The arrival of social media (and digital media in general) opened the door to alternatives to traditional paid media, making it necessary for us to start thinking about the roles these different types of media performed, and crucially, how they interact with each other. No marketing team (or ad agency) worth their salt considers any media in a vacuum, so comparing and contrasting the various types can help us to work toward a balanced, integrated media mix.


Let’s take a look at what the individual terms, earned, owned and paid media mean, and at some of the basic ways they interact.


Paid media is, simply, any media that has been directly bought. It’s the type of media that most of us would associate with ‘advertising’. Behind paid media is the (relatively!) straightforward idea that buying media on one of the traditional paid formats (TV, radio, digital, print, OOH etc) to carry a campaign is a calculated, effective and measurable way of delivering a brand to the right audience.


Paid media is best thought of as a conduit. It is often used to specifically drive traffic toward owned property and/or owned media (the brand website for instance), where there is space to develop the brand at leisure, outside of the limits of paid media formats. It is also used to promote content in order to generate earned media too. Think of paid media that has been created with the express remit of going viral for an example of this.


Owned media is, as the name suggests, owned by the brand. We’d include everything from the website/mobile site and social media channels to physical store frontage in this category. If there is a space that you can decorate without paying for it, it’s owned media.


It’s a safe bet that when the audience has arrived at the owned media, a conversion is closer than at any of the other types of media. Of course it isn’t actually a conversion, but many brands would use audience arrival at owned media (from either paid or earned media) as a key performance indicator. A sign that things are working well (or not as the case may be).


Earned media should be seen as another vehicle to get people to head toward owned media. It includes brand output that is notable enough to be shared and encompasses what we understand today as the shared digital society: shared media, viral content, mentions, reposts and reviews are all examples of media that has been earned without being owned or paid for. As a result it is sometimes called ‘free media’. Clearly this is a misnomer, as it belies the amount of effort and time that is almost always necessary to successfully and consciously employ it.


Creating effective content gives a brand the best chance of developing an effective earned media strategy, and as a result also contributes toward overall brand recognition and delivering an audience toward owned media.


As we can see, paid, owned and earned media might serve the same ultimate purposes (awareness, conversion and retention), but they do so in different ways. As always, knowledge of the various media types, and how they interface, is half the battle won for a brand looking to deliver on those ultimate purposes.


By Oliver Brown