From the outside looking in, advertising and marketing can appear to be synonymous. They both present consumers with a message in hopes of hacking the brain and burrowing deep inside, and they both share the same goal of relieving people of their hard-earned disposable income. But in truth, the very real differences between advertising and marketing should be recognized and honored. Sure, their distinctions may be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, but knowing the difference is what separates the pros from the rubes.

Advertising is What You’re Selling:

Long before sharp-dressed, hard-drinking ad men on Madison Avenue started pitching “healthy” cigarettes, merchants in ancient Pompeii would inscribe mosaics on their amphoras in order to draw attention to their product and attract consumers. For as long as humans have been providing goods, ideas or services, there has been a need to make others aware of them through snappy presentation or promotion. This is advertising.


Pictured: Subtlety

Now let’s put our paranoids caps on! Did you know the average American is exposed to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements in a single day? As a matter of fact, you’re looking at a few ads right now. We’ve become pretty adept at blocking out all of the advertisements, but go ahead and disable that mental AdBlocker for one minute and look around you. Soak in all of those brand names leaping out at you from your phone or laptop, or all of the images of products splayed out on billboards and buildings. Take in all of the commercials and product placements in your magazines or during your podcast, or all of the labels in your pantry or fridge or on your desk at work. How about all of those brand logos on your clothes which essentially turns you into a walking billboard?

During the waking hours, people are inundated with an overabundance of display ads, social media ads, outdoor ads, video ads, radio and podcasts, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, email whether they recognize it or not! Unless you’re living the beatific life of a hermit in the remote mountains, you are feeling the powerful influence of advertising in your daily routine. Life is essentially one big commercial! Unfortunately, sleep is really the only refuge from the deluge of advertisements (for now.)  But where do all of these ads come from?! Well, they are the outcome of a lot of hard work called marketing.

Marketing is What You’re Buying:

Marketing is an umbrella term that basically describes the activities and the processes of figuring out how people think and behave so that companies can successfully create and deliver catchy messages to the person, in the right place, at the right time, and for the right price. In order to accomplish this, marketing teams will dabble in some mind control and hypnotism, aka market research. By utilizing tools such as market research and the “marketing mix” (or the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place) businesses are able to help identify a targeted audience and increase their chances of acquiring new customers. Advertising is just another component of the marketing process.


You never knew you wanted something SO much!

Good marketing is rooted in strategy and the better companies out there don’t even sell you a product; they sell you an idea or an experience like the fear of missing out. It’s the reason why we don’t question our sudden impulse to go out and try an Impossible burger from BK or why we will join the hysteria and wait in line for an incredibly scarce chicken sandwich from Popeye’s. It is the reason why we will rush to the store to pick up some Daytrip CBD-infused energy drink while wearing a Topo cross-body sling bag despite having spent decades snarking on the absurdities of fanny packs. Getting us to spend money, and to spend it on things we think we NEED but will no doubt roll our eyes at down the road is a true marketing masterstroke.

Marketing is an activity, advertising is the outcome. Marketing is the experience and advertising is the exposure. They’re not the same, but they rely on one another and you can’t possibly have a successful business without incorporating both.  If this helped you, please let us know in the comments and be sure to share this post with someone who could benefit from a little enlightening.