- 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.