Brain Chatter: Why Casper, Airbnb and Other Brands Are Pivoting Back to Print

November 9, 2017 Shane Schick

My life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

Sure, I have an unbelievably happy marriage and three wonderful children that pretty much match what I dreamed of, but in terms of my work, I had always imagined a career spent working on stories that would be bound in the pages of magazines, and newspapers. Instead, the vast majority of what I’ve produced has run online -- and only online.

I guess I should have gone to work at a startup.

Just this week, for instance, mattress industry disruptor Casper launched Woolly, a sort-of-quarterly journal that would be bundled with its product and available at pop-up shops, among other places. AdWeek had the details:

Created with help from the team at McSweeney’s, (Woolly) encourages readers to relax with a mix of personal essays, comedic advice columns, yoga instructor confessions and much more.

In other words, it’s a highly polished piece of content marketing. The thing is, Casper had already demonstrating some real strength in brand storytelling with a digital-only publication, Van Winkle, which has since shuttered.

This follows close on the heels of HERE, a print magazine from suitcase brand Away, not to mention Airbnb magazine by, ahem, Airbnb. Some have been at this for a while, like HOG For Harley Davidson.

According to data released earlier this year by the Content Marketing Institute, B2C brands who use print consider it their most important channel after e-mail and Facebook. I may be a bit biased, but it’s not hard to see why. A print magazine, especially from a brand that doesn’t have to rely on lots of advertising, is an immersive content experience without any distractions.

Another advantage -- which was largely forgotten in traditional media when we all pivoted to digital -- is that print is far more versatile as a medium. You have to consider screen form factors, content management tool limitations and a million other technical details to change so much as a single page on a web site. If I’m editing a print magazine, on the other hand, I can work with a good art director to make every page of every issue look completely different if I wanted to. There’s more room for innovation in print than many of the digital die-hards realized.

Before anyone declares a renaissance in non-digital marketing, however, there are a few caveats to this trend. First, there are obviously not traditional media properties -- the sort that are officially operating without a focus on the interest of their owners. Second, they are not necessarily digital-free. Wooly will have an online edition, for instance, and most branded print magazines have some kind of social media extension or component.

Next, look at some of the categories focusing on print: travel, hospitality, lifestyle. Whereas a B2B brand is focused on capturing the kind of information you’d include on a business card so their sales team can connect with you, consumer brands are really trying to create awareness and affinity. You can try doing that with an amazing billboard placed in just the right spot, or you can do it with a magazine that your audience looks forward to flipping through on a regular schedule.

I can’t remember who said it, but I remember reading (in print) that a great magazine is like a showcase for a club, which you can only join by subscribing. I think that’s kind of what brands are aiming for with print now.

Unlike the pre-Internet days, though, print magazines now face fewer competitors. Brands can own the channel outright versus sitting uncomfortably next to purely editorial pages. Distribution is not limited to newsstands but can be based on wherever the impact will be maximized.

It takes a while to master a medium. The irony is that, as brands finally perfect the art of working in print, they might start to learn a few things that will help them do the same thing in digital marketing too.

Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more at

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