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What is the difference between marketing and advertising?

The billboards you see when you’re zooming down the highway. The magazines you get in the mail that highlight the latest styles from your favorite clothing company. The ad for that crystal cat statue that has been following you around the web since you purchased one a month ago. (The store clearly wants you to fill your home with crystal cat statues.)*

That’s marketing, right?

Not really. (Though you wouldn’t be the first to think so!) Technically, it is marketing activity; it’s advertising, which, as I’ll explain, is just one piece of the marketing pie.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes marketing. You can read our blog “What is marketing, anyway?” for an in-depth discussion of the subject. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the difference between marketing and advertising.
First, let’s define these concepts.

I’d like to recruit Hubspot’s definition of marketing, because I think it does an excellent job of explaining the scope of marketing.
“Marketing is the process of getting consumers interested in your company’s product or service. This happens through market research, analysis, and a solid understanding of your ideal consumer’s wants and needs. Marketing pertains to all aspects of a business, including product development, distribution methods, sales, and advertising.”

As you can see, marketing has broad reach and involvement. (I mean, “all aspects of business” is pretty broad, wouldn’t you say?)

Advertising, on the other hand, “is a form of communication that attempts to influence the behavior of a defined target audience. Any message developed and placed with the ultimate intention of persuading a group to take a specific action (such as buying a product) can be considered an ad.”

So, the communications tactics listed in the intro of this piece are examples of advertising. But they’re not not marketing, because advertising falls under the marketing umbrella.

Marketing encompasses the “4 Ps”: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. (Promotion is just another word for advertising.) As we saw in Hubspot’s definition, marketing comes into play from the initial steps of product development and is along for the ride to the final sale (and beyond!).

In pretty much any post about marketing that I write, you’ll see this refrain:

Marketing is about putting the right product, at the right price, in the right place. Promotion comes in because you need to get the right message out through the right channels to get people interested in that product.

The fact that marketing and advertising are so closely linked helps to explain why the two are so often equated. Their erroneous synonymy (doesn’t that sound like the name of a bad band?) may also be due to the fact that advertising is the most visible part of marketing. Most other marketing activity—market research, distribution planning, pricing strategy, etc.—isn’t in the public view.


Bottom line: Marketing and advertising are not the same thing. Marketing’s purview includes advertising, but it extends well beyond it. It’s all about preparing a product for market and facilitating its sale. Advertising is a component of this process. It’s about spreading the word, and it relies upon the data and research and understanding of the target audience that marketing contributes.

When you see ads in your daily life, recognize that while they are part of marketing strategy, marketing involves a whole lot more than just advertising.

*The author does not admit to any firsthand knowledge of this phenomenon.