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Marketing vs. advertising — are they the same thing? Can the terms be used interchangeably? 

Well, the short answer is no. The longer answer is still no, but they are tangentially related.


If you’re wondering, “Then what is the difference between marketing and advertising?” you’re not alone. To clear up the confusion: marketing is all about identifying and meeting your customer’s needs, whereas advertising is all about promoting a company and its offerings through the use of paid channels. In short: The difference between advertising and marketing is that advertising is a paid component of marketing.

Marketing: An Overview

There are many different types of marketing. In fact, the term “marketing” tends to be slapped on to the end of other words to identify using that outlet as a way to reach an audience. Think about it: You’ve heard of digital marketing, social media marketing, online marketing—the list goes on. But at its core, marketing identifies and meets a customer’s needs. 

What is Marketing?

In all of its different forms, marketing allows organizations to reach their ideal customers by offering them something. This offer could be solving a pain point they have, identifying something they’re looking for, or providing a discount on a product or service. 

When Do You Use Marketing?

Companies use marketing all of the time. It’s an essential part of any business plan or strategy because it’s the main way to get your name, product, or service out to potential customers. So, whether you recently launched a business and need to gain brand awareness or debuted a new product or service you think your current customers will love, the best way to start a conversation about it is through a marketing campaign.

Marketing Examples

The most beloved worldwide brands always have a solid and compelling story, and that’s thanks to thoughtful marketing. TED provides an overwhelming amount of free content because they’re built on the idea that world-class content should be shared with people who will love it—and that’s apparent in their marketing. GoPro uses user-generated content from their customer base to show the value in their products and how others use it. The best marketing campaign amplifies the story that you’re trying to tell in a unique, memorable, and on-brand way.

Advertising: An Overview

Advertising is the paid arm of marketing. It’s what you see every day: television commercials, billboards, and sponsored ads on social media. That’s all advertising. But again, don’t let the advertising vs. marketing debate fool you—it’s all still marketing, too.

What is Advertising?

Advertising is a way to get a specific message across to an audience in a way the company can control. Companies have more control over advertising because they are paying for the particular placement. When placing an advertisement, you’re choosing where it goes, which in turn, influences the audience it gets in front of. 

When Do You Use Advertising?

Advertising can have a more direct impact than an unpaid marketing campaign. With a strategic advertising campaign comes the ability to target a very specific audience and talk about a very specific thing. If you’re running a promotion in a certain location, placing targeted ads to your customers there can increase sales. Or, you can use advertising to amplify your marketing efforts. Say you created a landing page for a marketing campaign you’re running. Directing people to that page through targeted ads can increase its success. 

Advertising Examples

The best advertisements are the ones you remember and that still stand up years later. Remember the “Got Milk?” campaign? Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan? Apple’s first iPod advertisements? Not to mention the television commercials that run during the Super Bowl every year that get just as much coverage as the big game. Advertising inspiration is all around you, but remember: Keep your intended customer top of mind.

Marketing vs. Advertising

Now that we definitively know the difference between marketing and advertising, it’s time to put them to work for you and your organization. Both marketing and advertising require a strategy behind them, so start thinking about how you want to talk to your customers, what you want them to know about your brand, and how you can help them. Then, start to consider where you can place ads to have the most impact.  

Create Your Own Marketing Campaign!

Digital Marketing 101 | All Types Explained | Marketing vs Advertising | Theory Covered | First Step