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My family have never completed understood what I do for a living.

When I proudly showed them my first brochure layout (from my previous life as a graphic designer), they said:

“So you took these photos!”

“No, the photographer supplied those.”

“You wrote all of this information!”

“No, the copywriter supplied it.”

“You printed the brochure…?”

“No, the printer did that.”

“So… What did you do?”

“I decided how the information would best fit on the page, chose the colours, typeface, sizes etc, and laid it all out in a way that best represents the brand, and is easy and attractive to read.”

“But anyone can do that!”


So my career change into digital marketing has also been difficult for them to follow, except when it can help them… Which has also helped me explain what it is that I now do. Sort of.

My Dad recently started his own off-grid energy system consultation business, so I’ve helped establish his online presence, and positioning and promotion of his services.

One day he called me and said:

“I have a question for you, but I don’t want one of your long-winded answers, with lots of complicated explanations. Just a quick answer. Okay?”

“Sure thing, Dad.”

“Is marketing the same as advertising?”


Why not?”

“So you want the long explanation now…?”?

I tease, but it is a very common misconception. And while they can be related, they are not interchangeable, and have some fundamental differences.

What is the difference between marketing and advertising?

First, let’s define marketing.

Very basically, marketing is positioning your organisation/business/brand/product/service to:

  • reach your target audience
  • create awareness about your organisation/business/brand/product/service
  • demonstrate or communicate the features and benefits of your organisation/business/brand/product/service

all with the overall intention of encouraging awareness/engagement/support/sales.

Marketing includes a huge amount of various techniques and opportunities to achieve the above, including:

  • Content marketing, including website content such as blog posts, news articles, case studies
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Email marketing
  • Social media activity
  • Competitions
  • Special offers
  • Events
  • Sponsorship
  • Public Relations
  • Media activity
  • Direct mail
  • Real life activations
  • Guerilla marketing tactics
  • Outreach and influencer programs
  • Integrated campaigns that use a range of activities
  • AND advertising

Advertising IS a function of marketing.

It may help to look at marketing as all owned, earned, and paid activity.

Owned marketing is organic activity that you create and publish on your own channels (your website, your social media activities, using your database etc).

Earned marketing is organic activity that occurs on other’s channels that supports you. Such as someone updating their own Facebook or Twitter status with “I had such great service at X today!”

Paid marketing is any promotion or activity that you pay for, e.g. updates by industry influencers, sponsorship or advertising.

You’ll notice that I used another term there that is relevant in this discussion about advertising: organic.

Organic activity is the naturally occurring reach and engagement that your owned or earned marketing achieves WITHOUT being paid for.

For example, you publish a post on your Facebook Page, the people who see the original post appear in their feed, see it organically.

The 10 Google search engine results per page that occur naturally due to indexing and rankings (not the 3 paid ads at the top of the page, marked as “AD”) are organic results.

Organic = natural

Advertising = paid

YES a lot of marketing does cost you money. Whether it’s paying staff, outsourcing it, or your own time and effort.

But advertising is any paid activity that is expected to get your message in front of people who may not see it normally (or organically).

So advertising includes specific placements of any ads, advertorials or sponsored content that could appear in:

  • Printed publications (magazines, newspapers)
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Websites (e.g. third-party banner ads, sponsored content)
  • Email marketing (e.g. third-party banner ads, sponsored content)
  • Social media (including targeted, boosted or promoted posts)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM, including Google Adwords)
  • Display Ads and Remarketing


I’ll admit that my explanation to my dad was much more succinct than this, more along that lines of: “marketing is anything you do to promote your business, advertising is the specific paid placements to promote your business”.

Advertising IS a valuable tool in your overall marketing toolkit.

The trick is finding the right combination of techniques that suits your:

  • organisation/business/brand/product/service’s personality
  • target audience
  • goals
  • resources (time and energy)

i.e. having a strategy.

And not thinking that marketing is just advertising…

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