Paid Media Versus Earned or Owned? Influencer Marketing Combines the Best of All Three

Tue Dec 20 2016

How influencer marketing combines paid, earned and owned media into one digital campaign  

Finding a perfect advertising model for today’s ever-changing consumer is next to impossible. One-size-fits-all bulk ad-buys or heavy investment in content alone are both poor fits for today’s channel-hopping audiences, and directing your media spend in such a fashion will lead to flat results and a low ROI. What if instead marketers had an adaptable model that simultaneously reached their target consumers in all places at once?

As McKinsey reports, this is much needed. “Some strategic-marketing frameworks—such as the popular ‘paid, owned, earned’ one—are in serious need of updating.” Channel-agnostic consumers are too skeptical of ads and demand an impractical level of personalization from the content that they see. Together these factors “will force marketers to change not only their thinking but also the way they allocate spending and organize operations.”

This classic triad model is in trouble. To adapt, marketers need to develop campaigns that combine all the characteristics of all three types. In this regard, influencer marketing is increasingly proving itself to be something of a silver bullet because it allows brands to take advantage of the social nature of earned media while benefiting from the paid media reach and control.

To understand how it does this, let’s take a closer look at how advertising has classically worked.  

Paid Media

Paid media is the type of advertising which is bought and sold. In the internet age, the most common types include paid ads on social, search ads, banner ads, retargeted ads, and press releases. However, this also encapsulates traditional commercials, billboards, or any print/radio ads.

The biggest advantage of using paid media is that your dollars can directly purchase exposure to a focused, targeted audience. You retain strong control over the platform, the timing, and the creative. Online paid media is also easily analyzed and ROI metrics can be calculated without much hassle.

The downside of course is that, well, it’s paid. Paid advertising is expensive. US brands spent $60 billion on it in 2015, and many of them are often left wondering whether there’s a cheaper route.

Earned Media

Earned media is any source of impressions that are gained from word-of-mouth or organic (read: unpaid) means. The most valuable type of earned media is when a consumer is compelled to share a positive review of a company or product. When you produce great content, have a satisfied customer, or are mentioned in the press, consumers will spread your name around and any traffic driven to your site is considered “earned.” Content that goes viral can mean a huge spike in earned impressions and is a boon to your results.

The benefits of earned media are obvious: it’s free, it offers a massive lift in impressions, and consumers see it as more trustworthy since it is not being pushed by your company. On the other hand, you do not have any creative control in most earned media, since the message takes on a life of its own once it gets into others’ hands. Viral content also carries with it a level of risk and is difficult to orchestrate because by its nature, it’s mostly unpredictable.  

Owned Media

That brings us back to owned media. This is any form of promotion on a site under the control of your company and/or marketing team. This includes your website, blogs, email lists, and direct social media channels. Owned media is a low-cost promotion option but can be limited in terms of reach because your owned media audience is typically only your current users and followers.


Between paying too much for paid media, sweating too much hoping earned media takes off, and working too hard promoting owned media, we are led inexorably to influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing offers control, credibility, and conversions

Influencer marketing is the use of social media influencers to provide effusive, genuine endorsements of your brand and products. It’s the combination of the best elements of all three types of media.

Because you are paying for it, you retain the ability to dictate the terms of when, where, and how your products are promoted. You have the control over which influencers you work with, which products you give them, and how often you want them to post. Like traditional media, you also retain the ability to target niche markets by analyzing the demographic information of the audiences your influencers speak to. And where the industry stands today, your budget stretches much further. Influencer marketing offers an ROI of $6.50 for every $1 spent, which is 4-5 times higher than normal paid advertising.  

Next, while influencer marketing is not technically ‘earned’ media, the nature of social media makes the promotion feel like a recommendation rather than an advertisement. Because of the trustworthy nature of an influencer’s endorsement and the fact that it’s embedded amongst their consumed content, users won’t feel like they’re being sold to. This is hugely important, as advertising glut has created a jaded consumer base.

Finally, influencer marketing is owned because you keep what your influencers create. The high quality user-generated images, product lifestyle shots, and commentary can be repurposed endlessly across your owned media, infusing them with life and increasing conversions. Influencer marketing also directs consumer activity back to your social channels, blog, and website, completing the trifecta of media benefits.

Just look at these influencers using these techniques together:


This type of post is an ideal combination. The influencer’s photo is a representation of her brand and displays the product effortlessly in her acro-yoga theme but at first glance, you might not even realize there’s a product being sponsored. This feels like earned media, although we know it is actually paid. She links to the company’s Instagram page and makes the owned media connection by offering a coupon directing them to the brand’s website.  

This endorsement uses a photo in a traditional paid media ad style, but feels more like earned media in the description. The influencer describes how the product helps her in her life, rather than showcasing that in the photo. Again, she links to the companies Instagram page to drive traffic to their owned media.

There you have it: influencer marketing is paid, earned, and owned all at the same time. Could there possibly be an easier option than choosing the best of all three?

Supercharge your own media and request a free demo of AspireIQ’s influencer platform to connect with top influencers for the win!

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