A well-balanced multi-media strategy will help the advertiser to achieve his communication goals. Within this challenge, the concept of “paid, owned, and earned media” is becoming more and more popular.

Undoubtedly, you will have heard of this model. It seems a wise thing to do for advertisers to take their own media (e.g. your Web site or magazine) and earned media (free publicity) into account.

On the other hand, the model of paid-owned-earned seems to have become dogma, as well. Pitching on earned media has become a new practice and seems to have become the ultimate goal. Trade press articles, MarCom awards, and proud seminar speakers are giving testimonials of successful brands that are reaching millions of consumers, at almost no cost, just by developing successful Internet virals or using other forms of guerrilla marketing.

The message is clear: You would be a thief of your own advertising budget not to utilise the power of earned media.

Impact of using earned media: Is it wise for an advertiser to rely more and more on owned and earned media and reduce paid media at the same time? And what are the consequences for the media?  

It’s evident that less paid media will harm media houses. But only few media professionals are aware that this strategy can create a disadvantage for brand owners at the same time.

Reducing paid advertising also raises fundamental questions: How do you lead customers toward your own media? Will your funny viral video or playful press release get noted in the infinite availability of content?

In this world of “content abundance,” paid media will at least give a high amount of visibility certainty and will deliver the promised impact.

Sanoma Netherlands was moved to action by this dilemma and was eager to find an answer to those questions.

Together with research company DVJ Insights, the media house designed a dedicated research approach called, “A brand poem.” Recently, this research project was nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in The Netherlands, due to its relevance and insights. A report of the study can be found online

Clever research design: Sanoma’s approach was to discover the most effective combination of the three media strategies: paid, owned, and earned.

Not a simple assignment, because within this field some crucial questions can be raised: Which key performance indicators (KPI) determine the success of a media strategy? How do you measure cross-media? How can we exclude the quality of the artwork used in these multi-media campaigns?

Thanks to a certain model, the Keller Pyramid, all relevant KPIs for advertising were included in the study – from familiarity with the brand and brand features to attitude and brand preference.

To have a representative scope for the whole market, eight brands were tracked over a long period of six months. The research design was controlled for branch, brand use, and attitude toward the brand.

Clear results: The study succeeded in giving a clear view on the most effective combination of paid-owned-earned Media. The campaigns that used the combination of paid and owned media ended up with the best results. All other combinations scored about 15% less.

Remarkably, the full triple combination of paid-owned-earned didn’t outperform other combinations and scored 17% lower. Also, the advertising campaigns without the use of paid media performed only modestly.

The comparison of the four combinations didn’t end up as a close call. The combination of paid and owned media outperformed almost on all KPIs, including brand familiarity, reputation, attitude, and brand preference. No other strategy could beat paid advertising, especially on the task of creating a favourable brand reputation.

Other lessons: Noteworthy was the fact that traditional media like print and TV had a better impact on the brands than Twitter and Facebook. These print ads and TV commercials succeeded in making the consumers more enthusiastic about the brand. The target audience also judged this information to be more credible and more useful.

Many respondents in the study were critical toward earned media content like Twitter, blogs, and review sites. This might explain why earned media do not contribute substantially to better brand score.

On the whole, the impact of earned media is disappointing. Negative feedback or buzz has a negative effect on the campaign performance. Therefore, it is wise to answer negative feedback with a swift response. To avoid this risk, a strong directed strategy by means of branded content might be a powerful alternative.

Conclusion: Sanoma’s study of “A brand poem” proves that paid media are still crucial to improve the image of a brand. A multi-media approach always delivers best results, but paid media play a distinct and important role that is not interchangeable with other channels. 

Paid media deliver best results when applied with the advertisers’ own media, such as branded Web sites, apps, or sponsored magazines.

Of course, an adequate reach and number of contacts is required for a good advertising campaign. Reach is a necessity for effect, but paid media deliver a high amount of certainty for successful marketing communication.

On the whole, media owners can still be confident about their display advertising opportunities. A good partnership between media house and advertiser is still mutually lucrative.