Marketers who have watched the digital revolution know that consumers have migrated their research and purchase habits online.  They know that if they expect to participate in consumers’ conversations they’ve got to have their brand appear in search, social and other online channels.

To meet this need, many marketers turned to the quickest solution: paid media.  While paid media has its place in the marketer’s toolbox, many developed an unhealthy relationship with it. Many depend on paid media to keep their brand in front of consumers.

This addiction to paid media is problematic for three reasons:

1. Most of the ‘clicks’ occur in earned media, not paid:

People are far more likely to click on organic results, earned media, instead of paid ads. The organic click share has been reported as high as 92%:


…while banner ads are lucky to get a 1% click-through rate (CTR) and less than 1% of clicks go to social ads:


The fact is, people don’t want to click on paid media—eye tracking study after eye tracking study shows that people’s attention–and click behavior—is on earned, not paid, media.

2. Users Don’t Trust Paid Media:

It gets worse for the paid media addict.  It’s not just that user attention is not on paid media, it’s that users actually mistrust paid media content.  A recent study by YouGov shows that half of all users find advertising to be dishonest.  Consumers are essentially telling marketers that they meet all content in paid channels with a skeptical eye.  Reaching consumers is difficult enough but paid media addicts have the added burden of attempting to overcome consumers’ inherent skepticism of paid media content.

Source: YouGov

3. Paid Media Space is Rented, Not Earned:

If the fact that paid media is largely mistrusted and ignored isn’t enough, another problem is that it’s not sustainable. Paid media operates only so long as dollars are fed into the machine.  As the graphic below illustrates, your paid search ads will continue to appear only as long as your credit card still works in Google headquarters. Your Twitter or Facebook ads will continue to appear only as long as they continue to be funded. This can quickly become a costly proposition.

Contrast that with the marketer who has earned her way into top organic search positions or is part of the ongoing social conversations. This marketer is able to obtain large volumes of qualified organic traffic without continuously feeding a paid media machine.


Break the Paid Media Addiction

There’s little question that marketers must be part of the growing conversation online if they expect to reach consumers talking about their product or service.  However, those who have developed an unhealthy reliance on paid media and have ‘bought’ their way into conversations must rethink their strategies. After all, consumers are not engaging in paid media conversations, and they have developed a deep mistrust of brands who attempt to engage them on paid media. Customers want to find companies that have earned their attention; buying your way into their conversations is neither sustainable nor does it scale.

Read “What are Personas?” to learn how to better understand your audience, where they are having conversations and how to reach them.