Inserts continue to hit home

As we charge towards the end of 2021 the momentum we’ve seen build for insert activity shows no sign of slowing down.

Inserts into third party mailings and magazine subscription copies found an unexpected (and welcome!) niche during the early lockdowns.  Delivered directly to the home, inserts offered certainty of reaching the target audience at a time when sales at the newsstand suffered.  This unique advantage led to new clients testing inserts for the first time and existing clients increasing volumes.  Here at AJ we’ve long felt inserts are not given the credit they deserve, often perceived by clients as unexciting (and dare I say it irritating…) so we are delighted so many new advertisers have tested this versatile medium.  Strong results across all sectors have led to huge growth in insert volume and spend, with AJ client insert spend in 2021 projected to be triple that of 2019. 

Aquability in particular have achieved a pretty impressive ROI from insert activity over the past couple of years.  Aquability have been active in the insert market and achieving steady returns for a number of years but saw stronger than ever results in 2020 and 2021 is shaping up to be even better.  In particular, inserts that ran in March, April and May 2020 were integral in keeping leads flowing when market uncertainty meant press and TV activity were scaled back.  We don’t mind admitting even we were surprised by how good the results were, despite a country in lockdown there was still strong product demand and inserts running at this time generated some of the highest returns we ever had for insert activity.  It’s not surprising that inserts have formed a key part of the Aquability media mix in 2021.   

Continued client commitment to inserts in 2021 has paid dividends, with fantastic results from both banker mailings and test runs still coming in thick and fast.  In fact, results are so strong that for the first time we are running a Q4 insert campaign.  Q4 is traditionally a time when the traditional “big ticket” direct response advertisers step back as demand naturally slows due to consumer focus on the upcoming festive period but confidence in the Aquability insert performance is at such a high we have continued insert activity right up to December 31st.   It’s fantastic to finish the year on a high but we’re not resting on our laurels – the insert planners are already working on Q1 2022 campaigns, so watch this space…

Helen Gower, Insert Media Planner/Buyer

Please contact Helen if you would like more information or to discuss your own requirements:

Time to think outside the (cardboard) box…

First pasta and loo rolls, then anything for the garden, car components and now paper – apparently you can’t get it for love nor money.

As if businesses haven’t been challenged enough with Covid, Brexit, Suez Canal and all the spin-offs these have created in terms of being able to sell to customers: delivery problems, import costs, high demand, low demand – to say it’s kept us on our feet is an understatement. And now we have a national paper shortage to contend with!

For our clients, this has several immediate implications, firstly, obtaining paper; not just for printed material such as catalogues and mailers but also for packaging and delivery. Secondly, newspapers usually upsize their key issues of the year, October to mid-December, but, with paper in short supply, they cannot get the additional stock required to do this. This means demand for space during this key period is going to outstrip supply

So what’s led to the paper shortage?

Demand – when we first went into lockdown consumers turned to mail order for all their shopping, the vast majority of which is delivered in cardboard boxes. So, existing e-commerce businesses boomed and upped their usage but there were also many companies that had not previously used cardboard boxes e.g. pubs and restaurants, garden centres etc, all of whom had adapted their businesses to home delivery. The ‘Amazon effect’ saw online purchasing increase by 74% and Royal Mail delivered an extra 200m parcels in 2020.

Supply – many large companies stockpiled when they anticipated the demand and knowing Brexit could make purchasing difficult; this impacted on the supply chain.

Increased costs – it is a worldwide issue as everyone has experienced a similar pattern since lockdown and with China in particular buying huge volumes of stock, import prices have increased by 40%.

Recycling – retailers have a slick recycling set-up for all their deliveries which was previously where the majority of cardboard was going however, with such an increase going directly to consumers who don’t automatically recycle their waste, a huge amount of cardboard has ended up in landfill rather than back in the system.

So, what could this mean now for advertising?

Now is the time to think ahead. We advise getting organised without panic buying. Plan your media and inserts ahead of time as much as possible – and as results dictate – but also consider increasing the use of non-paper advertising, TV in particular is a great thing to test during Q4 this year; viewing figures are high and prices are still highly competitive.

If you’d like help with adapting your media plan or perhaps discuss ideas for a TV campaign please get in touch with Lesley Bowman, new business director

Expert advice for the future

Deborah Meaden was part of the recent virtual ITV Showcase 2021 event that focuses on the future of business, where she shares her experience of the pandemic and offers tips and advice on adapting to change and the importance of looking forwards.

It’s a really interesting watch and we agree with her message. Here at AJ, we found very quickly the clients that were forward thinking and ready and willing to adapt and this has paid dividends. And on the flip side. those who were just waiting for it all to end have now been left behind.

