Years ago, I talked with the marketing manager of Costco and he told me, “We don’t advertise” – especially in print. At the time, I remember thinking how off he was, and I wondered how long it would take him to realize that mistake.

Today, I received a 20-page glossy sales magazine in the mail from Costco. We get those in the mail fairly often. Even if they print millions of these for nationwide distribution, I’ll bet it still costs between $1 and $2 each to print. Add mailing costs to distribute to their target audience – Alpharetta Costco members and potential members – and they still paid tens of thousands of dollars for these sales magazines in this area alone. Did I mention that all the products that were being marketed were available only online at Only online.

Why didn’t Costco just email all their customers and tell them to go to the website for all these deals? Why didn’t they just post on their Facebook about these special deals? Of course, they could have tweeted the messages to all their Twitter followers too, and they could have relied only on Google AdWords. But they spent thousands of dollars on print and the mail when all their social media is “free” or at least “cheap.” Why would they do that?

The answer is Marketing 101. Many people, including business owners and advertising agencies, could benefit from taking the class, because there has been a lot of spin and misleading information out there for quite a while.

If Costco could spend their advertising budget only on social media and other digital options in lieu of buying traditional media – newspapers, magazines, direct mail, billboards, post cards – they absolutely would. The reason that they don’t is because it doesn’t work well enough. Online and digital media is rarely local enough. It’s not enough alone to merchandise and is light years away from being enough alone to “brand” products or companies locally.

“Brand” is a small detail that one almost never hears mentioned by the online/digital marketing folks when they are trying to sell you advertising. The reason is because it is close to impossible to create and maintain a brand using digital marketing – at least locally.

Without beating it to death, the Internet has an unlimited amount of information on it. The more it grows, the more difficult it becomes to be noticed in an effective way advertising online. Facebook can sell your personal information all day long and only serve your ads to a very targeted viewer. But the last thing that Facebook viewer wants to spend time doing is looking at ads on Facebook. Not only that, the viewer also has less and less time to spend anyway on any particular website. Today, we are a society on information overload. For all the access it brings us, the Internet is also drastically reducing the amount of time we spend on any specific digital address or product.

So, do not drink the Kool-Aid. Yes, social media and digital advertising should be a part of any marketing mix but if they try to tell you that is all you need, hand the cup back to them and say good day. They are not acting in your best interest; they are acting in theirs.

Each year, Appen Media Group pays for an independent readership study, so we know how we are doing with our news and how well it is being read.

For the past decade, the percent of people who are reading the papers; the percent that are making purchases from the advertising in the papers; and the percent of people who rely on us for reliable, accurate information has remained remarkably strong and constant. In some cases, it has actually increased.

One reason for this is because our newspapers are not time destroyers like the Internet. We home deliver over 70,000 newspapers full of unique and personal local news, so access is really easy and the amount of news is finite. Most people know that they will spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes with it and then put it down. Our papers are not going to use up hours and hours of our readers’ time every week. That is why people still read us so loyally and why the Internet has had limited impact on our readership.

There are only three newspapers that service our market instead of the unlimited number of websites on the Internet. The probability that your advertisement is going to be noticed and acted upon in the local newspapers is strong.

Every week, approximately 112,000 people actually take the time to read our newspapers. Over 60 percent of them have household incomes over $100,000; more than a third make over $150,000. They remember our advertisers and the brands, because they see their advertising consistently. Brand-awareness is built when “lookers” become “buyers.” Those who have built and maintained their “brand’ in print are the ones who get the call or get the click and make the sale.

No one does local like your local newspapers do. Online doesn’t even come close. Print is still the best way to connect your business to your local audience. It is also the only real way to build brand locally. The really successful local businesses and services have strong print components in their advertising and marking mix. If you’re not sure, look around. Or, just ask Costco!


Ray is the Publisher Emeritus for Appen Media and the Herald newspapers.

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