The web has won its battle and is finally recognised as a critical element of the marketing mix. A business may as well only be as good as its website – because it’s the first place your target audience will turn to get to know you better, and it’s a key decision-making tool when establishing a consideration set for a product or service.

While traditional media require transfer for any form of engagement with your brand, the web offers immediate interactivity – instant gratification. But I don’t need to argue the benefits of digital – as I said, it’s already proven itself worthy of priority placement within today’s marketing mix. What I really want to get debating about is the effects of this newfound status – because it has contributed to the momentum of the argument that digital trumps traditional in the ROI stakes.

In my opinion, the media sitting underneath these umbrellas have such very different pros and cons that this argument can’t ever really be substantiated if applied as a generalisation. Every brand and every campaign has unique goals and objectives and the right tool for the best return on investment varies with any given situation.

So let’s get specific. To keep things simple, (and because of the popularity of this particular comparison) let’s take a look at social media and newspapers, and the arguments for each.

Social Media:

  • Social Media is targeted and contextual in real time – social media advertising uses personal information collected from individual user profiles and cookies stored against unique IP addresses to serve up contextual ads based on profile/device activity in real time.
  • Social Media’s credibility is built on peer reference – in this instance credibility is given to a persona (or personas) and a voice with a unique opinion, offering real and experience-based advice.
  • Social Media allows you to reach the target audience over time, at a relevant time – via advertising, conversation and engagement. Your message can be relayed over the internet instantaneously, building momentum over time, while personalisation and situational context ensures messaging is well received.


  • Print advertising is targeted and reach is well established – newspapers deliver well defined audiences, and are guaranteed to reach subscribers.
  • Print advertising is credible and transparent – major newspapers are steeped in credibility, and advertising is clearly differentiated from editorial.
  • Print advertising allows you to reach the target audience immediately – newspapers have short lead times – usually daily or weekly.

But which offers the best ROI? The reality is that digital is on the up and up (and service providers are upping the ante in terms of value for money). It’s unconventional and therefore cuts through the clutter. Although that doesn’t necessarily always mean it’s the right tool for the job.

In the end it all comes down to the campaign’s unique goals and objectives, and the budget available. Social media may well be the cheaper option, and can offer powerful results, but let’s not forget about the labour costs involved in making it work (well). And in any case, the relationship between spend and results is relative – i.e. the more effort you put in, the better results you are likely to get.

I don’t know of a single modern marketer who didn’t jump on the social media bandwagon in 2009, so I raise this question to you the reader: which media has offered you the best ROI in the past twelve months?