What is Paid Media? All Your Questions Answered

The ELI5 (Explained Like I’m 5) Version of Paid Media:

Paid media is most easily thought of as advertising, though whereas in years past this has been an expense on most businesses’ balance sheets, through the power of big data we are now seeing it treated more as a quantified investment.

The goal of advertising, and thus paid media, is to drive awareness of a product or brand in order to get a customer to take some action that will drive immediate or future purchases from your business. This means generating leads by collecting email addresses or phone numbers for use in your owned media strategies or driving them to landing pages designed specifically to take an interested party from informed to purchase using various applied psychology techniques to influence that behavior.

Today’s paid media options consist primarily of digital advertising placements such as text ads on search engine results pages, image ads on websites, social platforms, and apps, or video ads that interrupt views on one of the numerous video streaming platforms. 

Many of these paid media options have names like display ads, pay-per-click (PPC), social media ads, and influencer marketing, but these are just different options for advertisements you can buy.

Paid media however also includes old-school things like subway, train, and billboard ads, which are known as Out-of-Home placements, sponsored placements in physical media outlets such as newspapers and magazines, and audio ads that interrupt podcasts, music streams, or potentially the radio.

Depending on budget, business goals, and existing audience size, paid media is not always the optimal strategy for a brand to start with. With your media advertising strategy, it is important to consider all types of media distribution channels for building brand awareness.

How is Paid Media Different from Owned Media?

To understand how best to use paid media effectively it’s important to understand its relationship to owned media.

Owned media and executing it well is a topic unto itself, but it consists primarily of activities related to building an audience, that you can own end-to-end communications with. From our perspective, there are two major components of owned media, the media itself and the infrastructure that delivers it to potential customers. 

While you can distribute media you own via Social Media sites, it’s important to have a true home for that content to live, like your company’s website, because your content is subject to the whims of the infrastructure that distributes it.

Then there are the benefits to your business that stem from the data you collect on your own platform that enables a deeper understanding of consumers via website visitors and app users who are and are not signed in.

The purpose of owned media is to provide value, for free, around the activities that your business undertakes, to establish your business as an authority on its core product or service offerings, which increases the customers’ confidence in purchasing from you while providing visibility on search engines.

Most businesses accomplish this through a combination of case studies, white papers, or glossary content (like this) hosted on their website using a blogging manager, and focus on Search Engine Optimization, SEO, to increase its visibility, but you can use Video, Audio, and Images in a similar manner.

More often than not, paid media strategies act as an amplifier for existing owned media and increase its visibility.

How is Paid Media Different from Earned Media?

Earned media and paid media accomplish the same things, in that they help to amplify owned media. In the case of earned media, however, it’s due not to paying platforms or people to distribute your content, but that your content quality, service, or product is so remarkable that people choose to evangelize your brand of their own volition.

This could be anything from a local or national news broadcast covering your latest developments, ratings on your Yelp or Google My Business page, down to social media users retweeting, sharing, or just engaging with your content in any manner. It’s easy to think of earned media as the digital equivalent to word of mouth on what’s important, high quality, or worth the money.

What is Paid Media in Social Media?

Social media provides a platform to distribute and amplify content to their network of users, but you often must use their ad-buying tools to purchase visibility, if you want to use the channel successfully. Organic Social Media marketing is certainly still an option, but expect your growth to be slow if your brand is unestablished and its content doesn’t resonate well with your audiences’ activities on that platform.

Social media is arguably a form of owned media, but because the technology infrastructure does not belong to your business you don’t really own the audience you develop there, which is why we suggest beginning with owned media.

Most social media platforms are geared towards retaining users on their platforms. The advertising placements they offer that work best, are the ones focused on building your audience with their platform, rather than trying to drive them offsite to your owned media.

This makes identifying the social media networks used by your core customers in the context of your product or service of the utmost importance when deciding whether or not to invest in developing an audience and channel on that platform.

What is An Example of Paid Media?

We have given many generic examples of paid media throughout this article but now let’s dive into some of the specific examples of platforms where we can actually pay for media.

Google Ads

The most famous of Google’s advertising placements is the Search Engine Results text ad, which you can easily think of as just buying your SEO keyword results, but Google also has options to target users on Google Maps, Waze, YouTube, Gmail, the Chrome Browser, and like just about every website and app on the internet via their AdSense display network. While in the past it certainly took an expert to launch and manage Google Ads campaigns, recent years have focused on making the self-serve platform as easy to use for novices as possible.


