Against “earned media”

An addendum to my last post “How advertising distorts marketing“, if it wasn’t clear, is that advertising is not a bad thing per se, it should be seen as one tool among many for brands, rather than the beginning or the core of communications activity.

But the economic models of agencies and mean that everything gets extruded through the advertising mould. It distorts brands, twists out the humanity.

Advertising-led marketing is the thin end of the thin value wedge.

The most lucrative piece of the business (and beguilingly easy to understand) is still often the TV spot, followed by the other pretty placement opportunities for the creative to sit.

PR, and now the social web, are too often viewed by the people with most power in brands’ decision-making as tickboxes or exciting opportunities to distribute message-laden creative for free.

“Earned media” is a useful term for ad-minded folk to think of the social web. But it also over-simplifies and reduces the significance and complexity of engagement in social spaces.

Someone posting your video on eipe their blog is earned attention, it may also be an earned opportunity to learn more (what do they say? what do others say?) and even to engage (is there anything you can add to their conversation?).

Someone linking to you or re-publishing your content, or joining your community is also earned responsibility – a responsibility to listen, to be ready to respond and to curate what they say and do about your brand.

At the NMA Live event last week, Rik Haslam, who is Group Creative Architect at RAPP, took us through the infamous Motrin Moms case study. One comment I had that there was an unconscious, careless disrespect for social media in the approach.

One key strand of the Motrin campaign – which professed sympathy for mothers who were, as the campaign put it., caught in the uncomfortable fashion for “wearing their babies” – was the “viral video”*.

They were quite happy to “hit and hope” a video into the social media arena and hope it would spread. Money was spent on research, planning, creative, animation, a voiceover artist and some measurement. No one acknowledged that people might start discussing, dissecting, reacting to the creative – the job of the huddled social networks was, in the mind of the planner, the client and their colleagues, to distribute the video, to give them “earned media” space on blogs and Facebook pages.

We know that, because the debate around this raged over a weekend, and the brand reacted slow, and poorly early in the following week.

Social is not earned media, not free eyeballs. It’s much, much more important than that.

* I use those quotes in the copywriting equivalent of holding up an idea with a pair of tongs while wrinkling my nose. The obsession with “viral videos” on the part of brands and agencies partners is the clearest expression of their being in thrall to “the proposition”, as Richard Stacy put it so very well in the comments on my last post.

By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google