Paid Media
Written by: Ryan Flannagan

Chapter 16: What Is Bought/Paid Media?


Bought/Paid Media describes the media channels you purchase from vendors. Most of the time this is for money, but it can also be in exchange for services. Bought media offers less control than owned media (the host might set content restrictions or be unable to offer some services) but has potentially wider coverage because many of those who sell bought media specialize in casting a wide net.

Examples of bought media include:

  • Paid search results on Google and Bing/Yahoo
  • Television or Radio advertisement
  • Advertisement in a magazine
  • Targeted social media ads and sponsorships
  • Billboards
  • Blog exchanges
  • Sponsored reviews and testimonials
  • Paid/sponsored posts on Facebook and other social media

The key to success with bought media is to pay special attention to the paradigm shift in marketing. When thinking of bought media, most people think of the Mad Men style broadcast, interruptive tactics that have been the lion’s share of bought media since the inception of modern marketing. Many companies that offer bought media have a vested interest in selling that kind of program. It’s what they’re good at providing, after all.

Even modern digital companies make this mistake. Facebook’s sponsored posts interrupt a user’s newsfeed with messages almost, but not quite, totally irrelevant to that user’s interest. As a result, their response and conversion rates are frustratingly low compared to many other bought digital media options.


When dealing with a bought media provider, you must insist on a handful of traits for your message even if the provider insists that’s not the better way:

  • It must be relevant to the viewer’s immediate interests. Otherwise, the viewer will either refocus on what he or she was doing or walk away from the media altogether.
  • It must be inviting and add value, not interruptive. A viewer should follow an intriguing value added proposition to land on the information that begins his or her buyer’s journey. Interruptive media is at best ignored. At worst, it alienates the customer against the brand that interrupted him or her.
  • It must be directly measurable. Flawless execution of a paid media plan requires real-time adjustment. Without direct measurement that adjustment becomes guesswork. Modern media metrics allow for measurability in all digital media. Don’t let a paid media provider tell you otherwise.

The main advantage of paid media is ease of use. It’s not as tightly controlled as owned media, nor as trusted as earned media (more on that in a moment). But it puts an execution in the hands of people who do media marketing for a living. If they’re the right people, you will have an end product that results in more conversions for fewer resources than either of the other channels.

Paid media does face myriad challenges, owing to its history with the consumer over the past near-century. The mediasphere is cluttered with paid media to the point that many consumers aren’t just unaffected by it — they literally don’t perceive it. Poor credibility and declining response rates are related and equally important, issues. The solution to these problems is to differentiate paid channels from what people expect from advertising. Aim for value, shareability, and emotional connection.

In the “bad old days” paid media was the foundation of any marketing campaign. Everything else was built on the leads this channel generated. Because of the challenges we mentioned, this is a mistake for any modern company working in the digital sphere. Instead, paid media should be the bait on a hook, the red light in the window. It should be a catalyst that feeds your other media channels by piquing curiosity and offering massive value.

Paid media for John and Mia (our business owners from the last chapter) might resemble the following:

John has seen one too many (honestly, one hundred too many) pop-up ads for small business loans, and receives three to five phone calls per week offering the same. He needs something to nudge him with information about how he can differentiate between those options. Some examples to catch his interest include:

  • Paid search results to catch him next time he Googles solutions to his problem
  • Emails soliciting him about potential loan opportunities
  • Phone calls regarding loans from lead generation companies
  • Radio ads about everything but loans
  • TV commercials about the next big TV series that is a “Must See”

Because Mia’s legal woes are part of the public record, along with her address, she could insulate her business with the direct mail she gets from local lawyers and national liability insurance companies. She’s followed up by several and become both frustrated and suspicious. Overcoming this mindset could happen by applying some of these paid media options:

  • A paid featured blog post on one or more websites of industry service organizations for martial arts studios
  • Pay-per-click ads for martial arts liability keywords
  • Direct mail with a special promotion

Paid media can be expensive, so the key here is that your paid media does not (well, usually does not) carry the high-value message of your owned media messaging. Instead, it offers just enough to entice a customer into checking out your high-value, owned content. It overcomes the near-universal suspicion of paid media by promising to answer the question a viewer wasn’t sure he had. It catches the eye while John is viewing the web looking for a related answer, and gets Mia to open an email because its title seems to be reading her mind.

I mentioned before that the old way of relying almost entirely on paid media is no longer viable. Instead, it should lead people to your owned media as a way of getting to the into your marketing funnel which educates, qualifies and nurtures them until they are ready to become customers.

Ryan Flannagan
Ryan Flannagan

Ryan Flannagan is the Founder & CEO of Nuanced Media, an international eCommerce marketing agency specializing in Amazon. Nuanced has sold $100s of Millions online and Ryan has built a client base representing a total revenue of over 1.5 billion dollars. Ryan is a published author and has been quoted by a number of media sources such as BuzzFeed, CNBC, and Modern Retail.

Share This