Myth busting series: no.6: Unpaid media is making paid media redundant

With the growth of online channels, more and more agencies and brands alike are using owned and earned media in their advertising campaigns.

Owned media is defined as the media owned and run by the brand – so their social media pages, website, online videos, online games, apps etc.

Earned media on the other hand is media that has been generated through the brand’s activity, that hasn’t been paid for – so coverage in the news (without PR intervention), social media shares, social media discussions, sharing of content via email/text etc. It makes sense why they’re becoming more popular: they’re cheaper, often easier and quicker to generate, and people have argued they’re just as effective if not more so than paid media.

So, why bother with paid media at all?

Because, put simply, this isn’t the whole story.

The evidence supporting brands focusing just on owned and earned media is compelling. As seen in the graph below from Media in Focus, using owned media in a campaign can increase the likelihood of reporting very large business effects by 13%, and using earned can do so by 26%.

graph 1

However, it isn’t as simple as generating earned media through a wacky social media video and watching the money roll in from there (as ideal as that would be). The IPA have reported that only 4% of their campaigns have been shared by pure viral transmission.

Rather, brands only tend to generate significant levels of earned media online when they have both owned and paid media in place as well. As seen in the graph below, including earned, owned and paid media in a campaign results in over 7 times more earned media than any other combination.

Moreover, it’s been found that paid media is more effective than unpaid media in driving top-line market share growth. Online paid media generates almost three times the share growth as online unpaid media, as seen in the first graph below. This is also the case for social media – originally seen as the ideal owned media generator, paid social is now twice as effective as unpaid social in generating business effects. This can be seen in the second graph.

So, there you have it – this incredibly appealing argument that earned and owned media are sufficient by themselves, sadly just isn’t true. Earned and owned media don’t really have much of an impact without paid media. From a paid magazine feature to paid search, it is this carefully placed, targeted activity that brings brands onto people’s radar in the first place, so that they are then relevant enough to earn media themselves.

Put simply, paid media is as necessary, if not more so, than ever.