through The Noise: How direct mail combines the intimacy of ritual, the impact of physicality and the power of data-driven relevance to send a signal that resonates,” June 2015
4 Two Sides North America, “Scientific American: Why the Brain Prefers Paper,” December 2013
5 Canada Post, “A Bias for Action: The neuroscience behind the response-driving power of direct mail,” July 2015


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