By Mark Gardner, CAN Network Director. Originally posted 10 July 2017

In our previous blog on this topic, we looked at why advertising is crucial and how local businesses benefit. In this one, we explore how advertising online can be more cost effective than advertising in print.

Councils have traditionally used print – leaflets, mailshots, posters – to market their services. Print will remain an important part of the portfolio but most advertisers do not rely on it exclusively or even primarily owing to its critical shortcomings – loose targeting, high cost, imprecise measurement and lack of optimisation.


Ad technology is very clever; when you use your laptop or mobile phone you leave an anonymous digital footprint that lets advertisers form an idea of what interests you. It is this information that is needed to place the right advertising in front of the right people.

For example, before the June Election, there was a desire to get young people to vote. Let’s assume you used traditional channels:  you would have printed leaflets and had them placed at leisure centres, sixth form colleges, universities, and the usual places where the young congregate. The print run would be very expensive, and because your leaflet would be placed with many other leaflets, it’s unlikely that your message would even reach the target audience.

Online advertising allows you to target a specific audience, placing ads on websites young voters use, such as YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook. You can display the ad several times over a given period on different media to the same person. In fact, the tech allows frequency capping – setting a maximum number of times the ad is shown to an individual. If you have multiple creatives, you can test each creative against different variables – ethnicity, location, gender – to determine which works best for which audience. You can even “re-target” an individual who has dwelled or clicked on the ad but hasn’t yet registered.


Let’s say you have a budget of £5000.

If you use non-digital channels, you spend most of your budget on printing and distribution. If you place your leaflets in a venue, you have no way of knowing if they have been distributed. If they’re in a prominent place. If they’ve been seen. If you distribute them to households, you have the added delivery cost. Do they all get delivered?  And if so, do they go straight to the bin?

For the same or even less budget, advertising online enables you to reach the vast majority of your residents and weight your targeting to the specific groups you want to engage. You can offer them different messages and change the message in order to maximise its efficiency. The ads can be on desktop or on mobile. We all, don’t we, spend a lot of time on our smart phones so we are more likely to see the ad on our screens than we are on a bus as it whizzes past.

And as you build up concrete information about your audience, the amount you spend on each campaign decreases.


A crucial tool in demonstrating the success of your campaign and justifying future spend is reporting back. With print advertising, it is almost impossible to prove how well the campaign has gone. Nobody records how many people pick up a leaflet or if anyone reads it.

With online advertising you know how many ads have been displayed, how many people have clicked on them and can look at your site’s page impressions to show any noticeable increase in traffic. See an example of online reporting by registering on our site and taking a look at our case studies.

So, the idea is not to abandon print advertising, but to take advantage of an alternative that is more cost effective and accurate. There are reasons why digital advertising is now bigger than all other forms of advertising combined. It could well be time to take advantage and make digital a prominent part of your mix.