Saturday, August 03, 2013

Paid Media Versus unpaid: A Debate

Paid Media versus Upaid!

By Harish Bijoor 

The brand manager is in a dilemma today. In the old days, all media was paid for. Today, you have yet another avatar on the rampage, “earned media”. While paid media is what you buy as advertising in every form, earned media is what you earn as coverage in media that is viral, editorial in guise, and C2C (consumer to consumer) in reach, credibility and consumer buy-in terms.

The dilemma is simple and complex at the same time. The simple dilemma point is which one to back? Which one gives your brand the bang for the buck? Which one is trusted more? Which one delivers sales? Which one delivers image? And which one damages the brand more, when push comes to shove?
The complex part of the dilemma is measurement of efficacy. How do you know which avatar of media did what for your brand? How do you know what paid media did for you as opposed to earned media? And how do you plant your marketing bucks on each? In what proportion? And how deep must you be in earned media?

The dilemma of the brand manager will continue. I will however put my weight behind paid media for now. I do believe paid media works better for brands in today’s context. Paid media is specific, controlled by the brand to the point of a science, is dished out with consistency which a consumer is used to, and by and large, credibility of paid mediums remain reasonably intact to date.

Yes, advertising is being trusted less and less by consumers. Yes, advertising is seen to be something that promises the stratosphere and offers the sky. However, advertising is yet to reach the bathos point in India in terms of credibility and credulity norms. To that extent, all paid mediums are still trusted, except paid PR. Paid PR sadly has hit the bathos point in India with consumers switching off any communication that looks overtly paid for in PR terms.
Advertising on the other hand does not suffer that status and stigma as yet. Consumers are aware that all advertising is paid for by the brand, and this paid-for status is overt and in the eye. There is no subterfuge. The consumer does believe today that it is the right and privilege of the brand to advertise itself overtly. In many segments, advertising is seen to be a form of public service as well, as it is informative and disseminates what is wanted to be learnt by the consumer.

Earned media is however a tough cookie to understand today. It is totally amoebic and totally un-solicited. While in the early days, what you earned through such media exposure is considered “editorial” in nature and “use-centric” in output, a little while down the road, there is consumer distrust here as well. As tales of brand interventions in “earned media” space gain grounds, and as consumers understand that many a tweet and many a Facebook mention and   LinkedIn message could be “bought” as well, the USP of earned media dies.

My point is a simple one. The consumer loves brands as of now. He/she understands and appreciates the role, power and utility of paid-for advertising that is overt. He/she distrusts paid PR fundamentally because it is not overt, and hides behind editorial material that looks part editorial and part paid-for. The consumer hates being cheated. The consumer is fine being told clearly that this is a paid medium and this is not.  On the other hand, when it comes to earned mediums, the consumer is today not very convinced that what is “earned” is really earned, and what seems earned is really not paid for as well! Touche!

At the end of it all, lets remember, the consumer is not a moron. She is your mistress, if not your wife!

The author is a brand-strategy specialist  & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Twitter @harishbijoor