Marketing students at North Central College.

Marketing vs. Advertising: Key Differences

Reviewed by Jacob Imm

Aug 30, 2023

Marketing vs. Advertising: Key Differences

The terms “marketing” and “advertising” are interchangeable to many people. While they both strategically cater to consumers and aim to sell a product or service to increase profit margins for a business, there are a few significant differences. 

These distinctions are especially important for prospective students deciding whether to major in marketing vs. advertising. 

In this guide, we’ll help you make your decision by discussing marketing and advertising, their key differences, what a college major for each one can look like, and suitable career paths for those with advertising or marketing degrees and skills. 

What Is Marketing?

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

So, if you wonder “is a marketing degree worth it,” the answer is most likely yes, no matter what you are looking to learn how to do with your college major. The role of a marketing professional can vary, and thus, a marketing student’s education covers a lot of ground. A marketing agency or professionals in the field may help sell products, analyze consumer behavioral patterns, attract new customers through marketing channels, activate branding campaigns, or deliver products and services to the end customer. 

The Four Ps of Marketing

As marketing covers a wide range of responsibilities, it’s helpful to distill the goals of marketing into what are commonly known as the “Four Ps.” Marketing students learn the Four Ps at a foundational level, and research has shown that most successful marketing strategies are built upon them. They include: 

  • Product – This is the item or service that is being sold. In a market where new products are constantly launching, marketing agency professionals must understand the need they are fulfilling and distinguish what makes a particular product unique. 
  • Price – This is how much the product costs to the consumer. Market researchers will attempt to find what to charge for their products compared to their competitors’ prices, overall market value, and the cost it requires to make the product. 
  • Place – This is where the product is sold. Marketers may facilitate sales through e-commerce or traditional brick-and-mortar stores. They’ll also strategize the best places to promote the product to get it in front of the company’s ideal audience or target market.  
  • Promotion – This is how the product or service gains attention and eventually is sold. Whether it’s social media ads, print marketing campaigns, events, or search engine optimization (SEO), promotion is where marketing and public relations (PR) work hand-in-hand to answer consumer questions and fill shopping carts.

Types of Marketing

The types of marketing used within a marketing strategy depend on the product or services offered and where the target audience spends most of their time. Therefore, selecting the right combination of the different types of marketing efforts can make or break a marketing strategy. 

New types and sub-types of marketing make their way into the world every day, but here are a few commonly used marketing types:

  • Business to Consumer (B2C) – Marketing a product directly to the end consumer 
  • Business to Business (B2B) – Marketing a product to other businesses 
  • Social Media Marketing – Engaging customers on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Outbound Marketing – Reaching the masses with tools like billboards and commercials
  • Inbound Marketing – Consumer-initiated engagement from tools like SEO and content
  • Email Marketing – Engaging with potential customers through email
  • Stealth Marketing – Subliminal marketing in media, also called “product placement”
  • Digital Marketing – Targeted digital advertising via email, webpages, and search engines

What Is Advertising?

According to The Balance, advertising is “a marketing tool that lets you communicate with potential customers about your products or services through paid channels.” So if “promotion” from the Four Ps of Marketing and advertising sound similar, it’s because they are. 

Whether you’re a small independent business or a multinational corporation, advertising is an essential part of any marketing strategy. While small business owners may need to conduct their own market research, large corporations employ market researchers to determine the best places to share their paid media.

The Four Types of Advertising

As the times change, so must advertising. Of course, there are still traditional media outlets: television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and billboards. However, as we rely more heavily on our phones and mobile devices, the advertising landscape has shifted most of its priorities to digital. 

While advertising classifications can be broken down in numerous ways, there are four primary digital advertising styles: 

  • Display Advertising – Usually eye-catching ads that display a solid brand identity. They look like horizontal or vertical banners around a screen or targeted pop-up video ads that appear before, during, or after a video a consumer watches.  
  • Social Media Advertising – According to Demand Sage, the U.S. has 302.35 million active social media users, equating to 90 percent of the population. Advertisers capitalize on this by marketing their services on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. They can post their advertisements via stories, carousels, or videos.  
  • Mobile Advertising – Any advertisement designed to be consumed on a mobile device would be classified as mobile digital advertising. Display, video, in-app, or social media ads could all fall into this category. 
  • Native Advertising – Display and video ads can sometimes be distracting or even annoying to a consumer. This is why certain advertisers look for creative ways to conduct native advertising, seamlessly integrating ads that don’t look like ads into the content users are already consuming.

