Marketing vs Advertising: What’s REALLY the Difference?

When someone asks me what I do for a living, the standard, 5 second response is “advertising”. Occasionally, I’ll get slightly more specific; “digital (or ‘online’) advertising”. Despite my actual title, or job function, unless someone is in the business themselves, I never utter the word “marketing”.

Before I get into the stigma attached to the difference between Marketing & Advertising, let’s see what Noah Webster has to say about the two:

Marketing: an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer

Advertising: the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements

To simplify, marketing is the collective of actions– from strategy, planning, development, etc –that go into promoting a product or service to the mass audience. Advertising, then, is a subset of marketing; a paid tool to push out the message. So, in reality, everyone in the field of advertising is a marketer– whether you’re a copywriter for print, a flash coder for display ads, or an account director working for a media firm.

So, when someone looks at marketing vs advertising: what IS really the difference?

Perception. That’s what. 

When someone, outside of the industry, thinks of advertising, guess what is likely to pop into their heads? ‘Mad Men‘. Thanks to AMC, your average, run-of-the-mill industry outsider thinks our jobs are to sit around drinking all day, randomly coming up with explosive ideas that will win million-dollar accounts that save our respective agencies. (Honestly, I’ve worked at several agencies– and, some days, this isn’t exactly an exaggeration) I know this is a common thought, because I’d say 8 out of 10 people I’ve talked to outside this industry have responded, literally, with, “oh, like ‘Mad Men’?”. Sure, why not..

Not that I personally have a problem with this idealistic view of the advertising world; people thinking of your job as glamorous isn’t a bad way to start a conversation. Whether it be true or not isn’t much of a concern.

When it comes to marketing, however, that’s where the ugly stigmas emerge. Why? Well, there’s telemarketing (the people that call you during dinner). Direct marketing (those junk fliers that pile in your mailbox each week). Email marketing (see previous, just substitute ‘inbox’ for ‘mailbox’). Multi-Level Marketing (which, you’ll often hear referred to as “schemes”…yikes). And, so on, and so forth. Not exactly Don Draper-esque, would you agree?

The negative connotation with marketing was born long before the days of the internet, and certainly isn’t going anywhere. In reality, the terms have become synonymous to most insiders, and, I’m willing to bet, there’s a good deal of us that truly don’t even realize the distinction. It’s funny, though, when I go to fill out certain forms online, or look at LinkedIn job categories, and see “Marketing/Advertising” as an option. It’s pretty much akin to putting “Grade Schooler/Kindergartner” as well; one is certainly inclusive of the other, but it isn’t true vice-versa.

To be completely honest, I do work in Marketing. And I work in Advertising. Neither is a lie; but one is definitely more appealing.