Marketing vs. Advertising: How Do They Differ?

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Most people believe that marketing and advertising are little more than synonyms. After all, they both engage customers, use data to make decisions, and attract new customers through creative strategies. 

But while this definition is partially true, it falls short in many ways.

Not only do marketing and advertising have entirely different approaches, goals, and budgets, they both have unique effects on their intended audience. For example, bad advertising could turn potential clients away from a brand. Bad marketing, on the other hand, may result in haphazard research that complicates future advertising decisions.

Let’s explore the similarities and differences between marketing and advertising, including a walkthrough of their definitions and formats.

Defining marketing

Marketing comprises tactics that locate, engage, and retain customers. It’s sometimes considered an umbrella term that nests multiple business processes under a single department. For example, social media, content marketing, and market research all come under marketing.

Marketing takes a relational approach to customer retention. Rather than capturing one-time leads for a single sale, marketing works to nourish and retain relationships through strong brand interactions, a great customer experience, and positive customer service. 

Major types of marketing

Since marketing is such a broad term, it houses many different strategies, functions, and considerations. Many of these focus on larger audiences, intending to guide customers through an associated buyers journey.

One of the most popular of these includes inbound marketing, a customer-centric strategy that provides value to customers through pictures, videos, blogs, and more. The goal is to have meaningful conversations around a brand that may eventually lead to a deal—although this is done without the poking and prompting of traditional sales.

Inbound marketing tactics include tasks such as:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media posts
  • Email marketing

On the other end of the spectrum, outbound marketing refers to the process of seeking leads from a more direct angle. Rather than creating and distributing content that draws people to your business (a.k.a. inbound marketing), outbound strategies push messages to a wide audience to get them interested in your brand. 

Some of the most common outbound tactics include using:

  • Radio spots
  • Event marketing
  • Cold outreach

marketing vs.advertising: how are they different

Defining advertising

Advertising is a function of marketing that promotes specific brand messages using a set amount of money. It focuses primarily on a singular call to action, such as “Buy now” or “Call today.” Advertising may also be used to drive brand awareness, join trends, or tell a story. 

Advertising is less focused on relationships and more focused on drawing attention. It’s a one-way form of communication that does not allow for interaction on the part of the audience. Once an advertisement has attracted a lead, it will be up to the marketing team to nurture and retain it over time.

Major types of advertising

Advertising can be divided into two categories: digital advertising and traditional advertising. While one is only observable through screens, the other is present in the real world. 

  • Digital advertising is creating ads through a digital medium—gaming apps, news websites, social media, email inboxes, or another platform. This is a nearly ubiquitous form of advertising used by every major brand. 
  • Traditional advertising leverages print formats, including billboards, mail slips, and newspaper ads. The ultimate goal is to spread a universally accepted message to a large audience to create awareness of products, services, and brands.

Remember that both approaches must be integrated to attract the highest number of leads. With such a wide variety of preferred sales channels, using traditional and digital ads together ensures all audiences have the opportunity to hear your message.

how advertising differs from marketing

How marketing and advertising are similar

Both marketing and advertising functions are used to accomplish a similar mission. Let’s explore some of the similarities they share across brands and industries.


The main intent of marketing and advertising campaigns is to generate revenue. This includes capturing leads, encouraging more purchases, and garnering the largest number of views and brand ambassadors. Both frequently work with digital media and leverage content and current events to their advantage.


Marketing and advertising both focus on the major tenets of promotion. Each works to craft and refine messages that make the most sense for your audience, enhancing your profit outcomes.

This involves using emotional, logical, and creative components that craft a compelling incentive to take the next steps. 


Data is an enormous component of marketing and advertising strategies. Both usually develop them in-house, working together to sift through metrics and track favorable outcomes. 

Additionally, marketing and advertising research shares many key performance metrics (KPIs). These include:


Both marketing and advertising take a sizable percentage of yearly budgets. According to recent statistics, the average cost of ecommerce marketing sits between 7% and 12%. This includes the cost of advertising, which is rolled into the marketing budget for smaller ecommerce brands.

Additionally, marketing and advertising processes take time and effort to accomplish. While the types of labor are not often the same, the effort required for positive outcomes certainly will be.

How marketing and advertising are different

All forms of advertising are a function of marketing, but not all marketing strategies can be called advertising. Let’s explore their major differences in greater depth.

Back-end processes

Marketing handles a massive amount of tasks that usually go unnoticed. Tracking campaign results, sourcing influencers, and segmenting audience groups is just a part of its daily expectation.

Advertising is the process of bringing this back-end work to light by culminating everything into a neat little package. Its primary goal is to follow the roadmap created by the larger marketing department.

Think of it in terms of a one-way road versus a two-way street. Marketing works to create a two-person conversation between a brand and a consumer. On the other hand, advertising is more concerned with creating a message that talks to rather than with the audience.

Primary research focus

Marketing departments spend countless hours researching, tracking, and following up on all marketing campaigns for a business. This includes both inbound and outbound strategies, as well as digital or traditional formats.

Advertising research only focuses on advertising campaigns. This allows them to dig deeper into the content, reception, and KPIs of their final product, which helps to inform future decisions. They may also report their findings to the marketing department, which acts as a home base for all data and metrics.

Overall budget

On average, an advertising department will cost much more than a marketing department. Most marketing processes only require in-house labor or data to accomplish, while outbound advertising (i.e., print ads) needs additional capital.

Keep in mind that this cost is extremely variable. Brands that only run one or two advertising campaigns per month may spend as little as $400—meaning their marketing department will take up most of their budget.

Does your business need marketing and advertising?

Marketing and advertising are not interchangeable terms. However, one cannot be used without the other to make a tangible impact on your business.

Truthfully, a great business must have both marketing and advertising branches to be successful. While marketing is a great catch-all department for multiple processes, advertising is critical for showing off your company in different environments. Both must be implemented hand-in-hand to have any consequence on your brand.

A healthy knowledge of the differences between marketing and advertising is a great first step toward this. By leveraging both business strategies, you will be well equipped to grow alongside changing customer expectations.

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