“Paper’s return to favour”, by Raphaël Palti

Le retour en grâce du papier

With the emergence and sheer volume of digital media – whether in terms of the press, culture, marketing or sales industries – you’d be forgiven for thinking that paper is destined for the scrapheap, to be replaced by online media, e-books, and other email-based advertising.  But what is really happening out there?

An overview of popular misconceptions on paper-based media:

Popular misconception 1: “advertising material goes straight from the letterbox to the bin”.

Faced with the efficiency of emailed adverts, especially in terms of targeting and performance analysis, can physical advertising sent through the post, for a retailer, really be an effective communications tool?


Some would say no, given that everything is now digital, consumers show little interest in what appears through their letterbox and, what’s more, such content actually looks like publicity, so it goes straight from the letterbox to the bin – without even being read. Others, myself included, would say that, on the contrary, direct marketing still very much has its place within the right communications strategy.


Looking at studies carried out in recent years, it is now well recognised that the alleged indifference of French citizens towards media posted through their doors is not actually founded on anything tangible. See for yourself: in 2016, 93.5% of French citizens read at least one letter a week. And nearly 70% of those involved a printed advertisement, in the majority (62%), from supermarkets. Even better: 59% of French consumers put more value in post and advertisements when they’re printed.


What’s more, contrary to the popular misconception, 59% of 15-34 year olds – those famous ‘digital natives’ – read at least one printed advert per week. And for good reason: by drawing on the opportunities offered by new technologies — more precise targeting, personalised content and interconnected tools, direct marketing must reinvent itself and uphold concrete value for any company wanting to connect profitably with their clients.


It’s by no coincidence that over recent years, posted advertising is making a comeback in the United States and, to a lesser degree, in the United Kingdom. Are the signs in France pointing that way too?


Popular misconception 2: “printed catalogues have been cast into oblivion thanks to online shopping and digital marketing”.

Once considered a real shop window for retailers, catalogues have seen their popularity dwindle since the mid-2000s, as e-marketing and email campaigns have gone into full swing.


Just ten years on, in November 2014, some French consumers were surprised to discover — the ultimate paradox! — an Amazon catalogue pushed through their letterbox. This campaign by the e-commerce giant has since been renewed year on year, in the belief that “the return to paper (was) more qualitative”. As a result of this, a significant number of pure players have decided to integrate paper catalogues into their marketing strategies, such as Net à Porter, for example, as well as Birchbox.


Evidence, indeed, that we aren’t heading towards the complete digitalisation of communications, but towards omni-channel mix marketing, blending print and digital with one another. Furthermore, recent years have seen the generalisation of hybrid communication tools, connecting paper media with digital functions. Among these, we can particularly point towards the example of Camif’s connected catalogue, as well as Selectionnist’s image recognition application, which lets users find a product online simply by taking a photo of the product in their paper catalogue.


Popular misconception 3: “unlike paper, digital has little or no impact on the environment”.

We’ve all received messages like this: “do something for the planet, switch to paperless billing!”. On an almost daily basis, we’re pushed towards digital, ecologically responsible tools, to the detriment of paper, the environmental footprint of which is well established.  Taking into account the amount of paper we throw away every day, it goes without saying that we’re all part of this impact on the environment. And yet the same does not apply to digital, where the apparent lack of materials easily convinces us of its environmental soundness.


But, in actual fact, digital needs to be looked at more closely: the environmental impact of a material is not inherent in its very nature, but rather in the way it’s used. Printing an email in ten copies will obviously have more of an impact than not printing it at all. In contrast, reading the same message over thirty minutes will have more of an impact, in terms of energy consumption, than reading a printed version for the same amount of time.


In other words, the more something online is used over time, the more digital media turns out to be ecologically problematic.


Furthermore, as for paper, it has been reinvented thanks to environmental efforts (recycling, reducing the carbon footprint during production and processing), but also thanks to its diversity, and the extreme freedom with which it can be procured. Indeed, consumers are starting to feel freer when dealing with paper than with their smartphone: they never feel tracked or spied on when reading a book, magazine or newspaper.


Paper and digital: complementary media

As always, the deciding vote lies with the end-customer. It’s a given that people will continue to use coupons and vouchers on paper. It’s a given that they’re more sensitive to direct paper marketing (which is rarer) than those arriving by email (where they’re inundated). But at the same time, customers still appreciate, for example, being able to see reviews from other customers before buying a product thanks to digital, and in the same way, make recommendations to others.


The consumer citizen perfectly knows how to take advantage of the complementarity of offline and online media, because they know how to reap the benefits from both. They take just as much pleasure in seeing the day’s news online in brief, before enjoying the greater depths of an article printed on paper. Paper media still has good days to come!


By Raphaël Palti, CEO and founder of Altavia