Can You Reach This Target With Only Earned Media?

We all know Gen Y is the primary creator, curator and distributor of earned media. It can be a brand's evangelist and best friend or its worst enemy. But the question arises, can you leverage only earned media to reach Gen Y or is paid media an integral part of the mix?

With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media, it is very tempting for brands to believe that it possible to achieve a successful marketing campaign by using earned media alone.

Specifically with Gen Y, there is a common belief that once they "like" your brand, they will spread your word and, therefore, paid media can become a lesser part of the marketing mix. In reality, it is only on rare occasions, with the rare brand, that an earned media campaign can be successful on its own -- and even then, it will only be successful for a short time.

Pepsi, for example, is one of the largest risk takers in social media and has launched significant earned media initiatives targeted at Gen Y. Pepsi has been extraordinarily bold in putting its brands in consumers' hands and has done so with both great accomplishments as well as failures.



One of its most recent successes is the Pepsi Refresh campaign. Instead of putting paid media dollars behind splashy Super Bowl ads and traditional paid media, the money was spent to "refresh the world" with a viral contest that contributes funds to people's ideas and causes. This creative earned media event had a lasting effect in the media marketplace, helped Pepsi foster trust with its consumers and tied it deeper to its brand identity.

Clearly, this was an earned media victory, but it is important to recognize that paid media was a major force in the campaign's success and a key driver in building awareness of the initiative.

With more and more brands seeking to reach the social consumer, it'll become increasingly harder for marketers to break through the noise and clutter -- thus making a paid media campaign even more essential. Take online video for instance. A few short years ago, a smart, sexy or funny video could quickly go viral.

Today, there is such a high volume of video content available that it is now rare to see a breakthrough video go viral. There is simply too much for the consumer to look at and brands are now realizing that paid video distribution is a necessity for viewership. This same type of thinking needs to be applied to the concept of all earned media, not just video.

Lastly, when putting together an earned media campaign that is supported by paid media, the question of measurement must be addressed. What does success look like? What is the cost of success and are the metrics the same for both the earned campaign and the paid campaign? These are not easy questions to answer and, certainly, the answer will be different for every experience.

Because this space is so new and initiatives are so unique to each brand, the metrics for success will vary. However, the first step is to define the desired objectives for each program and how much risk you are willing to accept. From there, you need to select specific editorially aligned outlets and publishers to partner with and allow them to help set expectations, leveraging their knowledge of their audience base.

Be open with them about what you are trying to achieve and the creative you plan to put forth. The more information you provide them, the more they should be able to help you develop realistic goals and measurements for success -- on both the paid and the earned side.

Putting your brand in the hands of Gen Y can be risky, but if you believe in your product or service and stay true to your ideals, an integrated earned and paid media campaign can result in a revolutionary brand experience coupled with measureable success.

5 comments about "Can You Reach This Target With Only Earned Media?".
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  1. Mark Burrell from Tongal, June 25, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

    Really insightful Kristine. This is something we struggle with on a daily basis as there is no clear definition of a success. We've had vases in which advertisers expect professional, viral spots on the level of the Landlord advertising a consumer product and think the cost should be zero. I think, as we settle in though most companies are recognizing that video watched online is as valuable as media consumed anywhere else. The challenge, in a fragmented marketplace with shorter half life and an ever changing definition of quality, how do you create and distribute? It's why we exist.

  2. Leyla Arsan from Lotus Marketing, June 28, 2010 at 4:08 p.m.

    I think with all social media you have to BELIEVE in your brand experience, not just with Gen Y. If your brand experience sucks, all the $ in the world won't save you when it comes to social

  3. Carol Phillips from BrandAmplitude, LLC, June 29, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.

    Very insightful article, I think many marketers are struggling to justify unearned media on the basis of marketing results. There are clear 'good will' benefits, but given the time and effort involved in 'free' publicity, it needs to have clearer objectives that line up with what the brand needs. I am concerned that social media is becoming disconnected from 'marketing' and more akin to content generation - which sounds like journalism to me. Marketers need to see social media as another tool or channel, with unique interactive capability.

  4. Tina Yip, June 29, 2010 at 2:20 p.m.

    Really insightful article. As a GenY myself, using social media is definitely the best way to research us as we're on there voluntarily 24/7.
    Many companies are trying to use GenY interns to reach their peers. But how are they effectively keeping track of the results?

  5. Sandra Brooks, June 30, 2010 at 9:59 a.m.

    Enjoyed reading your article but would like to add that among all media, in our experience earned media is especially effective for targeted campaigns to narrowly defined niche segments. Used in this fashion the result is easily measurable and significant. We also find that a substantial portion of the Gen Y population does not trust paid media and will ignore or sabotage poor attempts to influence behavior... case in point: running up clicks to break the bank of offending advertisers. The bottom line is that while virtually anybody can access earned media/paid media, the end result is far greater when there is a strategy in place... seek professional resources to assist and strategic and tactical planning, at least.

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