Marketing vs. advertising, what’s the difference?

Lee's Summit JournalNovember 29, 2013 

On the first night of class, one of my university students asked me a question: what’s the difference between marketing and advertising?

In the ad-agency world we toss these terms around a zillion times during the course of our business day. Still, I could definitely appreciate any degree of confusion or uncertainty when it comes to differentiating between the two words – marketing and advertising.

Because one of my agency clients was a national pizza chain (better ingredients…better pizza), they would generously cater a first night of class pizza party. This quickly became a tradition embraced by all, including the university, which saw it for what it truly was: an ice breaker where everyone got to know one another while we reviewed the semester’s syllabus.

It should come as no surprise when I tell you how I explained the difference between marketing and advertising to the student, and her classmates that night. I told them to think of marketing as a large pizza pie (work with me here, what college student doesn’t eat pizza at least several times a week and here we all were, our desks arranged in a circle, devouring pizza).

Marketing, like pizza, is made up of individual slices. There is a research slice, strategic planning slice, media planning and buying slice, public relations slice, community involvement slice, website development slice and a creative department slice. The slices (components) must not only work independently within the agency, but it is imperative that they work together. Are you with me so far?

All the marketing components working together are how we arrive at formulating the right message. One that will resonate with our target audience and therefore motivate them to take a desired action (shop, dine, buy, visit).

The advertising expression of that message, which includes headline, copy, graphic content and logo treatment, is how we tell our story in a way that differentiates our product or service from our competition. In essence, marketing tell us what to say and advertising is the expression of how we say it.

Day in and day out, people are exposed to thousands of advertising messages in the form of a newspaper or magazine ad, a TV commercial, a radio spot, an outdoor board or interactive/ online messaging. Thousands of messages from the time we get up in the morning until we go to sleep at night. Therefore, if your advertising isn’t different it amounts to marketing suicide.

Research helps us stay ahead of the competition by analyzing and interpreting the forces shaping consumer behavior by understanding what really matters to the consumer; not what we think should matter (to them) or what we’d like for them to care about. Marketing research allows us to provide an objective voice, providing a much needed outside perspective that you won’t find internally because insiders tend to make assumptions that aren’t necessarily relevant when it comes reflecting the consumer’s needs, wants, desires or evolving mindset.

Why is this so important? Well, to quote advertising pioneer Bill Bernbach, "You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if you don’t feel it, nothing will happen.”


James McKenna is the branding manager for the City of Lee’s Summit. Reach him at

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