We are thankful we have so many clients who have thrived during the new world we find ourselves in and have not just made short-term fixes waiting for ‘normal’ to return but who will take their changes into the future having found that they have been so positive they would not want to go back.

You can view Deborah Meadens’s video via the link below:,1RE1B,A1H1MT,61SR9,1

Alice Buttling, MD & Media Director

Life after lockdown, what happens now?

It looks like the road map is finally taking us where we want (and need) to be. And, thanks to the successful vaccine rollout, we seem to have turned the corner.

How we all emerge from lockdown remains to be seen. I think there will be a mixed bag: those who can’t wait to make up for lost time in terms of holidays, socialising and shopping while others still feel very cautious and plan to take baby steps. There is also a divide between saving and spending with 2 out of 5 people being better off since lockdown; some are keen to continue to save, given we don’t know what’s round the corner, while others can’t wait to splash out in a ‘life’s too short’ fashion.

We have already seen a change to results in press as retail has opened up again which is to be expected. People out shopping at weekends (less time to read newspapers) and of course buying on the high street once more taking some sales away from online, and this is much more noticeable in the 18-34s. One thing is certain though, there are new online shoppers to be capitalised upon, particularly in the 60+ sector, who aren’t keen to go back into shops, so some businesses can look forward to strong cost per new customer figures and building repeat customers here too.

Online shopping during lockdown has grown substantially amongst the 60+

Many mail order businesses have seen a real boom during the past 14 months and are keen to sustain these figures and learn as much as possible about how to keep driving growth. Other businesses that rely on home appointments are looking forward to dealing with backed-up demand. I think it will be an interesting and exciting six months.

TV will remain strong as working from home continues for many, even if on a part time basis, which will impact on the daytime viewing figures and quality of audience. Magazine subscriptions remain high and some sectors such as gardening and home interest in particular will be great for advertisers.

Newspapers still reach millions of people every day and Metro are now back up to distributing over 1m copies – lockdown pricing will crawl back up I am sure but there are still great deals to be done. Inserts that get into the home always work best and with mail order and magazine subs increasing it really is a buyer’s market.

I don’t think the media landscape has been stronger in the last ten years for advertisers so it is about tailoring the right plan. I read the following quote which I think sums up where we are right now: “We’re all battling the same storm, we are just in different boats”.

Alice Buttling, Managing Director & Media Director

68% of Adults watch over 50 linear ads a week

Source: BARB, Adults. Ads viewed at normal speed. Weeks 19 & 20 for each year (early May)

If you’re not currently advertising on TV, now is the ideal time to take the plunge. The first lockdown saw some startk changes in TV viewing behaviour which play into the hands of advertiser, making TV more cost-effective than ever for those looking to grow their business.

5 Reasons to be on TV

  • Linear TV viewing increased by 21% for all adults and by 51% for light viewers. This means you can reach the ‘harder to reach’ viewers with not only scale but frequency which is key to response (VOD increased by 45%)
  • Daytime viewing increased by 63% for ABC1 adults – this means you can now reach the working population through a daytime TV schedule, reducing the cost per thousand by about 50% against this audience (not allowing for any discounts)
  • Shared viewing increased by 30% – this is the perfect environment for advertising. Large screen (rather than mobile or tablet) and people watching together means that they are chatting and receptive to ads that would involve the family in decision-making – particularly good for home improvements & travel.
  • The increase in impacts has led to an increase in supply and the pricing therefore has dropped, making TV better value than ever. We really can buy a fantastic daytime-only campaign for spends as little as £15k a month.
  • For all the reasons above, TV advertisers have seen a huge surge in web traffic when they ran TV campaigns, some as much as 400% across a huge range of products, from pressure washers to Sipsmith Gin. It has also helped both online and offline retailers to tap into the huge demand with a starker than ever divide between the web traffic with TV running and without.

TV is a very positive medium and a lifeline right now. It has helped people keep positive and connected and provided a much-needed escape from the toughest thing that most people have been through. People have changed their TV habits through necessity but many say they have valued this so much it will become a permanent change: less individual viewing and more shared family time.

If you are thinking about TV then now is the time to action it. You will not regret it and it will change your business forever.

We provide a script to screen process and can help you every step of the way to ensure a smooth and low-risk test.

If you’d like to explore how to include TV in your mix, please get in touch:

Lesley Bowman –

With thanks to Thinkbox for the shared graph & stats

Inboxes are full, what next?

It’s estimated that email volumes have jumped by a staggering 300%-500% during the pandemic, meaning customers are receiving more emails than ever before.

