It’s become standard acceptance in the advertising industry to talk about the “three types of media” — Paid, Owned and Earned. And these are, in fact, pretty useful when it comes to wrapping our heads around the constantly changing universe of media options available to us.

But that’s also the problem with this perspective. It’s very “us”-centric. As advertisers / marketers, it’s all about what we pay for, what we own, and what we earn. If we take a step back, breathe deeply and have a look at our customers’ perspective instead, then we can see that there are really only two media types out there: Interruptive Media and Opt-in Media.

(Side tangent: I am deliberately trying to banish the word “consumers” from the advertising vocabulary. It’s a horrible, horrible word that forgets our customers are people first. We really need to quit it with that word. Seriously.)

As the name implies, Interruptive Media is anything that interrupts whatever it is we really want to be paying attention to. A TV spot interrupts the show you actually want to watch. An outdoor board interrupts your drive. A banner ad interrupts the articles you’re trying to read online. And a self-expanding, rich media homepage take-over really interrupts what I’m trying to do online.

On the flip side, Opt-in Media is anything that people choose to pay attention to.

YouTube videos, websites and most social media are all forms of Opt-in Media. But the term also encompasses more than you might first think.

An infomercial is Opt-in Media. It’s not interrupting anything. It has to work hard to continue to engage the viewers, or they’ll switch channels. Google Adwords are Opt-in. I type in a search (something I’m looking for) and ads appear that are based on what I was actually searching for at that moment. A Superbowl commercial can be considered Opt-in Media, because much of the audience is choosing to pay attention. In fact, for some folks, the game itself is the interruption.

The brochure in a car dealership is Opt-in Media. But the posters at the dealership telling you about a service plan, when what you want is to test drive an SUV – that’s Interruptive.

And yes, some media will be either Interruptive or Opt-in, depending on the customer. And we need to be aware of that.

Your customers don’t really care whether you paid for the message, whether you earned the message or whether you own it. They really, really couldn’t care less. All they care about is whether it’s something they’re opting-in to engage with, or whether it’s interrupting them.

This is important, because it should inform and influence the creative we produce. Customers will forgive an interruption, but it better know that it’s an interruption and act accordingly. And if we expect a piece of creative to be Opt-in because it’s so wonderfully entertaining and interesting, then it better really be wonderfully entertaining and interesting. It has to compete with every other entertaining and interesting thing out there that I could possible be doing, using or watching. And that’s a much higher creative bar than simply being entertaining enough to be memorable and worthy of forgiving the interruption.

Interruptive Media isn’t going away. But I believe we’re in the middle of a pendulum shift towards Opt-in Media. It’s the future of the industry – and it’s a lot harder to do well.