Earned media

Earned media (or free media) refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising (paid media) or branding (owned media).[1]


There are many types of media available to online marketers and fit into the broad categories: owned, paid, and earned media.

Owned media is defined as communication channels that are within one's control, such as websites, blogs, or email. Paid media refers mostly to traditional advertising.

Earned media cannot be bought or owned; it can only be gained organically, when content receives recognition and a following through communication channels such as social media and word of mouth.[2] Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence of various kinds. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows, letters to the editor, editorials, and polls on television and the Internet.


Many consider earned media to be the most cost-effective method of marketing. As a result, many companies are investing in earned media. The increased use of earned media is converging traditional owned and paid methods of marketing.[2]

Examples of paid, owned and earned media[3]
Type Definition Offline Examples Online Examples
Paid Media activity related to a company or brand that is generated by the company or its agents
  • Traditional advertising (e.g., television, radio, print, outdoor)
  • Sponsorships
  • Direct Mail
  • Display/banner advertising
  • Search advertising (e.g. Google Ads)
  • Social network advertising (e.g. Facebook ads)
  • Electronic direct mail (e.g., email advertising)
Owned Media activity related to a company or brand that is generated by the company or its agents in channels it controls
  • Retail in-store visual merchandising or displays
  • Brochures
  • Company press releases
  • Company/brand website
  • Company/brand blog
  • Company-owned pages/accounts in online social networks (although they are technically not under companies’ direct control[4])
Earned Media activity related to a company or brand that is not directly generated by the company or its agents but rather by other entities such as customers or journalists
  • News media coverage.
  • Traditional publicity mentions in professional media outlets
  • Ratings and reviews in Traditional Media Outlets (TMOs) (e.g., movie reviews)
  • Consumer-to-consumer WOM conversations about products, including advice and referrals
  • Consumers showing or demonstrating products to each other
  • Traditional publicity mentions in digital media outlets (e.g., professional blogs,)
  • Online WOM referrals (e.g., invitations to join a website)
  • Post in online communities or social networks (e.g., status updates, mentions, reposts, tweets)
  • Online ratings and reviews (e.g., Yelp.com for restaurants, Amazon.com for products)

The increasing use of earned media has provided marketers with new ways in which to interact and engage their customers. These innovative approaches are replacing traditional marketing methods such as email and banner ads, and provide innovative methods to find, optimize, and measure return on earned media investments.[2]


  • On March 6, 2012, Dollar Shave Club launched their online video campaign. In the first 48 hours of their video debuting on YouTube they had over 12,000 people signing up for the service. The video cost just $4500 to make and as of November 2015 has had more than 21 million views. The video was considered one of the best viral marketing campaigns[5] of 2012 and won "Best Out-of-Nowhere Video Campaign" at the 2012 AdAge Viral Video Awards.
  • The Big Word Project, launched in 2008, aimed to redefine the Oxford English Dictionary by allowing people to submit their website as the definition of their chosen word. The project, created to fund two Masters students' educations, attracted the attention of bloggers worldwide, and was featured on Daring Fireball and Wired Magazine.[6]
  • In mid-2016, an Indian tea company (TE-A-ME) has delivered 6,000 tea bags[7] to Donald Trump and launched a video content on YouTube.[8] and Facebook.[9] The video campaign received various awards including most creative PR stunt[10] in Southeast Asia after receiving earned media values like 52000+ organic video shares, 152000+ engagements in online communities, 3.1M video view in first 72-hour and hundreds of traditional publication mentions (including Mashable, The Independent[7]Quartz,[11] Indian Express,[12] Buzzfeed,[13] Adage,[14] Campaign[15]) across 80+ countries.


A Nielsen study in 2013 found that earned media (also described in the report as word-of-mouth) is the most trusted source of information in all countries it surveyed worldwide,[16] and is the channel most likely to stimulate the consumer to action. Other authorities make the distinction between online and offline earned media/word-of-mouth, and have shown that offline word-of-mouth has been found to be more effective than online word-of-mouth.

Both traditional earned media (publicity and press events) and social earned media (social network and blogs) have been found to increase sales, with social earned media having the greatest impact.[17]


  1. ^ "Earned media". Word Spy. Paul McFedries and Logophilia Limited. Retrieved 2008-06-18. earned media n. Free media coverage, such as a news story or opinion piece.
  2. ^ a b c Yu, Jim (October 7, 2013). "Earned Media Rising - The Earned Media Ripple Effect". Column: Social Media Marketing Column. Marketing Land. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  3. ^ Stephen, A.T.; Galak, J. (October 2012). "The Effects of Traditional and Social Earned Media on Sales: A Study of a Microlending Marketplace". Journal of Marketing Research. 49 (5): 625. doi:10.1509/jmr.09.0401.
  4. ^ Bonchek, Mark (2014-10-10). "Making Sense of Owned Media". Harvard Business Review. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2020-02-19.
  5. ^ "7 Best Viral Marketing Campaigns Ever | TheSavvyMarketer". The Savvy Marketer. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  6. ^ Honan, Mathew (April 21, 2008). "Grad Students Redefine Easy Money With $1-a-Letter Web Site". Wired.
  7. ^ a b Bulman, May (July 15, 2016). "Donald Trump sent 6,000 green teas to 'cleanse' him". The Independent. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  8. ^ TE-A-ME Teas (July 14, 2016), Trumping Donald: A Te-a-me Intervention, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2017-05-08
  9. ^ "TEAME Teas". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  10. ^ "Winners | PR Awards 2017 Southeast Asia". www.marketing-interactive.com. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  11. ^ Balachandran, Manu (July 14, 2016). "An Indian company sent 6,000 bags of green tea to Donald Trump to "cleanse" him". Quartz. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  12. ^ "Namaste from India: Assam tea company sends 6,000 tea bags to Donald Trump to 'purify mind'". The Indian Express. July 14, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  13. ^ Borges, Andre (July 14, 2016). "Two Women Hand-Delivered 6,000 Tea Bags To Trump Tower To Help Donald Trump "Purify" Himself". BuzzFeed. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  14. ^ "AdAge". www.adageindia.in. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
  15. ^ "Campaign".
  16. ^ "Nielson Credibility Report". nielson.com. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  17. ^ Stephen, Andrew T.; Galak, Jeff (2012). "The Effects of Traditional and Social Earned Media on Sales: A Study of a Microlending Marketplace". Journal of Marketing Research. 49 (5): 624–639. doi:10.1509/jmr.09.0401.

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