Because of this, the average email open-rate in the UK has dropped to between 10% and 15%, so for every email you send to 10 people, 9 won’t read it.

The cost of sending an email is small, so it is not about ROI in particular, it’s more about exposure to your customers and getting your message across. And if up to 90% of your customer emails are not being read, now could be the time to invest in other options.

Direct Mail. Postcards. Letters. Envelopes. The Post.

It’s a lot harder to ignore a letter than an email; receiving a physical piece of personalised mail is valued. And personalised mail is read too; in fact, if a letter or postcard is sat on the table, it’s often read multiple times!

Businesses relying on digital methods to communicate with their customer database could be missing out on sales. So, we are helping clients overcome this with a range of mailings that are easy to create, efficient and extremely flexible. As a result, many of our clients have seen ROI figures of up to 10:1 from personalised, postcard mailings.

If you’re not currently including postal options in your mix, maybe it’s time to reconsider?

If you would like to see how AJ could help you make the most of mail, please get in touch with Lesley Bowman:

Time to tune in to radio?

Working from home continues to have an impact on changing behaviour which means great news for advertisers

New research from Radiocentre has thrown up some interesting stats and opened up a whole new discussion on radio advertising and its increased reach.

With 46% of working adults currently working from home, research has found that this group is primarily made up of young/middle-aged professionals, mostly home owners, with a higher than average household income. And within this group, 56% claim to be commercial radio listeners.

This opens up a wealth of opportunity for advertisers, particularly in the home improvements sector as we know from our own client activity and further research that these are the people most likely to be considering or currently making changes to their homes.

In April 2020, 45% of people claimed to be listening to radio more than they were before lockdown and in January this year, this figure rose to 50%. This is a group with an already high disposable income, over 60% of whom claim to have made further savings throughout lockdown. And over 56% say that if they hear something of interest on the radio, they will look it up online.

So, if you haven’t considered radio advertising before, there is clearly an opportunity now to reach large numbers of potential customers with money ready to spend.

If you would like help or advice on bringing radio into the mix, please get in touch:

With thanks to Radio Experts for sharing their findings on this topic with us.

Do coupons in ads still work?

Back in the day, every direct response ad had a coupon but the growth of online sales has seen more and more advertisers removing them – are they always right?

Leaving out a coupon has a number of benefits:

  • The ads looks nicer (coupons have to be quite large to be easy enough to fill out and therefore pretty ugly)
  • You have more space for product and sales messages
  • You don’t have to manually process the order – online orders process themselves
  • You get your results faster – no waiting for post to arrive or cheques to clear
  • You get better customer data – email address, phone number etc. for re- marketing

On the flip side there are also benefits to having a coupon:

  • It is clear that the ad is DR and that you order direct
  • It gives the consumer another call to action, preferred for those not on the internet and/or who don’t trust handing over credit card details
  • Unlike phone numbers they don’t require opening hours so customers can place orders 24/7
  • You can include upsells which increase the average order value
  • You secure the sale there and then; when people go online they often price compare and shop around.

So, are coupons a thing of the past or do they still have their place? 

Our client Velo put it to the test…

Advert 1 – Half page: phone number and online order only….60% of sales online and 40% phone – ROI index 100

Advert 2

Full page: phone, online and coupon options – 40% of sales online, 25% phone and 35% coupon – ROI index 120 (they got more than double the sales to the Half page)

Advert 3 – Half page: phone, online and coupon options – 0% of sales online 35% phone and 35% coupon – ROI index 60 (they got 40% fewer sales to the Half page with the coupon, to without)

So, do coupons actually work?

In short the answer is yes, but there is certainly a time and a place.

  • They are only important if your product is bought by the 70+ market
  • They should only be added when you have the room; don’t squeeze it into a half page and compromise the content and key selling points of the ad because what you take out has greater value than what you put in.
  • If the sales are worth it: you have to hand-process bank cheques etc and you don’t gain the same data as you would with online and phone as you generally only get their address, but the uplift is sales can be up to 30%. 

So, smaller ROI-focused businesses who are looking to make profit from a single ad can gain a lot from a coupon; a larger business who is driven by building a customer base and selling more in the future would almost certainly argue that using a coupon would not be the best route to take.

We’re always happy to offer advice and share our thoughts, so if you are having a coupon dilemma of your own, we’d love to help. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with:

Lesley Bowman, New Business Director –

Circulations update

In the first wave of lockdown, while newspapers were key to keeping the public updated on what was happening in a more trusted way than TV and online, they also gave a lifeline to many people who were subsequently more engaged than ever before. 

