Last month Jerry Daykin wrote a post on why it was time to rethink the whole idea of 'earned media'. We’re all familiar of-course with the model of Paid, Owned and Earned media that has become the default way of thinking about the media landscape. Inherent in this model is the idea that we can ‘earn’ attention and preference through the conversation and content created by our customers, often in reaction to what we might be doing in paid and owned media.
But in the age of increasing algorithmic curation, ever declining organic reach, and rapid growth in native advertising formats, just how valid is this model? Jerry makes the point that the scale of additional media that is typically 'earned' in many campaigns is tiny in relation to that which can be achieved through paid or owned, and actually obscures the bigger marketing struggle – the battle for attention:
‘We need to rethink earned media less in terms of extra eyeballs seeing our content and more in terms of getting the first set we've paid to reach actually paying attention to us.’
His point of-course is that only a tiny proportion of ‘viral’ content actually goes 'viral' and leads to a notable, impactful scale of impressions or engagement. And many of those that do contribute incremental coverage are heavily supported with paid distribution:
‘Earned media on digital is in fact typically lower than the amount of additional audience outside your target you get for free on TV, but for some reason we call that 'wastage' and never even talk about it.’
Even on Facebook, with ad products that now enable broadcast scale reach, and with dramatically reduced organic reach, the proportion of earned impressions against most campaigns is now typically very small. And its not getting any better. At the end of June Facebook announced that they were altering the newsfeed algorithm once again to favour updates from friends and family over brand content. And with algorithmic curation becoming ever more prevalent in other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram the overall organic reach that is possible is surely set to decline more.
As the quote above suggests, Jerry suggests instead that the real role for earned media is in earning people’s attention and interest by default to encourage them to pay more attention to the other (often paid for) content they may see. To earn the right to interrupt rather than being about 'viral' content. To watch beyond the five seconds on YouTube. To spend more time with the Facebook brand video. Instead of shares and pass-on rates, the measures of success becomes view through rate, and the value that comes from the ability to use user interaction to adapt content on the fly.
It's a good provocation. With a few notable exceptions, I'm somewhat cynical myself about the real scale and impact of the social sharing achieved by many campaigns, including many of the solutions that seem to win at Cannes Lions. But there is something to be said for the value of truly remarkable content, the value brought by the contribution and interaction of customers on owned media assets, and the value of ideas that generate impact through PR. It's just that too few of these are good enough to create a really meaningful contribution and we often overplay the value of 'viral' content that is anything but.
So whilst we may not be witnessing the death of earned media just yet, there can be little doubt that the dynamics of organic reach and shareable content really are changing and so perhaps it is indeed time to look again at our definitions.