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02/08/2009 The Noismakers

David Armano got me thinking the other day, as he usually does with his blog posts and diagrams, with a Tweet. Now on his blog, he was explaining the difference between paid media and unpaid media. I was fumbling to think of a response to that and I realized that the word “media” got in my way.

Maybe because I spent the last 9 years in an ad agency, in my head, media is something owned by someone else, like TV, newspapers and radio. Paid media meant buying a piece of that, usually advertising. Unpaid media usually meant public relations, where you get an article written without paying the journalist. Still, you have to pay the public relations specialist to get the article.

With Web and Digital, media has blown apart. Either everyone owns a piece of the media (such as blogs) or they own the content of the media (such as things like TripAdvisor.com reviews).

Instead of media, I thought, maybe, we should use the old term “voice.” But after reading Marcel Lebrun’s great post on share of voice vs. share of conversation, I think a better term would simply be:


There’s paid Noise (every time you pay someone to make Noise for you).
There’s unpaid Noise (every time someone you know or don’t know decides to make Noise about you).


I see Noise as value neutral, although dictionary.com might argue with me. A beautiful song is good Noise. Flatulence is bad Noise (unless you make the iPhone app iFart). Advertising is definitely Noise, some of it good Noise, most of it bad Noise. Customer reviews are Noise. We hope customers are noisy like a boisterous party and not noisy like a violent mob.

Paid Noise would include everything a company pays for marketing. Work like ads, PR, search engine marketing, event marketing, and guerilla marketing. Unpaid Noise is Noise that emanates from a customer experience. Reactions to products, customer services, physical locations, and services.

Where this breaks down is characterizing the response to paid Noise. If someone goes online and reacts to a Superbowl ad, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?  We’re not paying that person, but he or she responds to our paid Noise. In the very least, paid Noise gets an assist. Same with building a great microsite. When people pass on and talk about Elf Yourself, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?

I’m going to stick with this for a while and push on it. I like where Armano is going with earned vs. paid, though. It's also a great distinction between digital media strategy and social media strategy, something I'll have to try out on some clients.

We marketers are  Noisemakers. The question is: are we singing or farting?


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