Understanding the Basics of Traditional Advertising

Explore the World Beyond Online Advertising

Traditional advertising is what most people think of when the word “ad” comes up in conversation. Print, radio, television and outdoor are media that have long been successful to gain exposure and new business. The reason we call them “traditional” is to set them apart from the mass of modern-day advertising options, including viral (i.e. Word-of-Mouth) and online marketing initiatives.

When prospective customers see your company’s name outside their computer screens, it suddenly becomes more valid. Online, you’re just a virtual presence that can be changed or deleted with a click of a mouse. But in print or on television, you’re just like any brick-and-mortar retailer – committed to growing your business for the long-term. This also translates into even more sales from unlikely sources, including audiences who aren’t likely to be online often, but may make an exception to purchase your product.

This post provides an overview of your traditional advertising options and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Use it as a reference guide as you consider traditional advertising methods for your overall marketing plan.

The Buck Starts Here

There are so many options for traditional advertising; it may seem overwhelming at first. Take a step back and look at the big picture. This is especially important because traditional advertising can be much more expensive than many online alternatives. Ask yourself these questions before you invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in any ad:

What are my objectives?

Before creating any plan, you must begin with solid objectives to measure the plan’s success. Your goals may be to generate traffic and increase sales, but be more specific. Write down figures that represent your ideal goals, no matter how ambitious. These are your long-term goals. Then, think about the financial resources to reach those goals and adjust your numbers to be more realistic for the short-term. This will help you prioritize which tactics are appropriate for your goals.

Who is my audience?

You must first understand who your audience is before you can figure out where they might be. Use the tips in “Understanding the Basics of Marketing and Branding” to learn how to figure out your target and secondary demographics. Then, brainstorm a list of places they might be seeking information. For example, if you’re selling fishing equipment, your target customers may subscribe to a variety of fishing or sportsman magazines. These publications could be very effective advertising vehicles for your website.

What is my budget?

Remember, you can’t afford NOT to advertise, but you may not have the luxury to spend thousands of dollars on one ad. Start small and appropriate more funds to your advertising budget as you grow. No matter what your budget, there are options available. The more you meet your sales goals, the more you should spend on marketing.

How can I stand apart?

Evaluate the competition’s advertising and consider creative alternatives to the norm.  “Traditional” does not necessarily mean “conventional.” If your competition is running ads that are cluttered and boring, develop a creative concept that’s in line with your brand but cuts through the others.

Where should I advertise?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, you can start to research your traditional advertising options. Read on for a basic overview of the pros and cons of each media.


Think about it. Almost everyone you know receives a newspaper. And if they don’t, perhaps their workplace does. That’s why newspaper advertising can be one of the most effective ways to extend your reach to the masses…and one of the most expensive buys of the bunch.

  • Somewhat targeted: There’s something for everyone in the newspaper. Sports, Entertainment, Classifieds, Fashion, etc. You can reach members of your target audience by placing section-specific ads.
  • Ad heavy: People expect there to be plenty of advertising in the newspaper. In fact, some people read the paper just to learn about the latest deals and promotions.
  • Placement on short notice: Production time is at a minimum for newspaper placement, so you can contact your sales rep a day or two in advance and still make the insertion deadline.
  • Variable sizing: Newspapers offer many, many different size ads so you can pick and choose one (or a series) that suits your budget.
  • Short lifespan: Some local papers or special sections may remain around the house for a week or longer, but most newspapers are thrown out by the end of the day.
  • Low-quality print: Although newspapers have come a long way in the clarity of the newsprint, print quality is still not the best, especially compared to magazines. Keep your ad design simple and this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Ad heavy: This is also a disadvantage because you’ll be competing with many other ads for attention.
  • Variable placement: Aside from the section, you probably won’t be able to control exactly where your ad is placed in the paper. And, if the page doesn’t have anything newsworthy to say, your audience may skip it all together.


Do a little research on this topic and you might be surprised at how many magazines are out there nowadays. Trade-specific publications have cropped up more and more in recent years, so if you look beyond the supermarket bookshelf, you’ll find dozens of magazines on everything from woodworking to quilt making. Use this to your advantage when shopping for magazine ad space. Seek out highly-targeted publications with readership that fits your demographic profiles.