The Three Types of Media

The advertising styles above are classified as “paid media,” meaning the advertising professional or team must pay a fee to activate them in front of their audience. However, a few different types of media can be distributed as part of an advertising and marketing plan. These three types of media are foundational to the understanding of advertising at its core: 

  • Paid Media – This is any type of advertising, be it digital or traditional, that is created by an outside agency and paid for by someone who makes a product. Digital paid media tends to cost less and provide further reach, all while collecting data that can be used to re-strategize and broaden the scope of the target market or audience.  
  • Owned Media – This is utilizing a company’s already established communication channels to advertise its products. Whether it’s a blog, web page, newsletter, or email, the company has complete control over what media is distributed on its owned media outlet at no additional cost. 
  • Earned Media – Any third party that creates content to advertise a brand without the brand paying for such content is what’s known as earned media. Anything from an influencer vlogging about their favorite green juice to a lip gloss landing on a top 10 must-haves list, glowing reviews like these are an increasingly valuable form of advertising today.

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What Is the Difference Between Marketing and Advertising?

When comparing and contrasting advertising and marketing, you should note that advertising is but one cog in the machine of an overall marketing strategy. 

Where marketing seeks to understand the consumer by analyzing behavioral patterns, conducting focus groups, taking surveys, and creating a long-term strategy that optimizes promotional processes, advertising’s primary function is to create recognizable brand awareness and capitalize on media opportunities that target a specific demographic.

Both are necessary, but without a fully fleshed-out marketing strategy, the effectiveness of any advertising campaign, regardless of the outlet, is comparable to building a house on sand. So, to be clear, in the battle of marketing vs. advertising, the winner is whichever one you’re most drawn to.

What’s the Best Major for a Career in Marketing or Advertising?

With marketing and advertising both incorporating business strategy and creativity, you could explore many different career paths upon earning a degree in either subject. Also, due to ample overlap in data and skill sets, majoring in marketing shouldn’t preclude you from landing a job in advertising, and vice versa.

Marketing and Advertising Undergraduate Degrees

Let’s get down to how to become a digital marketer or advertiser. Many undergraduate degrees support a career in either advertising or marketing. Depending on which school you attend, the curriculum will be slightly different, and in some cases will change the degree offered. For example, schools like North Central College offer an array of relevant majors, minors, and concentrations to help you home in on your interests, such as: 

  • Bachelor of Arts in Marketing (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Marketing (BS)
  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Advertising (BA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies (BA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Media Studies Convergent/Interactive Media (BA)

Students with a bachelor’s degree in one field may decide that pursuing their graduate degree with another focus can provide them with specialized knowledge and skills, potentially increasing their marketability and employment opportunities.

Marketing and Advertising Careers

While a degree isn’t always required to procure a job in advertising or marketing, it has become a frequent expectation amongst employers, even for entry-level positions. Luckily, most skills acquired while studying marketing and/or advertising are highly transferable and can be leveraged to create opportunities in almost any industry.

Some entry-level positions that may be available with a degree in marketing or advertising include: 

  • Marketing Assistant
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Public Relations (PR) Coordinator
  • Sales Representative
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialist
  • Junior Copywriter
  • Assistant Art Director
  • Recruiting Specialist
  • Project Manager

Marketing, Advertising, and Your Academic Future

What was once your potential college, professors, and classmates will eventually become your training ground, mentors, and professional network. 

So, regardless of whether you’re leaning more toward an advertising or marketing program, look for an educational institution like North Central College that focuses on giving you tangible knowledge, real-world experience, and a support system along the way. 

Jacob Imm is the associate director of communication in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 13 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.



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