Online Media vs. Traditional Media — Who’s the King Now?

First Published by  Uros Stanimirovic may 14, 2021

It would be wrong to say that the rapid development of technology hasn’t changed the world. Nowadays, we can do almost anything online. From shopping to watching TV, the internet has made everything more accessible.

In the business world, this digital revolution probably affected the marketing industry the most. Due to its volatile nature, marketers are forced to follow and adapt to these changes quickly. For decades, professionals had but a finite number of advertising tools and outlets at their disposal, but not anymore! With the rise of online media came a whole new branch of marketing — digital marketing.

But how did that affect the traditional media outlets and marketing practices? That, among other things, is what we’re going to find out! Let’s begin by defining the two types of media marketers have at their disposal nowadays.

Table of Contents

What Is Traditional Media?

Traditional media are media outlets and institutions that predate the Information Age. These offer marketers plenty of opportunities to promote their products. Here are a few traditional advertising methods that make use of this type of media:

  • TV Commercials
  • Radio Advertisements
  • Cold Calling
  • Flyers
  • Billboard Advertisements
  • Door-To-Door Sales
  • Newspaper Ads

Although marketers have relied on these techniques for decades, they have lost a lot of traction over the last few years and have been in a steady decline ever since.

The Decline of Traditional Media

These traditional marketing methods were a staple of many brands’ promotional endeavors until recently; however, with the rise of online media and a shift in consumer trends, legacy media lost a lot of its appeal. 

For example, as seen at Array Digitalthe number of people watching TV continues to plummet among all consumers between 2 and 49. That is still true despite the diversification of traditional TV through various IPTV services. And considering that television is the most interactive legacy medium, these other traditional advertising methods are much worse off.

Graph illustrating the drop of traditional tv viewership among younger audiences between 2012 and 2016
Traditional TV viewrship among younger audiences dropped significantly between 2012 and 2016

Such a downward trend of these traditional mediums and marketing is likely due to their nature. This type of direct marketing focuses on actively seeking out customers. “Well, that sounds like a sound strategy to me,” you might think. Yes, it is… or, well, it used to be. 

Nowadays, the internet allows easy access to an almost infinite amount of information at any time and any place. That has drastically changed the average consumer’s way of life. Everything is faster and much more accessible now, so a lot of the marketing focus has shifted from seeking out customers to helping them find you. 

But what do we mean by that? 

In this day and age, it takes anyone about two seconds to Google a product they’re looking for and a few more to order it from a website. That’s why it’s safe to say that having an active digital marketing strategy is likely to bring you more conversions than any of the traditional methods above.

The statistics speak for themselves. According to Array DigitalU.S. online ad spend has increased by 40% between 2000 and 2020. Conversely, the ad spend for some traditional advertising methods like TV and newspaper ads has dropped by 3% and 26%, respectively.

What Is Digital Media?

In contrast to traditional media, digital (or online) media is all media that is encoded and can be viewed, distributed, or stored on digital electronic devices. This technology gave rise to an entirely new method for marketers to reach consumers. Here are a few examples of digital advertising methods that consequently came to be:

The Rise of Online Media

The above marketing methods have been present for years now, but they have only recently gained a lot of traction. That should come as no surprise considering the overwhelming increase in internet usage over the past two decades. The data might shock you, but in 2000, only about 7% of the world’s population used the internet. However, by 2018, that number rose to a whopping 48%! Today, it is even higher.

But why did most advertisers shift their focus toward internet marketing? Aside from what we’ve mentioned already, the development of digital media brought forth several other innovations.

The two most prominent benefits of digital advertising (such as display advertising and mobile video advertising) over its traditional counterparts are codependent but equally crucial. The first is increased interactivity and engagement, where videos excel the most. “But how are videos different from TV commercials?” you may ask? Well, that’s where the second benefit of online advertising comes into play — targeted ads.

You Might Also Like: How to Improve Video Engagement: 8 Steps You Should Follow

Targeted Advertising

What does targeted advertising entail? Simply put, it means that the ads users will see will be highly relevant. Advances in targeting technology allow marketers to get to know their audiences better and makes it easier for them to reach only the most relevant consumers.

The above factors are what sets digital advertising miles ahead of any of the traditional marketing techniques. And when you combine that with the power of video content marketing, you get a high-converting, wide-reaching, and engaging advertising technique that would be impossible to replicate on a TV. 

There are two most commonly used targeting methods in advertising, each with its own benefits:

  • Contextual Targeting — This targeting technique serves ads based on the contents of a website the user is visiting (e.g., it will display cooking-related ads on a website about cooking)
  • Behavioral Targeting — This targeting technique serves ads based on users’ preferences and search history (e.g., it will display ads based on user’s online behavior and content consumption regardless of the website they’re visiting)

These techniques are the primary reason businesses are finding more success advertising online than via traditional means. Thanks to the abundance of audience data readily available online, these targeting methods help marketers get their products in front of their target audience in the right place and at the right time.

You Might Also Like: A Detailed Guide to Data Management Platforms (DMPs)

Online Media vs. Traditional Media — How Do They Compare?

online media vs traditional media comparison

Now that we’ve introduced you to the general state of both traditional and online media, let’s make a detailed comparison and see how effective each is for marketers! We’ll take a look at a few different categories and evaluate each media type based on its advertising effectiveness.


Without a doubt, digital media wins here! It is much cheaper than its legacy alternatives like TV. Here are some numbers to prove it! According to Uhuru NetworkCPM for online outlets like social media is only $3, while the radio and TV equivalents go as high as $10 and $28, respectively!

Winner: Digital Media

Interactivity and Engagement

We’ve already mentioned this point, but it’s worth repeating! Online ads, and digital media in general, are significantly more interactive than traditional ones — not to mention that modern outlets like social networks and video-sharing platforms offer new means for direct consumer-to-business communication.

Winner: Digital Media

Data Accuracy

Yet another victory for digital media! Online media allows marketers to target specific consumer groups and track and collect extensive amounts of data. Aside from that, it is more data-driven of the two, which is primarily due to the availability of real-time analytics. Traditional media, unfortunately, often doesn’t offer the luxury of such swift and detailed analytical data.

Winner: Digital Media

Consumer Trust

When a brand has a strong online presence, it allows consumers to research their products and even check out user reviews before committing to a purchase. That helps build consumer trust and nurture relationships with your customers. That is why another point goes to digital media!

Winner: Digital Media


Since kids spend more than 30 hours a week glued to their phones nowadays, reaching your target audience online and building brand awareness has never been easier. And when you couple that with better audience engagement, it’s safe to say that digital marketing trumps traditional media campaigns in this regard as well.

Winner: Digital Media


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