The Showdown on Paid vs Owned vs Earned Media

Only 11% of US digital marketing budgets goes to earned media. But it's a growing focus for brands across all categories, especially as digital advertising becomes more challenging. 

But is earned media really a winning marketing strategy on its own? 


Paid vs Owned vs Earned Media      

Each week, we break down another marketing concept so you can skip the hype and get directly to what works. 

Marketing channels are often divided into three categories: earned, owned, and paid media. This categorization has sparked a long-standing debate over which type of media best drives marketing results. Of course, each type claims both strengths and challenges, making the choice far from simple. 

  1. Paid media is content placed through advertising, including everything from paid search ads on Google, to Facebook ads, to magazines, billboards, and TV advertising. It offers quick, wide-reaching visibility, but it can be pricey and may not resonate as authentically with consumers as organic content.
  2. Owned media is content created by a company on its own platforms such as website blogs or social media posts. This media is completely controlled by you. However, immediate reach is limited to your pre-existing audience and may take time to gain momentum.
  3. And finally, earned media is word-of-mouth or press that a company gains organically from its audience. This includes social mentions, news coverage, or website backlinks.  

Today, brands are paying extra attention to earned media. Especially as consumers grow more wary of digital ads and marketing budgets tighten. It’s inexpensive and incredibly impactful when it works.  

One earned media success story comes from Liquid Death. The canned water brand’s provocative name and edgy marketing stunts have stirred up ample buzz. Most recently, they released an ‘80s-inspired album of original songs called “Greatest Hates Volume III” that turned negative reviews into songs like “It’s Dumb and I Won’t Buy It” and “Worst Name for a Water Company.” The release generated massive media attention. 

But even Liquid Death utilizes a blend of all three types of media. Their humor-infused owned content supports their brand and select paid media boosts visibility. 

Because while earned media is undeniably powerful, it’s also unpredictable. You aren’t in control of the narrative, timing, or reach. And “make this go viral” does not work as a long-term marketing strategy. Which means marketers should consider the following when crafting their marketing plans: 

  1. Use a balanced approach. Complement earned media with paid and owned for greater consistency and predictability.
  2. Earned media’s value depends on your brand. Some topics are inherently more newsworthy than others. Some have a built-in level of virality. Others lack that quality. Earned media’s potential depends in part on your brand and target audience. 
  3. Use advertising to make your brand worth talking about. Brands people care about naturally generate news coverage. Lean into advertising to build awareness in the first place, then use earned media to capitalize on that awareness.

Key Takeaway: Paid, earned, and owned media all have value. For marketers, the goal is finding the right balance for your unique brand. 


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