Print and broadcast aren't dead: Why food companies still invest in traditional media

Digital is huge, but tried and true methods still generate buzz and get the word out about products

In the 21st century digital-centric world, marketing dollars have increasingly been allocated to new advertising avenues on a host of different digital channels, such as social media, mobile and electronic billboards.

Still, many food and beverage companies are still finding value in the traditional forms of advertising—TV, radio and print.

Just look through a magazine, turn on the TV or listen to the radio. The most recent issue of "Entertainment Weekly" has ads for Gevalia coffee, Jimmy Dean croissants and Oscar Meyer deli items. During a recent episode of hit TV show "The Big Bang Theory," commercials ran for Coke. And an hour doesn't go by on Disney Radio without a commercial for a cereal, lunch product or the latest treat.

Bob Clary, director of online engagement for pay-per-sale marketing agency Intellibright, said when the client is big food manufacturers with big budgets, traditional media still has its place. 

“TV and radio both have a wide reach that can help build brand awareness,” he told Food Dive. “Digital marketing, however, is more budget efficient and provides greater ability to target based on interests and activity.”

Renee Miller, president/creative director with Los Angeles-based ad agency the Miller Group, noted traditional advertising still plays a part in most advertisers’ budgets. Although it may be more costly than digital and harder to measure, it still works in generating sales.  

“Bigger advertisers, like Procter and Gamble, still use TV, radio, print and outdoor as part of their media mix,” she told Food Dive. “Smaller advertisers, like Tillamook Cheese, use TV as part of its media mix.”

Miller said print is used to drive sales and is often accompanied by a coupon, while TV and radio are used to generate brand awareness. 


“As long as people continue watching TV, reading magazines and newspapers and listening to the radio, traditional media will continue to work,” she said. “Millennials may have different channels for watching TV (on mobile devices), but they still watch, still pay attention to outdoor boards and still listen to the radio while driving. Some of them even read magazines. And a rare few even read newspapers.”

Berta De Pablos-Barbier, who leads marketing for Mars Chocolate North America, said marketing is about much more than old or new platforms. She described the best marketing as timeless, using outstanding storytelling to build an emotional connection with consumers.

“While social and digital channels are a key way to interact with today’s consumers, traditional platforms are still critical to our storytelling strategy here at Mars Chocolate,” she told Food Dive in an email. “We’ve been in business for over 100 years, and over that time, each of Mars Chocolate’s iconic brands has developed a unique voice that is consistent across TV, print, online and social. Whether it’s Red or our Ms. Green, our M&M’S characters and their personas are recognized both in traditional and digital campaigns around the world.”

Yin and yang

Some would argue that the less expensive “new” media really works best as a complement to a traditional branding campaign — not a replacement.

Nestlé believes that the fundamental ways of building a great brand have not changed and are unlikely to change in the near future. As technology evolves, Tom Buday, global head of marketing, noted that “the way those fundamentals have to be applied has changed rapidly – luckily, new media channels are incredible laboratories of diagnosis and understanding.”

“While some learnings are platform specific, many learnings from new media channels can also enhance our work in traditional advertising,” he told Food Dive by email. “By remembering the fundamentals of traditional marketing while simultaneously moving quickly to keep pace with the new digital world, Nestlé aims to remain a leader in marketing innovation.”

Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé’s global head of digital and social media, acknowledges that the company has traditionally been “heavily in the business of TV,” but also emphasizes the importance of working across all digital platforms. The space changes so quickly that anyone can pop up as a major player in this industry.

Jeff Collins, CRO of Viant, an advertising technology company, agreed that traditional forms of advertising can be highly effective for B2C brands that are looking to reach large demographics with scale and reach. 

“The challenge with them was always a lack of targeting and measuring their effectiveness, but we’re seeing marketers combine those traditional channels with smarter data that gives them a better understanding of RoAS [return on advertising spending], and improve planning and execution for future campaigns,” he told Food Dive by email. “With new forms of deterministic data out there today, marketers can connect the dots to gain a more complete picture of an individual’s shopping preferences and media consumption.”

“Advertising for print, TV and radio can make big splash among consumers. I believe that traditional advertising can actually be a smart way to launch a broader brand campaign.”

Berta De Pablos-Barbier

VP of marketing, Mars Chocolate North America

For instance, data on a consumer’s recent beverage purchases, combined with what television shows they watch, and the times they typically turn on their TVs provides CPG brands with the ability to reach a consumer with a product that he or she is interested in, on a channel he or she is watching.

“New approaches, like ACR [automatic content recognition], are essentially making what’s old new again, giving marketers the opportunity to reinvigorate advertising for traditional channels like television,” Collins said.

In February, the M&M’s brand released a buzz-worthy commercial that had the iconic spokescandies each making its own beat. The ad asked consumers to record their own bite-size beats for a chance to be featured in an upcoming TV commercial. 

“We wanted to get fans more involved with the M&M’s brand by giving them a voice in our iconic TV commercials,” Tanya Berman, director of the M&M’s brand, said. “This program, which relies on user-generated content, is just another example of how we are continuing to find new and innovative ways to connect with M&M’s fans around music.”

It also blends traditional and digital advertising, as the campaign is linked with the company’s social media channels and gets people talking about what they saw on TV.

Mars Chocolate’s Super Bowl campaign for Snickers this year was an example of “old fashioned” advertising with a twist.

Scene from Snickers live ad
A scene from the Snickers Superbowl live ad

“Snickers has a history of creating the most talked about Super Bowl content, and our live spot this year featuring Adam Driver was no different – it was actually filmed during the game,” De Pablos-Barbier said. “This was the sixth year that Snickers aired a TV ad spot during the Super Bowl, and each year, we raise the bar to catch people’s attention. The game is a big moment in time to make an impact with our audience and start conversations between our consumers while they’re sitting together in their living rooms.”

The company did a TV spot and augmented it with more than 30 hours of live-streaming digital content.

“Advertising for print, TV and radio can make big splash among consumers,” De Pablos-Barbier said. “I believe that traditional advertising can actually be a smart way to launch a broader brand campaign.”

Benefits of radio

While print and TV may offer better reach than radio, food companies are wise to continue investing in it.

According to Radio Advertising Facts, research reveals that radio regularly reaches consumers within two hours of their shopping, so there’s no better way to reach customers while they are driving to the store.

Most newspapers average 66% ad copy, and TV spends about 33% of its time on commercials. However, radio normally has about 10 minutes of advertising per hour, devoting less than 20% of its time on ads. That means it’s less cluttered, and has a good chance to be remembered.

Additionally, radio is cheaper than other media. It’s easier to target advertising to a desired audience. Radio also offers brands an important opportunity to be effective background noise. Many psychologists claim consumers need to be exposed to an advertising message at least three times before it begins to penetrate, and that’s easier to do on radio.

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Filed Under: Corporate Marketing
Top image credit: Ken Hawkins