The Future of Earned Media? The clue is in the name

In a world where trust in advertising is low and attention is limited, culturally relevant work has a longer life span

Nimi Raja

Strategy and Development Partner, Rankin Creative Rankin Creative


Earned media is by its very nature - and as its name suggests - hard work. We have to earn the right to people’s attention spans, conversations, thoughts and coverage. 

But in today’s world - where consumer trust in advertising is at an all-time low - being able to reach audiences with any kind of tangible impact is becoming increasingly difficult. We’re at a time where competition for time and attention has never been more difficult, and this only looks set to become more complicated as we approach 2023 and a cookieless future.

If we want real cultural relevance, that means we have to get back to basics and focus on credibility, authenticity, and relatability - not endless KPIs. But more than anything, it means having strong creative and strategic foundations that enable a brand to show up in the spaces where its audience actually hangs out.

If we want real cultural relevance, that means we have to get back to basics and focus on credibility, authenticity, and relatability

Nimi Raja, Strategy and Development Partner, Rankin Creative

It’s harder for brands to earn the right to people’s attention, as there’s an inherent lack of trust from the moment people assume they are being sold something. So how do brands stand out in a world where pay to play doesn’t work anymore? 

What’s the “rule book” - is there one?  Ironically, to define its future, we must first learn from the past: this means going back to the basics of brand building. Secondly, we must learn from the present: how do those influential people manage to still earn a space in our lives at a point in time where social media allows a much closer proximity than ever before?

Remembering the basics of brand strategy 

Earned media doesn’t start once you’re at the campaign stage. The most powerful brands bake their marketing into their product from the very start, in the most human way possible.  To this day, Virgin remains one of the best examples of this in action: a brand built around an aim “to make a difference in people’s lives”, through developing products that market themselves.  

In the early days of Virgin Atlantic, they sought ways with which to improve the customer experience. A standout example: Virgin asked themselves how they could transform the standard act of watching a movie on a flight into a real ‘cinema experience’. The strategy? Find a way to serve ice cream on board at a point in time when it hadn’t been done before. And the result? A moment that was documented, talked about, shared, and became highly anticipated; setting the stage for what to expect on board a Virgin Atlantic flight.

The airline continued to shake up the category both in flight and on the ground, being the first airline to offer putting greens, manicures, and haircuts in its airport lounges. On a simpler level, Virgin Trains wanted to encourage people not to flush anything other than toilet paper down the toilet. Instead of a basic, boring sign, they too did it “the Virgin way”, with a sign that became widely shared on social media.

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Their steadfast approach to innovatively building marketing into the product experience from the very start ensures the Virgin brand constantly earns the right to show up in people’s lives. The brand is talked about in everyday conversations; not just after big moments of campaign stunts.  

Learning from those who easily earn the right to be in our lives

Influential people - whose opinion we like, respect, and enjoy - have earned a constant place in our lives. Social media has meant we have a much closer, more intimate relationship with these people’s lives and opinions - however curated these lives may be. On social media, they serve as our astute, witty friends. We see a news story and think “what would XXX think about that?”, then quickly check their feeds to see what they have said and what their take is. We know that if even they are talking about it, then it’s worth talking about. Why is that the case? At its very simplest, these people are like brands. They have a personality, an aesthetic, a role that we buy into. But most importantly, they have a point of view. A North star, so whilst we might not always agree with them, we’re interested in their opinion. 

When they show up on our feeds, we don’t feel sold to. Instead, we stop scrolling because we’re interested in what they have to say. Put simply, they’ve earned the right to be a part of our lives. 

What does all this mean for the future of earned media? 

And this is ultimately what the best earned media is all about. 

In essence, earned media should be understood as more than a flash in the pan stunt or a headline grabbing provocation (a la Piers Morgan). Sure, those things can work, if you just want a quick and dirty headline.  But such a method will only ever result in fleeting moments that will fade quickly into the distance as soon as the next news cycle starts. 

The future of earned media is a long game. And so whilst you definitely need the firework hero moments which spark excitement amongst your audience, the more powerful place to be is to have earnt the right to be a constant presence in someone’s life. By becoming a trusted source your audience can always look to, pay attention to, and learn from, brands can become a habitual part of their audience’s lives, beyond the products they sell.  This ultimately is how you drive brand loyalty, love and relevance in a world where everything and everyone is competing to earn the right to people’s attention spans. 

Guest Author

Nimi Raja

Strategy and Development Partner, Rankin Creative Rankin Creative


Nimi Raja is the Strategy and Development partner at Rankin Creative, where she is responsible for the strategic output of the company as well as developing their entertainment slate. Having worked at some of the industry’s most creative agencies, Nimi developed a multidisciplinary approach to strategy, always anchored in strong brand foundations and audience understanding. She is obsessively passionate about inspiring behaviour change through the power of entertainment. Nimi has almost 20years experience in helping brands grow commercially and drive impact culturally. She has worked with some of the world's most powerful and progressive brands across a range of sectors from The Guardian and Google to Augustinus Bader, Depop and Balmain. For the past ten years her focus has been on luxury and entertainment. Nimi also puts all her experience to practise and launched her own fashion brand, Rani by Raja, inspired by her Indian, African and British Heritage.

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