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Paid, owned, earned: a buzzword too far?

Posted: July 20, 2011 at 12:59 pm 2 Comments »

Paid/owned/earned has become something of a marketing mantra over the last 12 months. Here’s a defintion from Vivaki‘s Nick Burcher, via the We Are Social blog:

  • Paid is the traditional method of paying to place an ad, a ‘go here now’ message.
  • Owned was traditionally a store or product packaging, then encompassed websites and microsites, before more recently becoming social network pages and apps.
  • Earned was traditionally conversation around a watercooler or journalists being persuaded to write nice things. Earned has grown in importance as it now covers a whole range of digital channels too, like blogs, forums, YouTube, social networks and so on – the idea that anyone can post, comment, link to or share.

Pervasive it may be, but I’m not sure how accurate – or helpful – this trinity is. “Earned” and “owned”, yes, respectively defined as “others talking about me” and “me talking about me”. But the distinction between “paid” and “owned” is murky at best. At worst, it’s potentially damaging.

If I have “paid” for an advertisement in a particular media space, then I “own” that media space for the duration of the agreement. I control the content no less than I do the content on my website, or on the bricks-and-mortar walls of my store.

Of course there are constraints imposed by the “paid” media spaces: for example, the number of characters that will fit a Google AdWord or a page in a magazine.  But equally there is no shortage of constraints on webpages, or on in-store design. And I’m paying for these too, renting from my webhost or landlord.

What’s more, in encouraging people to express what should be audience-specific variants of core messaging in different ways according to an arbitrary set of buckets (demarked, as far as I can tell, according to the length of time you own the media space), there is a heightened danger of confused communications. Without due care, looking at “paid” and “owned” through different lenses is a recipe for inconsistency.

Different platforms bring different constraints – but once I’ve paid, I own.

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  1. Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    The traditional principle was that for Paid Media you deliver a message alongside someone else’s content, whereas in Owned Media the brand is effectively the publisher / content owner. Personally I can’t see much potential for confusion between a traditional media ad slot and a website in terms of whether they are defined as Paid or Owned – I’m not sure how this could even become murky or damaging?

    However, whilst you haven’t mentioned it above, as I mention in the video you refer to I do think things get messy on a platform like Facebook – for example, a Sponsored Story has no traditional ad copy, but is a Paid Placement that amplifies Owned Media / Earned Media actions. Even then I don’t think this is ‘murky’, you pay for 100% visibility of user actions on your Owned space.

    Ultimately though Paid Owned Earned is a framework that helps to understand the new landscape and bring clarity to the different options, but it is not a replacement for planning frameworks like the Purchase Funnel – and I don’t think anyone intends it to be, I really don’t believe it is a ‘buzzword too far.’

  2. paul
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Hi Nick

    Thanks for stopping by – very much appreciate the response.

    While clearly (I hope) there’s an element of melodrama in the use of “murky” &c., I’m ultimately extremely cautious about any attempt to silo what is, to me, very much a continuum. While your FB example is certainly closer to the “owned” end of that continuum, a Twitter account (for example) would be nearer “paid”, your content being that much more subject to the context of, say, a timeline or conversation, i.e. you are delivering a msg alongside someone else’s content.

    The traditional shape of things lent itself to a dichotomy, but I don’t think the shifts brought about by digital are justly represented by the addition of a third category. Fine as an aid to understanding, obviously, but potentially dangerous when buzzwords are wholesale adopted as strategies (say if a business silo’d comms according to the model).

    Of course, this doesn’t amount to anything more than the banal “all models are wrong”. Hence the melodrama.


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