  • High quality print: Magazine print allows your design to be much more detailed than newspaper. Because the print quality is superior, the design should be as well. Consider using an advertising agency or graphic designer who is fluent in all the technical press requirements.
  • Creative potential: Magazine ads are often more conceptual and less about price. Put your creative mind to work and brainstorm an idea that expresses your company’s distinctive advantages in a memorable, stylish way.
  • Longer shelf life: People often keep magazines around for weeks or months. They might also pass them along to friends so the opportunity for exposure is greater than a newspaper, which may be thrown away after a day.
  • Targeted Options: Large circulation isn’t always better. Purchase less expensive ad space in smaller, highly-targeted publications and you may see similar, if not better, results. Some national publications also have regional advertising sections that offer affordable options.
  • Lead-time: Magazines often require you to submit an ad up to a month in advance, so plan early!
  • Expense: Ad cost is almost always based on circulation (the more people who may see your ad, the more expensive it is) so evaluate those numbers carefully. You can always start small, even if it means a listing in the “advertising” section of the magazine and evaluate the results to see if it’s worth a larger expense in the future.
  • Clutter: Magazines are a popular form of advertising but, unlike newspapers, most people read the magazines for the content not the ads. Before you purchase ad space, be sure to review the magazine and seek out creative opportunities to stand apart.


Since the advent of satellite radio, there has been some controversy about how effective radio commercials really are. This is a valid concern, but given the significant ratings of popular radio channels across the nation, it’s safe to say that radio still attracts plenty of listeners. People are listening at work, in their cars, or as they relax.

Tap into this market with some smart buying strategies. You don’t need to purchase the typical 30-second commercial to be effective.

  • Engaging: Radio is often called “theater of the mind” because it compels listeners to use their imaginations, giving them something to remember.
  • Segments: Radio stations offer news, weather, traffic in addition to music. Consider purchasing a “tag” that allows you to sponsor one of these segments. For example, you may “This weather report brought to you by GreatFishingGear.com, who encourages you to get out and enjoy the fall temperatures with a new reel from Bass Pro!”
  • Negotiationpower: Your radio rep is more likely to negotiate better rates than your print advertising rep. You can discuss creative ways to add value to your buy.
  • Quick changes: With one call to the radio station, you can add to or change your script. If you were running an ad in Sunday’s paper, you could say, “Look for our ad in the Sunday Times for details!”
  • Different formats: The most cost-effective way to buy radio space to give the station a script and have one of their personalities read it. This is called a “voiceover read.” You can also hire talent, go into a studio and record a “produced” spot, which can cost thousands, but is more likely to stand out. 
  • Inability to review: Once the commercial plays, it’s done. If your audience missed the message, they can’t go back and listen again.
  • Timing is everything: Popular listening times, like rush hour, can be very expensive, but ratings drop significantly during the night and mid-day. Beware of sales reps who offer spots during these times because there will be very few people listening.
  • Mass marketing: Your listening audiences are loosely targeted and attract a diversity of listeners, so your message will be heard by a number of people who aren’t remotely interested in your product.


More people spend more hours watching television than any other medium. The most recent study upped the national average to over eight hours a day! TV has the power to extend your reach to millions of people nationwide. So why do we typically only see commercials for the “big guns” like eBay.com or Amazon.com? Obviously, television advertising can be very expensive. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more affordable options available to fit your budget.

  • Highly targeted: Television shows each have their own set of demographics associated with them. There audience who watches Trading Spaces is much different than those who watch Monday night football.  Buy time associated with your audience. There might even be a program directly associated with your product, such as fishing shows for GreatFishingGear.com.
  • Creative potential: With television, you have the chance to make a memorable impression with a conceptual and highly visual representation of your product. Work with a professional production house and/or advertising agency to help you craft a spot that will tell your story in the most impactful way possible. 
  • Large audiences: There’s no doubt about it, you’ll reach the most people with this medium. Remember, “more” doesn’t always mean “better,” so be sure to evaluate your options closely before you purchase.
  • Production: In addition to your media buy, you must also invest in the creation of the commercial, which is likely to cost you thousands of dollars because television audiences expect high-quality production. But once you do, you can use it over and over, until you’re ready to create a new spot.
  • Expense: Your media costs are based on the number of viewers who watch the program and the time of day the program airs. A 30-second commercial during prime time viewing hours can cost 10-30 times more than one radio spot during prime listening time. Seek out inexpensive options. The fishing program that airs at 5:00am may be a smart buy because almost everyone watching will be potential customers.
  • Inability to review: Just like radio, once the commercial plays, it’s done. If your audience missed the message, they can’t go back and see it again.


