Paid Media Isn’t A Four Letter Word

Some time last year I was having a meeting with a start-up that had just launched in the Australian market. I explained that whilst clients often like to be involved with new and exciting projects, they also want to invest in products and platforms that are, or will be popular with a decent likely life-span. No-one really wants to invest lots of time, energy & money on the next Gowalla.

What, I wanted to know, would this start-up being doing to advertise its product and drive new users.

Well, we don’t believe in paid advertising, we’ll just be using word of mouth.

Cool, I said, I’ll tell our clients not to buy ads with you then.

Although I was joking (kind of) this chat has stuck with me, encapsulating as it did the beliefe that many people seem to have that paying for advertising somehow lessens the purity of your creative message; that it’s a bad thing to do.

I was struck by the same thought just before Christmas when I was judging some awards. I would estimate that something like 25% to 50% of the entries mentioned that the success of their campaign was in spite of the fact that they hadn’t spent any money on paid media. And again, yesterday, I was watching this (otherwise) excellent case study for a Fiat campaign from Germany which seems to boast about spending 0 on media.

Why is this something to be proud of? If your campaign was successful despite spending nothing on media, imagine what could have been achieved if you had done so. From my perspective, it almost feels like not paying for advertising is a sign that the creators aren’t confident in their work; if you haven’t spent money on paid media then expectations will be lower so success is easier to achieve.

As Eaon Pritchard points out in (another) excellent post on branding and promotion:

According to…data the single biggest predictor…of online video sharing is it’s initial distribution. For the best performing videos it’s about 8 views to 1 share. 24 to 1 is the average. So to get sharing, initial seeding/paid support is key.

And this, surely, is the key. Every-time an agency shouts about how they achieved something without paid media, they are essentially saying that they didn’t do their job properly, assuming that their job is to get their client noticed. And when a media platform or owner does this, they are saying that they don’t believe in the model they ask their clients to believe in; a media version of the greater fool theory if you like.

When Google started they were very proud of the fact that their success was built on recommendation and word of mouth. And they should have been. But as they have matured they have come to accept and realise the value of paid advertising. And Apple, surely one of the coolest companies out there (in the eyes of the sort of people who tend to sneer at paid media at least) have long known its value.

As Eaon puts it so succinctly:

Even the greatest, most creative most exciting video if only seen by a few people, wont get many shares. Get it in front of as many as possible.

Unless you don’t actually want anyone to see it, in which case, go right ahead.

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