YouTube ads are actually just Google Ads and you purchase them via the same platform. These ads consist of many options from short six-second video clips that just interrupt streamers that don’t pay for the ad-free service, to sponsored product placements that appear beneath your own video content. The secret to executing a strong YouTube advertising campaign lies in nailing the first 5 seconds and ensuring a strong story arc for the remainder of the video length.


Facebook ads are primarily native display placements across their social media channels, meaning access to WhatsApp and Instagram are included. They are known for pioneering what is called the carousel ad that allows users to view a stream of products and click on the one that specifically interests them right from their social feed. Facebook is notorious for prioritizing ad content that keeps users on-site, so factor that into your strategy.


Twitter ads are a very interesting option for content-driven brands, or those targeting a handful of niche communities that exist on the platform, but since the ad placements look like tweets themselves, they work best with personal rather than brand accounts. Twitter gives you the option to drive users to your website, but using the tool to build a following around a persona will go further, because of the lasting value of that audience on the platform when you aren’t running ads, but simply distributing content for free to them via the account.


LinkedIn is primarily a paid channel for targeting business professionals with a B2B product or service, though personal productivity and financial products do well on this platform also. Even so, if you are a B2C business and eager to deploy a paid strategy here, this can be a strong platform for recruiting talent to your company; enabling you to showcase how great it is to work for your business.


TikTok is the hot newcomer, video streaming social media platform; originally started as a Lipsyncing app it has now become an addictive platform for those of all ages to binge short-form video. Any paid strategy on this platform most certainly would need to be paired with at minimum a persona-led organic content strategy as well. Users rarely click off the platform for an ad or sponsored post, but the impact of a well-executed and consistent content strategy paired with audience-building tools can really increase a brand’s visibility and get fun engaging branded content in front of their potential customers.


Snapchat is also a video-based social media platform that is geared towards Millennial and GenZ consumers, but it is primarily for picture-to-picture communications. A successful campaign here would likely involve leveraging their sponsored filters, potentially an animated one featuring your brand or product making this a great channel for general brand awareness, and it doesn’t hurt that you can redistribute your TikTok content here.


Taboola labels itself as the competitor to Google Display, Google’s native image-based advertising product. It is worthy of consideration based on the fact that Google has long strayed away from its “don’t be evil” motto and its ad-driven model likely maximizes profits because it makes so much money off the bot storms that run through its full ad ecosystem. There are content-based, 1st party-based, and performance-based optimization options and it’s likely a healthy way to round out coverage.

The Trade Desk

TTD, as it is called, to advertising technology specialists is what is known as a Demand Side Platform (DSP) and it provides access to much of the Google AdSense display network, as well as 100s of other display advertising placement exchanges across websites and apps into a single location. Tools like this are expert level in the paid media space but can provide huge cost-saving advantages if your business has a repository of customer data to work with.


Like TTD Beeswax is a DSP, but it is designed specifically for software developers to integrate directly into a business’s customer management tools, so that companies with the means to do so can be as effective as possible with their capital when buying ad placements, and evaluating their marketing efforts. The company allows API access to their entire interface meaning you can manage ad campaigns from your internal company platform, increasing security and process control and training with your internal marketing teams.

What is the Purpose of Paid Media?

The purpose of paid media is to drive traffic to branded content or product and service detail pages on your owned properties. As we have said previously, we see paid media as a means to amplify your existing content marketing efforts through your owned and social channels. 

Where either your CRM can be linked to scoop up information from your lead generation strategies or drive direct sales via your ecommerce platform.

It allows you to be granular with your target audience, leveraging their demographic information and other behavioral breadcrumbs as well as the success outcomes stored in your technology systems to improve the effectiveness of your digital marketing.

What Are the Advantages of Paid Media?

Paid Media is a crucial part of any digital marketing strategy and while the challenges to managing marketing campaigns, like ad management of click-through rates on banner ads, can feel daunting at times, there are so many reasons to take the plunge into the ad space.

By far the biggest advantage of paid media is turning on a firehose of traffic to your owned media, something that can otherwise be challenging for new and unestablished businesses or brands because of lack of awareness. 

A fire hose is only as useful as your ability to accurately point it at the actual fire, so metrics become a means of evaluating performance and can be used to identify which piece of content is worth amplifying.

Tying its indirect performance in driving sales using many of the digital marketing tools available today like Google Analytics is a key component to what makes paid media so advantageous. This is because once you can model your results, you can treat paid media as a literal investment strategy that yields a return on the ad spend. Many paid media platforms even offer this level of optimization by default by letting you integrate your owned channel data directly with their platform.

Other strategies such as organic or social can absolutely work, but these content marketing strategies take time. Ideally, combining a robust paid media strategy with a comprehensive content marketing strategy is a winning recipe for any business or brand.