Outdoor advertising is much more than billboards! This unique and creative medium encompasses signage in and around our cities, including busses, subways, taxis and trains. With outdoor, you have the option to make an impression with potential customers in places your competition normally wouldn’t consider.

  • Captive audience: Your audience may be able to tune outdoor advertising out, but they can’t turn it off. So, in a sense, they are a “captured audience,” who will see your ad whether they want to or not. Think of the last time you were in traffic behind a bus. You probably read the message in front of you, simply because it was there.
  • Location specific: While outdoor is a medium that markets to the masses, you can also look for locations where your audience may be. For GreatFishingGear.com, it would make sense to purchase a billboard on common routes to popular lakes around the country.
  • Quick read: You don’t have much time to get your message across since outdoor advertising draws, on average, 2-3 seconds of your reader’s time. Keep your message concise (5-7 words max.) to
  • Contracts: Typically, you need to commit to a minimum of three months when purchasing any outdoor space. This may be outside your budget or too large of an investment for experimental purposes.

Direct Mail

Research shows that direct mail is the third largest media expenditure behind television and radio. This explains the growing number of unsolicited sales messages in your mailbox, which is exactly why you should make extra effort to stand apart so your direct mail doesn’t become junk mail.

  • Highly targeted: More and more marketers are turning to direct mail because it is one of the easiest ways to target specific audiences by region and household income. This is especially important if you’re selling high-end products – you wouldn’t want to promote your products to people couldn’t afford them, so you would restrict your mailing list to include people in ritzy neighborhoods.
  • Creative potential: Remember, your mailing doesn’t need to take the form of a letter. You can do postcards, self-addressed reply cards and three-dimensional mailings to increase the odds that your message will be read.
  • Expense: It can be expensive to produce an effective direct mail piece and a targeted list. Investing in the services of an experienced advertising agency may be in your best interest if you are not familiar with these practices.
  • Blending in: Once your mailing reaches its destination, there’s no guarantee that your audience will read it. If your message doesn’t catch their attention, it will find its way to the garbage and your investment is wasted.

Media Buying Overview

Buying media is tricky business because advertising sales reps are trained negotiators who are not always working in your best interest. Your representatives at the traditional media outlets can be both friends and foes.

You may want to enlist the services of an agency or freelance media buyer who specializes in media buys to purchase the space for you, because the newspaper, magazine or outdoor outlet pays the agency a commission and it doesn’t cost you a dime.

Ask for a media kit

This ad package is typically a folder that includes demographic information, distribution, rates and a sample of the publication. This will help you evaluate if the newspaper or magazine is right for you without having to speak to anyone.

Ask for suggestions

Your rep can keep you posted on special sections or promotions that are related to your business. The travel section may be running a feature on the “Best Places to Fish in the US.” These are great opportunities to increase your exposure with your target audience.

Ask for editorial contacts

Express an interest in getting your story in front of journalists. Look for our upcoming post on Public Relations. Although sales and editorial staff are entirely separate entities to protect journalistic integrity, your rep can probably point you in the right direction to enhance your PR efforts.

In Summary

Ultimately, traditional advertising can be expensive, but it can be highly effective with the right planning. Consider your objectives, your audience and your competitive landscape before rushing into any media buy. If you’ve never launched a traditional ad campaign before, you may want to enlist the services of the pros for both creative development and media negotiations. And, always remember, no matter what you spend, investing in advertising is the smartest way to grow your business.

IMPress Action Checklist

Below is a list of the steps necessary to create a traditional advertising plan. Be sure to check off each task as you complete it to ensure a comprehensive approach from start to finish.

  1. Plan wisely
    1. Objectives
    2. Audience
    3. Budget
  2. Choose your media
    1. Newspaper
    2. Magazine
    3. Radio
    4. Television
    5. Outdoor
    6. Direct Mail
  3. Negotiate your costs
  4. Brainstorm great creative
  5. Measure the results
  6. Evolve your plan

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.