Putting ads online is not ‘online marketing’

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between advertising and marketing.

After reading this, I hope you will have a better understanding of what the real difference is between the both vague disciplines.

I will keep myself to the most common understanding of the practices. That, because of the debatable definitions of both marketing and advertising.

It is be important to know the difference when you’re professionally implementing marketing strategies. So keep on reading.

The Modern Marketing Model (m3) is a great example of the intricate world of Marketing.

The unnecessary prefix ‘online’ in ‘online marketing’

First, I want to get rid of the unnecessary prefix ‘online’ from ‘online marketing’. By definition, marketing is every manner you communicate with your prospect/customer. No matter whether that is online or offline.

It is 2018. Separating ‘traditional’ and ‘online’ marketing is a mistake of people that do not believe the internet is a huge part of business success.

What is the exact difference between marketing and advertisement?

Marketing can be defined as the management of the impressions that your prospect has of your brand.

That impression is influenced by an innumerable amount of factors. It is influenced by how your company reacts on negative press to even the way how your receptionist answers the phone.

Marketing techniques often used to influence these impressions are:

  • public relations
  • branding and positioning
  • sales strategies
  • User Experience / Product design (hey! That’s me!)
  • customer support
  • market research
  • advertising (online/offline)

Advertising is a component of what professionals understand of the practices of ‘marketing’.

Advertising is still a huge part of the marketing success. Yet, a company can do marketing without advertising. (More than a few become successful without.)

Explaining by example of the simplest marketing strategy

I will skip the target group/market research, the content creation and everything else that must be planned beforehand. That does not mean it is not necessary. Going into it would just take too much time.

Note: This example is a common B2C technique, however, is not limited to it. This is used for B2B just the same (arguably even more). Also: don’t forget that real life is way more nuanced than what I described here.

Example: Vegan hamburgers and carnivores

Let’s say there is a company that sells vegan hamburgers. Indistinguishable from the juicy, red ‘real’ meat.

Their PR is brilliant, the branding and positioning are executed perfectly, and their sales strategy is on point.

An image of a fake advertisement for vegan hamburgers

  1. The company's marketing strategy makes even the biggest Carnivore curious. Through their communication, Carnivore understands what the business is about and what it values. There is a call-to-action in an ad: “Get a free vegan hamburger sent to your doorstep! Go to www.vegan.hamburgers!”
  2. Our Carnivore takes out his phone and enters the address. Immediately upon landing on the website, there is a signup form for the free hamburger. Aided by the good design and convincing copy, Carnivore signs up.
  3. His email ends up in the Customer relationship management (CRM) of the company.
  4. Meanwhile, the company keeps doing a great effort in creating a brand with all their other marketing techniques.
  5. Our carnivore just got an email with a few amazing recipes he can use with the anticipated vegan hamburger that is going to be delivered to him. He starts getting excited “These people really know what I need!”
  6. This 'nurturing' goes on and on, until prospect becomes a customer, becomes a loyal customer, becomes an advocate.
  7. The customer is left satisfied and will probably buy again.

Then what is advertising?

If you are,

  • handing out flyers and hanging posters,
  • putting ads on Search Engines,
  • promoting (paid) posts on social media,
  • getting influencers to put your product in their media, you are advertising.

With Facebook's ads and Google's Adwords the saturated market has found the opportunity to instantly show the advertisement to the audience segment that might be interested.

Also called 'online advertising'. A term which I have nothing against. That describes what it is.

Although the strategy behind ads (e.g. targeting and content planning) might dip into the spheres of market segmentation, it is by far not the holistic process of marketing.


Advertising is NOT marketing. It is a part of marketing. Marketing has evolved as an umbrella term. It is used to describe the complicated system of facilitating a beneficial relationship between prospect and business.

In the great land of ads, the advertisement for the sake of 'brand recognition' is not a profitable strategy.

Keep learning:

Geffrey van der Bos is a cognitive designer with focus on User Interfaces and Front End Development. Currently working in Stuttgart Germany, for Bitfactory GmbH.