Advertising vs Marketing: what's the difference & why is it important?

Posted by Rob Kendal on 03-Oct-2016 07:08:00

At some point, you're going to want to shout to the world about your products and services, but what's the best way to do it? Short term advertising, or the long game of marketing? Is there a difference?

For many people the two words are just interchangeable terms that describe the same thing. In this modern world of digital marketing, they're more like two sides of the same coin, closely linked and supporting one another. Yet there is a distinct difference when it comes to advertising vs marketing in the digital world.

By understanding the differences in approach and execution, you'll be able to make better use of your marketing and advertising partners and help get the best for your budget.

Blog header image for article on the difference between advertising vs. marketing

Advertising vs marketing. What's in a name?

This is normally where you'd expect to see a dictionary definition of the two words side by side, then we'd simply clap our hands together in a 'job done' fashion. Well, we don't need to do that, but if you do happen to do some searching around the two terms, you'll see that, actually, they are very similar.

So what is the real distinction between advertising and marketing, especially if their definitions are very close? 

For us, in the digital space, the difference between advertising and marketing comes down to these three factors:

  • Costs
  • Timeframe
  • Positioning in the buyer's purchasing journey

Yes, the lines are inherently blurry, but let's explore the key differences and ultimately, why you should take note.


Advertising can be thought of as the means to draw attention to your products and services with the express purpose of driving those sales figures. Very often, advertising campaigns are linked to direct sales numbers as they are usually expected to have a relatively immediate impact on business.

In the digital sphere, when we think about and talk about advertising, we're thinking in terms of quick-win, shorter-term methods to drive traffic, generate sales, and support more longer term background marketing campaigns.

Costs for advertising can be substantial depending on the platform and medium you choose. If you want to be found in a competitive space you should expect to pay vastly more then if you're much more niche. Also, depending on the competition, your costs can fluctuate as bid prices for ad slots change over time.

When you think of advertising, these are the terms you'll hear used, especially in the land of digital:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC such as Google AdWords)
  • Social media promotion (social advertising, such as Facebook Ads or the Twitter Ads platform)
  • Sponsored emails
  • Auto-playing video placements (such as those on YouTube) 

The negative side of advertising is that, although it can support short-term growth, it can stray into the more outbound side of things, which is where consumers are very good at ignoring, tuning out and physically limiting advertisements with ad-blocking software. This can have a huge impact on the efficacy of your campaigns.


Picture of fresh fruit and it being marketed

We tend to consider marketing as a much larger, broader term that can, confusingly, include advertising when it comes to putting together a marketing strategy.

In order to keep things simple, however, let's think of marketing as a more long-term, wider-reaching approach to building your brand's profile and at the same time, positioning your company's products and services to its ideal consumers.

Buyers today are more savvy and do a lot more research before making a purchase. By adopting an inbound approach to marketing you can build a continuous marketing machine that over time, delivers you a steady stream of leads into your sales funnel.

With ongoing marketing, costs can be more predictable as the activities needed to fuel your inbound marketing machine are usually quite steady and repeatable. Because you're not bidding on advertising slots, it really comes down to an investment in time, rather than competitive spaces.

When you think of marketing, some of the terms you'll hear in the digital space are:

A table of two halves

For those busy readers on the go, here's a summary of the main differences against our three key factors: 

  Advertising Marketing
Costs Needs a considerable budget
Costs vary wildly depending on competition
Budget is more predictable
Costs less likely to fluctuate
Timeframes Immediate, to hit short term goals Takes more time to build the inbound machine
Position in buyers journey Towards the end of the funnel, the purchase stage Can be aimed across multiple parts of the funnel from top to bottom
Good parts Draws attention to products and services now Builds a self-sustaining lead generation machine that works into the future
Bad parts Audiences much better at ignoring and blocking out advertising Results aren't immediate so ROI takes longer to prove

So which is better, advertising or marketing?

Picture of old school advertising

The short answer is neither. Or Both. It really comes down to what results you need and when you need them.

For example, we encounter a lot of companies that want results now, but they are focussed on a slower burn element of a marketing plan, such as a business website, which won't drive results immediately. Others, pay for a couple of months of Google Adwords, but are then disappointed when the costs go up suddenly and the phone stops ringing once the campaign stops.

The important point of this entire debate is to highlight that, in order to succeed, businesses need the right mix of both a strong marketing campaign to hit their long-term goals, and a short-term advertising campaign to support initial growth. 


Focus on your goals and plan accordingly

The bottom line is that if you want to sell more and grow your business you need to have a set of goals, preferably SMART goals that clearly outline what you want achieve, by how much, and when.

Once you've got a solid foundation of goals, and you know who your target audience is, you can start to speak to them via the right channels.

Using a combination of marketing, to build that long term lead generation machine, and advertising, to fuel a rapid, short term buzz, your sales growth will happen in the best way possible.

 Reach more customers with our intro to inbound marketing guide - front cover image

Topics: Inbound Marketing

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
Reach more customers with our intro to inbound marketing guide - front cover image

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