Subway escalator

No, Advertising and Marketing Are Not the Same Things

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.

Lightrail at night

How to make a more effective light rail ad.

Bar Louie is a chain gastropub with several locations in my fair locale of the Denver-Metro area. In all, as best as my research could reveal, they have 133 restaurants nationwide, so it would be a fair assumption that they have this whole marketing and advertising thing pretty well locked down. By and large, I’d agree with that assessment. I’d say that they were almost perfect in a recent campaign… almost.

When I came across a light rail car with multiple ads for Bar Louie, they caught my eye. This isn’t that rare since I make it my job to assess the marketing and advertising that I’m exposed to, looking for both strengths and opportunities. To be honest, most ads don’t stick. I don’t love them or hate them – I just forget them. But Bar Louie’s ad was different. It required my attention.

Sitting in my light rail seat, the images below represent my view.

Would Bar Louie have demanded your awareness as it did mine?

Why did this Bar Louie ad stick with me?

If I could only choose one thing that made me “lean in” to this ad, I’d have to say that it was a giant QR code. Perhaps in the same way that a cassette boombox or any other recognizable relic of the past would jump out at you for seeming so out of place in the present, devoting that much real estate to a sign of what once was practically grabbed me.

Now, when it comes to QR codes, I think Bar Louie has it right and conventional thinking has it wrong. QR codes only went out of style, in my opinion, because they were inconvenient upon release. Yes, they were meant to create convenience, but between searching for a reader app, downloading it, launching it…. I’d have rather just been given a URL to type in at that point.

But, that was also prior to Apple’s iOS 11. The age of practical convenience for QR codes had arrived. It arrived late, but it arrived. Now, all you have to do is open your phone’s camera, point it at the QR code and your phone will ask if you’d like to visit the website. It’s extremely easy. Lest you think this is only for iPhone users, Android already had that feature before iOS did with Google Suggest turned on. It really couldn’t be easier for the wide majority of smartphone users to use a QR code. Just in case you weren’t aware of how easy it is, Bar Louis conveniently added instructions to the bottom of their ad:


A QR Reader is built in to your phones camera.

If I had to choose another reason that I believe this ad worked, it’s because they leased multiple prominent placements in the light rail car. I absolutely love this. I know clients (and account managers) who would say “We only have budget for four ads? Let’s put them in four different cars.” In this scenario that Bar Louie has created, while they’re reaching fewer people, they’re immersing those fewer people in your message, rather than reaching a larger audience who will more easily ignore them.

But, what about the messaging?

I am not Bar Louie’s target market. I know it and, almost certainly, Bar Louie knows it. So, the messaging about getting paid to party rolls off of me like beads of sweat off of a sangria glass (I tried).


I’m also a small business owner surrounded by a city of small business owners, some of who own gastropubs. If I intend to be loyal, I will be loyal to my fellow business owners who rely on that loyalty to maintain and grow. So, their second message of “Loyalty Always Pays Off” is again, a miss for my lifestyle.


That’s ok because I’d assume that with 133 locations, this brand knows their audience and the prospect of being rewarded for drinking a pineapple martini with their friends after work is a strong motivator.

The messaging doesn’t attract me and it’s not supposed to, which likely means that it speaks clearly to a person who’s not me, aka, the regular Bar Louie customer.

Alright, Tyler. Where’s the missed opportunity?

I’m on a train and there are two ads, each ad has its own color and its own message.

One of these colors is more attractive to my fellow light rail passengers than the other.

One of these messages is more attractive than the other.

One of these placements is better than the other.

Bar Louie still doesn’t know what’s working best for them on this campaign.

As you can see, these QR codes are identical.


Overlayed Bar Louie light rail ads to show that the QR codes are identical.

Identical QR codes mean that there’s no variation in what URL you’re going to be visiting, which means you can’t track which ad people are pointing their smartphone cameras at.

Phase one: Were I in charge of leading the strategy for this campaign, would be to create URLs with different UTM codes indicating which ad was being scanned. Is it the pink ad promising a payday? Or is it the olive-colored ad promising a reward for loyalty? With UTM codes, a review of my analytics would reveal this information.

Phase two: Once I’ve determined which ad is working best, I’d see if the locations could be swapped to determine if it’s still the messaging or color that’s prompting the scans or if it’s simply the ad placement.

If it was ad placement, I’d ask if we could remove the other ads in the non-producing placements to see if that affects the volume of scans I get on the placement that is producing scans.

If it wasn’t the placement that prompted the scan, I’d swap the messaging on the posters to determine if it was the color or the offer that prompted the scan….

The ideas of what could and should be tested continue on and on… with each test getting Bar Louie closer and closer to creating an optimal ad with optimal placement. When those optimizations are put into practice, they will find that they have more budget to reproduce these winning campaigns in city after city.

Marketing is nothing if it’s not testing and the reason we test is to make sure that we communicating as effectively as possible to our audience. If you’re not testing, you’re gambling. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose, and sometimes you’ll break even. If your aim is to win, having a thoughtful marketing partner on your side can sway those odds in your favor. I can help you win and when you’re ready to see how, book some time with me.


