Brief Answers to Big Questions: What’s the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising?

Published: April 3, 2020

You’ve probably heard the words “marketing” and “advertising” used interchangeably in the past. Maybe you’ve even used them that way without realizing what you’re actually saying. Well, it’s time to cut that out! Sure, it might seem like splitting hairs, but there really is a difference, and it’s an important one.

So What Is It?

Advertising is, essentially, paying to put your product, service, or message in front of people in order to make them aware of it. It’s as simple as that. Think commercials, billboards, magazine ads, and radio spots.


Marketing, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. It’s based more on an image, on the perception of a brand by the public. Marketing can include events, social media presence, logos, and, sure, even commercials and ads. In short, marketing is what a brand does to try to get a consumer or client to change their behavior.

The problem with advertising is that it is often seen as an interruption in a consumer’s life. You’re getting to the juicy part of the latest episode of House Hunters, and Cary and Deborah are just about to turn down the perfect house in order to take the one that doesn’t fit any of their needs but has stainless steel appliances when–BAM! You’re looking at Mr. Clean skating around a kitchen while a beautiful family looks on, smiling. You don’t want to be Mr. Clean in that situation, because you know you’ve been on the receiving end of an unwanted advertisement, and it doesn’t make you think happy thoughts about that company.

family breakfast

The difference is that marketing isn’t invasive like advertising. It’s subtler. It’s your desire to shave your head, buy some white tee shirts, and pierce your ear after seeing that smiling face and bald head on the same bottle of cleaner in the same place in that supermarket every time you’ve gone for the last fifteen years. That’s branding at work, which is a part of the whole marketing cornucopia.

searching on laptop

But Wait…There’s More

Marketing can also be the results that come up first in a Google search. Does searching for a kitchen cleaner result in seeing a familiar brand in the first three responses? Paying to get seen first is the shortcut to that, and practicing good SEO (search engine optimization) is the long way to those results. The people who pay for the first results will always be seen first, but SEO can get you seen and is also an important part of marketing.

So you see, the difference is an important one, and with even a cursory look at marketing versus advertising, we can see how the terms aren’t used interchangeably, or at least shouldn’t be. Advertising seeks to put you in front of more eyes and ears no matter how you find people. Marketing is making yourself a part of a person’s life in a more organic way, a way that influences their decisions when it comes to what they buy, how they feel about you, and what they tell their friends. And knowing the difference between marketing and advertising can, as they say, make all the difference in the world.