The newspapers were quick to offer free delivery to ensure that circulations did not fall and this combination meant the newspapers were performing well and circulation held up.  The magazines took an initial hit – supermarket home delivery meant that people were not picking up a magazine when they did their shop (this is when the majority are purchased) however a high demand for content continued, in particular home interest and gardening, and the online traffic to their digital sites surged.

Marketing to push subscriptions paid off and they increased by up to 300% on some titles.  The latest ABC’s show that things have now settled down and whilst print circulations have declined in most cases, these have been more than replaced with digital coverage, making the conversion of online readers into customers for our clients more important than ever. 

The Times has certainly led the way and despite their paid model online they have offset their 5% print decline with an 80% increase in digital reach.  Overall, the quality titles print circ are down 5% – not bad considering the circumstances.

In the magazine market there is a very similar picture with print circulations falling and digital spiking, however, there are a few sectors that have bucked the trend with gardening leading the way.  Almost all gardening titles have enjoyed a print circulation increase with Gardeners World increasing by 28% taking it to 226,000 and Garden Answers up 36%, Garden News up 18% and Landscape 25% – with no rate increases these are all great value.  The news magazines have also done well – The Week Junior is up 36% keeping those kids at home topped up with knowledge, but Private Eye and The Spectator also increasing.

Overall, the picture is good; the titles aimed at the younger market have lost in print but gained in digital. Those with a more ‘mature’ reader have done well with maintaining or increasing print circ as well as their highly valuable subscriber base and the newspapers have worked hard to maintain circulations and drive digital. The reductions in costs have meant that print continues to be key for direct response advertising, particularly if your target audience is 50+.

If you would like to know how to make the most of these opportunities, we can help. Please contact

Sounds like we’re getting it right

Not only do we value our client partnerships, we have always placed huge importance on our relationships with our media partners. And the last 12 months have made us value these more than ever.

Throughout this time, we made it a priority to put deals in place with media owners to offer clients prices that reflected the current situation.  As a result, we were able to keep supporting the magazines and newspapers with good volumes – even in the toughest of times – and the reduced rates and improved positioning meant that the ads kept working and so clients’ confidence grew. As a result, far from lockdown locking them down, we found that for many clients, sales soared.  Mail order clothing (in particular loungewear), home improvement, gardening, DIY, food & drink and (of course ) face masks and hand sanitiser all benefited from robust sales.

With the AJ team all working from home and contending with the challenges that this entails, I was keen to find out how well we have performed from a media owners’ point of view. I wanted to be sure that we were helping not only our clients but also helping the media owners not just survive but thrive.

Having asked for their feedback, I am very pleased with the responses received so far which I would like to share with you here:

I have to say I think that AJA have shone through COVID.  You all adapted super quick to agile working and have been very contactable (possibly more so than in the office). You have been accommodating of our phone calls and have embraced the opportunities of short term deals when they have presented themselves to you.Your clients have hugely benefited from a more flexible approach to structuring deals and you have driven some fantastic business during the period for the likes of Out & Out, Wellbeing, Henchmen as well as the regular advertisers like David Salisbury. 

AJA are up there in terms of our favourite agencies to work with as you always respect the offers and try to find solutions.

From my experience working with AJ in lockdown, I have found that it has been just as easy as it was pre- lockdown to get in contact and to work with everyone over there and you have been just as efficient as before.

AJ has continued to play an important part in driving business for us during lockdown, helping us to drive business in the Saturday Times particularly (where many other advertisers were holding back from bookings) taking more space, more frequently than before. Not only have AJ been continuing to book with existing advertisers, but also bringing new advertisers to the market in such a tough period which only 1 or 2 other agencies have done.I really enjoy working with you all and you make my job very smooth sailing! 

I can honestly say as we went into lockdown and your team began the transition of working from home, it did not affect any communication between us. Everyone responded promptly to emails, texts & calls.

Between us we moved quickly to work on a deal to keep your clients advertising through one of the toughest trading conditions I have experienced in 25 years. With this in place and the smooth communication we have, Attinger Jack currently stands £100k up year on year. There will be very few agencies across the country able to boast that. Each member of your team is open to new ideas and pursues the best deal & positioning possible.

I must mention your production team who have been superb, Considering the volume of ads booked and the quick turnaround for some, there has not been a single problem.

I’ve still found it easy to get hold of everyone and no major change from before lockdown. In terms of driving business I think it has actually worked really well and we had a lot of business coming in from you.

It’s great to gain this kind of feedback from our media partners and to know that we are all working well together to keep business moving in the right direction for us all. It’s also gratifying to be recognised for working that little bit harder too.

Alice Buttling, MD and Media Director, AJ