What's the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising?

What's the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising?

By John McTigueDec 3 /2012

difference advertising marketing People debate the difference between marketing and advertising. Most people will tell you advertising is a subset of marketing, one of the activities you do to help promote your brand and sell products to customers. I think the relationship between advertising and marketing is much more subtle. Marketing is advertising. I know, I'm opening a big can of worms among marketers who try to avoid any association with advertising, but hear me out.

Common Perceptions

Advertising has gotten itself a bit of a bad reputation in recent years. When we think about the best known kinds of advertising, like TV or radio ads, magazine ads, billboards and all of the things that pop up at you on the Internet, we tend to associate advertising with some negative connotations:

  • Intrusive, involuntary, "push media" or spam
  • Expensive, paid media, big brands (only)
  • Low conversion rates, useless, obsolete

Marketing, on the other hand, is generally considered to be a broader, more scientific attempt to match consumers with the products they need and love using a variety of tools. Marketers use advertising, but only when they have to, because it's expensive and intrusive.

Are These Perceptions Fair?

While most of us object to interruptive ads, we tolerate them because ads generally pay for the free stuff we take for granted, like TV and radio or websites and free apps. Inbound marketers try to do an end-run around advertising by attracting people with free content that has subtle forms of advertising, such as calls to action, then asking people to opt-in for more free content that eventually becomes more brazen in its attempt to separate you from your wallet. If you think about it, though, aren't all the tactics we use as marketers really advertising?

Herein Lies the Subtle Truth

Let's step back from the battle of words for a second and take a look at what we mean by advertising. Isn't advertising really just trying to convince people to do something? By extension, sales is just trying to convince people to buy something. So marketing is simply reaching out to people for the purposes of advertising or sales. Now think about the most common activities we do as marketers.

What's the purpose of all of these things? To convince people to do something. They are all forms of advertising. Yes, we still create ads, but we know those are advertising. So here's the interesting paradox. Instead of thinking about the difference between marketing and advertising, think that marketing is advertising. So we shouldn't be so quick to bad mouth advertising as the Devil's playground. Every blog post we write, every email we send is an attempt to attract potential buyers into our lair and "capture" them as leads. Every call to action and landing page is (hopefully) a convincing "trap" to bring in leads and turn them into customers.

I will grant you that much of the content we create for marketing is educational and helpful, at least in theory. Much of it is also humorous or otherwise entertaining. How is that any different from the eTrade baby ads or the infomercials we see on TV at 4 AM when we can't sleep? It's not. It's the same thing. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Those CTAs are nothing but ads, and those landing pages are digital forms of toll free numbers for a sales team.

So Marketers, Let's Get Over Ourselves

We're Madmen, pure and simple. We may be multitaskers compared to the classic Ad Men and Women of the 1950s, but we're still up to the same tricks. What we seem to have forgotten is how to do advertising well. Our messaging is boring. We repeat the same stuff over and over again. We have forgotten how to connect with people via emotion and experience. We treat people like cattle and wonder why our email open rates are in the single digits.

Yeah, this is a sore point with me right now, and I'm on a mission to make our content more remarkable (as HubSpot would say). Not just our downloads, everything. Our clients deserve the same imagination and success convincing their prospects to do something. Because it's advertising, people, and if you're going to do it at all, you might as well do it right.

Photo credit: The-Lane-Team

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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn and Twitter.