Paid Media Vs Owned Media Vs Earned Media: What Marketers Need To Know

Paid Owned Earned Media Definition Differences Examples

The Distinctions Between Paid, Owned, & Earned Media: A Marketer’s Quick Guide

According to recent eMarketer projections, spending on digital advertising will reach $191.09 billion in 2021, just $11 billion short of triple the $67.5 billion valuation for U.S. television advertising spend. Since 2016, digital ad spend has greatly surpassed television as the dominant form of media advertising in the United States. For brands to succeed in the increasingly competitive digital media landscape, marketers must know the salient differences between paid, owned, and earned media, and how these different types of content all contributes to a comprehensive marketing strategy.

What Are The Differences Between Paid, Owned, & Earned Media?

Because different types of media create different ways to engage with consumers, paid, earned, and owned media all offer different value to marketers. The three types of media that brands may create and/or invest in are:

What Is Paid Media?

As the name implies, paid media is any type of media or content—TV ads, billboards, radio ads, video/pre-roll ads, display/banner ads, native ads on social media platforms, etc.—that a brand pays to be seen by audiences. Paid media also includes influencer marketing and promoted posts, and brands often used these strategies to amplify the reach of owned media by boosting its exposure (and thereby making it paid media) to larger audiences.

Paid Media Example:


In this example of paid media, American Express paid to have their Twitter tweet promoted (i.e. appear on feeds of Twitter users who don’t necessarily follow the brand). On social platforms, paid media is often accompanied by disclosures such as “sponsored,” “advertisement,” or “promoted.”

What Is Owned Media?

Owned media is any content that a brand completely controls, such as a website, blog content, and social media channels (i.e. a brand’s YouTube channel, Instagram account, Snapchat account, etc.). Because brands “own” the audience—as opposed to paid media, where a brand pays for audience attention, or earned media, where a brand leverages the audience of another user—this type of content provides a valuable way for brands to speak directly to consumers. Owned media is primarily driven by content marketing efforts.

Owned Media Example:

This short film was produced by Acura and appeared on the brand’s YouTube channel. If Acura were to promote this content to appear at the top of YouTube’s search results or on users’ Facebook feeds, it would then become paid media; if a user shares the video on their own social channels, it would then become earned media.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media refers to any type of social media exposure gained through word-of-mouth/recommendations/conversations about the brand. Earned media is typically acquired through owned and paid media efforts, and can include user-generated branded content (such as using branded hashtags), shared viral videos, brand mentions, positive reviews, or any other type of branded or brand sponsored media that is shared by ordinary social media users.

Earned Media Example:

paid earned owned media

Canon encouraged ordinary social media users to share positive brand experiences on their own Instagram accounts with the hashtag #CanonExplorerOfLight (an example of earned media) for a chance to be featured on Canon’s brand account (an example of owned media).

Why Marketers Must Know The Differences Between Paid, Owned, & Earned Media:

For a brand’s marketing efforts to be completely effective, all three types of media must converge and feed into one another. Thus, it’s important to know and understand how each form of media contributes to, magnifies, and supplements the other. The Old Spice social media marketing campaign (shown below) used all three forms of media—paid media by promoting their content through influencer marketing, owned media by showcasing the Dream Runner content on their website, and earned media via social media content created by ordinary users (UGC)—to reach and engage with consumers.

For brands, owned media is the most valuable type of media because it allows companies to market directly to consumers (and control the message) without paid cost. Owned media audiences are also the most likely to be loyal fans and regularly engage with the brand, though crafting great owned media can be difficult.

Because developing a comprehensive marketing strategy requires an in-depth knowledge of how paid, owned, and earned media all interact and amplify the other, brands often partner with an advertising, or digital marketing, or influencer marketing agency that knows how to create, produce, promote, and leverage all three types of media to succinctly accomplish brand campaign goals.