Paper Has A Greater Impact Than Digital When It Comes To Emotions

Leaflet distribution is so last millennium, right? Ultra-efficient digital marketing seems to gradually replace print marketing delivered by humans. It might be a little too soon to shut down the paper mills, though, according to a research study by branding agency Millward Brown.


The study used fMRI brain scans to demonstrate that our brains process paper-based and digital marketing in different ways. Their findings confirm that physical print advertising leaves a “deeper footprint” in the brain as it causes more emotional processing than digital marketing.

  • Material shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietal).
  • This suggests that physical material is more “real” to the brain. It has a meaning, and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks. [From Millward Brown Case Study – Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail.]

Moreover, the research proved that tangible materials involved more emotional processing in the subjects, which is particularly interesting from a branding and ad recall standpoint:

  • More processing is taking place in the right cortex when physical material is presented. As this part of the brain is processing emotionally powerful stimuli and memory, the findings suggest that the physical presentation may be generating more emotionally vivid memories.
  • Physical activity generates increased activity in the cerebellum, which is associated with spatial and emotional processing (as well as motor activity) and is likely to be further evidence of enhanced emotional processing.

While in no way denigrating virtual media, which can have specific benefits in terms of targeting and interactivity, the study does reveal that there is something special about the physical medium which is not to be disregarded. Every communication tool has its place in an integrated marketing strategy.

The Millward Brown study unfortunately didn’t elaborate on how to optimise a leaflet to achieve maximum effect, but based on many years experience in print distribution, we have drawn our own conclusions:

  • Focus on the tactile nature of the communication piece. Heavier paper weight and some form of textured finish could highlight the “tangibility” of your leaflet or mail out
  • Take advantage of the brain’s emotional engagement with physical media and craft a message that has an emotional impact
  • Ensure your brand’s visual identity has a prominent place on your print – since brand recall may be enhanced by the paper medium

About the author:

Marliese Andexer is Impact Marketing’s Project manager. She has an extensive background in all things digital. To discuss your needs for an integrated marketing approach, from leaflet distribution to video marketing – drop her a line today: marliese@impactideas.co.uk

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