Standing in the spotlight

Does Your Brand Even Deserve Attention?

It’s now been a week since I attended the Denver Digital Summit, and it’s been just a little over two months since I made the leap from unfulfilling government work into the deep waters of content writing and search engine optimization.

My primary care physician thought this move was some mid-life, manic episode, however, I assured her this was a thought out (err…well…as well thought out as possible) transition into a career where my skills at and passion for writing would no longer be going to waste. It just seemed that simple. So why aren’t we all doing this? Why isn’t EVERYONE working in SEO and copywriting and making bank? How hard could content writing and SEO really be?! Well, from what I gather, it shouldn’t be that hard at all and there is no excuse as to why I can’t succeed in this venture. I say this now…

So much of what I heard at the summit seemed rather obvious. Especially for anyone who has ever had a social media account, which is, in essence, advertising yourself and attempting to increase your visibility. Attention is the new currency; it’s scarce and everyone is trying to get yours, but our collective attention span is shrinking. The challenge isn’t so much reaching an audience; the challenge is keeping the audience (as demonstrated in Rachael Sperling of Facebook’s “Building Ideas for the Attention Economy” session) by catching their attention, inviting them to interact and then allowing them to dig deeper into your service. Oh yeah, and obviously all while avoiding giving the audience a shitty experience. In all, marketing is basically the equivalent of dangling your keys in front of a giggling baby to keep it happy and engaged. Right?

A week later and it seems my biggest takeaway from the summit was the importance of providing a feeling your customers can’t get anywhere else and ultimately having the courage to go all-in to ensure that your purpose intersects and has an impact with the passion of the audience. In the “Marketing Trends That Matter in 2019” session, Leigh George of Freedom presented us with a value-driven ad campaign by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. I am still thinking about how effective it was in gaining my attention, and how impactful taking a deep and authentic perspective can be. If every brand were willing to connect with their audience at such a meaningful level, marketing could be much easier. Most brands won’t…. And there’s your opportunity. I will leave you with that ad by John Jay. Marinade in it, like I have been for the last few days now. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Jay University - Top Five Reasons Why You Need To Go To John Jay ad

LinkedIn Bikes

Why advertisers should care about a Bing / LinkedIn ad relationship

Big news out of the Microsoft camp this week. Bing Ads platforms will now leverage data from another Microsoft owned platform, LinkedIn. This is big news because now you can isolate your paid ads to only show to employees of a certain company, who have a certain level of seniority in that company, to people who are in certain industries.

Is your brain exploding?




I bet you’re asking – who still uses Bing, right?


Here’s why you should care that you can combine LinkedIn data to Bing search campaigns:

  1. You Can Remove More Bad Clicks If you sell a business-to-business (B2B) business and you’re running paid search campaigns, it probably pretty likely that you’ve been paying for clicks from a consumer audience, rather than a business audience. It doesn’t help your bottom line to pay for clicks from an audience that will certainly never buy your product.  Isolating your campaigns down to industry probably won’t eliminate this problem, but it will likely eliminate a majority of those low quality clicks.
  2. You Can Better Personalize Your Ad Messages. This change signals the perfect opportunity to speak to your audience in a language they understand. Engineers, marketers, executives, and manager all have their own special language that you can now tap into. Get to the point with your C-Suite, speak in specifics with your engineers, speak in metric improvements to your marketers. Your ad messaging can (and should) evolve to best personalize your ad to the audience that you know is receiving it.
  3. The Bing Audience Might Be Your Best Buyers. Depending on your vertical, Bing might be the perfect place to find your audience. Why? Well, frankly, they don’t know or care to change the default search engine on their Microsoft Edge or Microsoft Explorer browsers. It may also be an audience who fully prefers the Microsoft experience. This likely favors itself to an audience of Baby Boomers. Layer that Boomer age group, a search for “Keynote Speakers” or “Industrial Equipment Suppliers Near Me“, and an additional layer that only serves up the ad to people in, say, the Aviation industry, you may find that you’re looking at someone who very closely resembles your buyer. That would be a powerfully valuable click, wouldn’t it?
  4. Finally, paid clicks on Bing are cheap. They come in at sometimes 1/3 the cost of Google ads. So, if you are budget constrained, this may be where you want to experiment before you add Google Ads into the mix. Or if your Google ads are already at max impression share and you need to find the next audience, grow those campaigns into Bing.

I’ve heard rumors that another search engine will be adding these sorts of B2B options to their paid campaigns in the future. As of today, though, Bing remains the only major player to have this layer – and that it’s coming directly from LinkedIn – means that they may not just be first to market, but they also may be best to market.

How much of an audience is actually using Bing today?

5.7% of your site visitors are probably using Bing. I won’t pretend that less than 6% is a big amount, but you certainly wouldn’t tell 1 out of 20 of your customers to get lost, would you? Especially if you got those at a far better cost per acquisition than the other 19.

Now, what if that number is better than 5.7% for your site specifically? How would you even know? Use our step-by-step tutorial for getting that information here.