Paid media — what it is, best practices, and examples

A paid media professional

Building a strong digital presence today is impossible if you don’t use different forms of media. Blog posts could be a critical element of your content strategy, but so could social media posts, product reviews, and especially paid ads.

Paid media generates incredible results when used effectively, so it’s no surprise that Statista reports ad budgets are expected to increase by more than 11% per year from 2022 to 2027.

This article will explain what paid media is, how it differs from other types of media, and which campaign strategies can help you achieve your marketing goals.

What is paid media?

Paid media is content that’s promoted through paid placements like video ads, pay per click (PPC) ads, pop-ups, and sponsored social media posts. Paid media campaigns can offer instant access to leads, helping businesses generate more visibility, engagement, and revenue.

The difference between earned, owned, and paid media

Earned, owned, and paid media combine to make up your brand’s entire content strategy. Each media type serves a specific purpose. Understanding where each one fits in the sales funnel helps you build a well-rounded digital presence.

Earned media

Earned media is the organic response your brand gets from other sources. It’s content that other people and publishers produce about your company. This includes reviews, social media shares, press about your brand, and more.

Earned media is most effective at the top of the funnel when a potential customer is first engaging with your brand. Local Consumer Review reports that 77% of consumers read online reviews for businesses in their area, so earned media is a great approach to boost your reputation and give leads a good first impression of your brand.

There are different ways to invest in earned media. You can offer incentives to customers that leave reviews, run contests and giveaways to generate social shares, or build relationships with media sources in your industry.

Corporate mission and core values

Owned media

Owned media is content produced and owned by your brand. Blog posts and social media posts are examples of owned media. Case studies, PDFs, and product demos can also be effective as owned media.

Most users who come to your owned channels already know about your brand or are interested in learning more about your product or solution. So owned media is often more relevant to customers in the middle of the sales funnel.

This type of content is vital for generating organic traffic and overall engagement. It’s designed to give your audience a deeper look at your products or services, so they can build confidence in your brand and eventually become loyal customers.

Paid media includes any advertising space you pay for. The most common channels for paid campaigns are social media and search engines. But ads can be run on other platforms like Gmail, which appear in a user’s inbox.

Paid media can be used to increase awareness at the top of the funnel or encourage sales toward the bottom. It offers immediate, guaranteed access to new audiences and can also be targeted to users who indicate purchase intent.

Paid media can be risky — especially if you run campaigns without a good strategy. If your ad doesn’t generate results, it’s simply a waste of money since your target audience isn’t seeing what you paid for. Strong tactics must be developed before committing any budget to your campaigns.

Buying ad space without considering how best to reach your target audience risks a low return on investment (ROI). Carefully plan your approach to maximize your ad spend. Along with content, consider factors like the channel, audience, and goals for a particular campaign. The five points below should be considered when developing your paid media strategy.

1. Invest in the appropriate channel

Like all digital advertising, paid media has to be tailored to the right channel.

2. Tailor your content

There’s a time and place for everything. Ask yourself what your users are looking for on each channel and how they might react to different offers. Develop content that’s well-suited to each platform and the target audience that uses it.

For example, an ad promoting your latest technical white paper might do well on LinkedIn but not generate similar results via Instagram. If you’re targeting top-of-funnel customers, a free guide providing a broad overview of a relevant topic might perform well. But if you’re buying a banner on a website that provides in-depth mid-funnel information, you might offer a promo code to get started with your product today.

3. Diversify your media mix

You won’t know if you’re optimizing your ad spend if you only run them on one channel. If there’s one channel that converts best, invest more resources there, but test some smaller campaigns on at least two or three other platforms to help maximize your outreach. You will collect more audience information and more experience using different platforms.

Diversify the types of paid media you use on each channel too. Most platforms provide different options for ad sizes, styles, and media types. Start with a mix of text, image, and video ads and watch the performance metrics to see which ones your audiences engage with most.

4. Decide on a budget

Deciding how to spend your budget can be one of the most challenging parts of paid campaigns. Rather than committing to a large budget upfront, start slow and work up to spending more after proving initial results.

Set ROI targets and consistently check your progress for a clearer roadmap of future changes. And don’t be afraid to adjust funds on a particular channel if it’s overachieving or failing to meet your goals.

5. Create data-driven goals

Clear, data-driven goals are crucial to any marketing framework, but raw data isn’t enough to optimize your campaigns. You need a powerful analytics tool to help interpret your data.

The right marketing analytics platform will include key functions like multichannel attribution, data collection, and predictive analytics so you can make better business decisions and spend less time manually evaluating the data.

Examples of paid media

Paid media can appear on different channels depending on your budget, audience, and brand image. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most common kinds of paid media used by digital marketers.

A promoted post on social media

Social media

Social media is the broadest but most popular category for paid media. Statista reports that annual social media ad spend is already above $225 billion and is expected to grow by more than 11% per year between 2022 and 2027.

Including paid ads in your social media toolkit can be expensive but warrant incredible results when used effectively — even if you’re already generating strong interest on social media. They can help you boost traffic and revenue regardless of how your organic content is performing.

Most marketers use a combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn in their campaigns, and many strategies transfer between platforms. Still, you should learn an individual platform’s features to take advantage of each.

YouTube screenshot with ad placements


YouTube ads are on the rise because this form of paid media is still highly lucrative. The key is to align your ad with the content and intended audience of the video so viewers have a natural interest in what you’re selling.

YouTube gives marketers plenty of tools to target their paid ads. You can place your ad in videos that cover specific topics or align with specific keywords. You can also add exclusions if there are particular videos that you want to avoid.

An example of PPC ad placements in search results

Pay per click (PPC)

PPC ads display at the top of search results when someone enters a specific query. This ad offers two key benefits.

An example of a display ad

Display ads

Display ads are pop-ups, banners, and similar content embedded in third-party websites. Advertising on other websites enables you to reach new audiences that may share a common interest with your brand.

Since display ads can increase clutter on a webpage, it’s particularly important to target the right audiences. Focus on partners with a strong relationship to the products and services you offer. For example, an online winter apparel sports store can place display ads on blogs about skiing or snowboarding.

Digital out-of-home

Out-of-home (OOH) and digital out-of-home (DOOH)

Out-of-home (OOH) advertising refers to marketing tools like billboards, posters, and flyers. This category also includes digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising like the large electronic billboards in Times Square.

As with any form of paid media, OOH and DOOH campaigns can be successful when implemented strategically. Where you choose to target OOH messaging is just as important as the content itself. New York City subway ads often cover jobs, food delivery services, local fashion stores, and other brands that are relevant to many riders.

Get started with paid media tools

While earned and owned media are solid foundations for advertising, using paid media effectively can be a great way to grow awareness of your brand, attract new customers, and improve your overall marketing strategy.

To begin, make a list of which channels align with your company’s goals the most. Then rank those channels based on which customer segments you are targeting.

Adobe Advertising Cloud is an all-in-one suite that helps marketers do their jobs more efficiently. It’s the only independent advertising platform that can unify and automate all media, screens, data, and creativity at scale.

Watch the product tour to see how Advertising Cloud can un-silo your paid media and help you create a unified strategy with a great ROI.