Three distinct styles of marketing compete for our increasingly divided attention, writes Jonathan Dodd.

If you're reading this online, you've accessed it for free.

If you're holding a print edition, chances are that you or someone else has paid for it. Which means that the advertising dollar is more valuable for the managers of the freely-accessed NZ Herald website than for those in charge of the print edition. Thus we have one of the biggest debates facing media today - how to make online newspapers more economically viable.

Undoubtedly, as a result of the tough environment that newspaper websites operate in coupled with a maturing understanding of what really constitutes reader engagement, the New Zealand Herald recently announced new developments in how readership of the NZ Herald website is going to be measured.

These changes shift the focus away from simplistic counts of how many people have viewed a webpage to a new measure that incorporates other aspects such as page-view duration - more akin to traditional advertising metrics such as audience reach.

When the changes were reported in the advertising and marketing website stoppress.co.nz, they sparked quite a flurry of debate that highlighted a very important issue: that people process advertisements very differently depending on the media channel they are being conveyed in.

The same static visual ad on a website, in a newspaper or through a posted leaflet will have vastly different levels of effectiveness depending on the channel used.

Research conducted by Synovate in Belgium found that the same television commercial shown to the same target audience had 42 per cent more impact when it was viewed on a channel that the audience were emotionally committed to than when it was viewed on a less-loved alternative channel.

Synovate research in Asia has confirmed this. So when the NZ Herald sees fit to charge more for advertisements that are shown on more engaging, longer-viewed pages, it is only fair. After all, advertisers have long accepted that they pay more for longer radio and TV ads and larger print ads.

To complement this overseas research, Synovate New Zealand recently conducted an online, demographically representative survey of 319 New Zealanders to learn which advertising media were more likely to mentally engage the audience.

Synovate found that advertising media fall into three groups:

1. The annoying:

Interruptive, usually irrelevant approaches such as email and text spam, telemarketers and those who approach you in person.

2. The attention-getters:

Television is unsurpassed at grabbing one's attention, but so is unaddressed mail which we have repeatedly found to be highly effective (junk mail certainly being a misnomer).

3. The quiet achievers:

Less intrusive advertising that is high on relevance and/or content, such as newspapers, opt-in emails, magazines, direct mail and point of sale.

The research also confirmed that the advertising channel of choice has an effect on the believability of the advertising it contains.

Television advertising was regarded by the most as being "trustworthy and reliable" (32 per cent), followed by advertising in newspapers (23 per cent) and radio (18 per cent). Clearly the big broadcast media are related to stability and surety (and cost), and so advertisers gain from being associated with these positive channels.

The purpose of the advertising also has to be considered, as different channels have their strengths.

The attention-getting nature of television means that people are the most likely to say this is the best channel through which to learn about new products and services and to be prompted into action - but television is closely challenged by websites when "helping people make better purchasing decisions" is considered.

The age of the audience also has to be considered, with those aged 55-plus being almost as likely to act upon newspaper and unaddressed mail as they are to act upon television advertisements. Radio advertisements are notably more favoured by those aged 35-54 years.

The research applied a special research technique to determine the "share of mind" that people have for each advertising medium - accounting for how positive or negative they felt about each option, combined with the personal salience each option had for them in their lives.

With this measure, each option's real value to the average person can be calculated - and newspaper advertising wins, with 12.4 per cent "mindshare", fractionally above television (11.8) and in-store advertising (11.2).

Some age differences were clear to see as well, and for the predictable (older people being more likely to prefer newspaper advertising) there were surprises, too - the same 55-plus age group exhibiting much greater mindshare for opt-in emails than their younger counterparts.

Clearly, then, this publicly available research confirms that media selection for a given campaign has to consist of more than calculating the best reach for the dollar.

Newspapers and television may seem like "old school" media choices, but what they may lack in freshness they more than make up for in effectiveness and audience preference.

Jonathan Dodd is a research director at market research company Synovate. Contact him at Jonathan.Dodd@synovate.com.