Marketing Vs. Advertising: Making It Personal

Last year I wrote a lot about the erosion of the advertising bargain between advertisers and their audience. Without rehashing at length, let me summarize by simply stating that we no longer are as accepting of advertising because we now have a choice. One of those columns sparked a podcast on Beancast.



As the four panelists -- all of whom are marketing/advertising professionals -- started debating the topic, they got mired down in the question of what is advertising, and what is marketing. They’re not alone. That confuses me, too.

I’ve spent all my life in marketing, but this was a tough column to write. I really had to think about what the essential differences of advertising and marketing were, casting aside the textbook definitions and getting to something that resonated at an intuitive level.

I ran into the same conundrum as the panelists. The disruption that's washing over our industry is also washing away the traditional line drawn between the two. So I did what I usually do when I find something intellectually ambiguous: tried to simplify down to the most basic analogy I could think of.

When it comes to me -- as a person -- what would  be equivalent to marketing, what would be advertising, and -- just to muddy the waters a little more -- what would be branding?  If we can reduce this to something we can gut-check, maybe the answers will come more easily.

Let’s start with branding. Your brand is what people think of you as a person. Are you a gentleman or an asshole? Smart, funny, pedantic, prickly, stunningly stupid? Fat and lazy, or lean and athletic?

Notice that I said your brand is what other people think of you, not what you think of yourself. How you conduct yourself as a person will influence the opinions of others, but ultimately your brand is arbitrated one person at a time, and you are not that person.

To me, although it involves other people, marketing is somewhat faceless and less intimate. In a way, It’s more unilateral then advertising. Again, to take it back to our personal analogy, marketing is simply the social you -- the public extension of who you are. One might say that your personal approach to marketing is you saying “This is me, take it or leave it!”

But advertising is different. It focuses on a specific recipient. It implies a bilateral agreement. Again, analogously speaking, it’s like asking another person for a favor. There is an implicit or explicit exchange of value. It involves an overt attempt to influence.

Let’s further refine this into a single example. You’re invited to a party at a friend’s house. When you walk in the door, everyone glances over to see who’s arrived. When they recognize you, each person immediately has their own idea of who you are and how they feel about you.

That is your brand. It has already been formed by your marketing, how you have interacted with others your entire life. At that moment of recognition, your own brand is beyond your control.

But now, you have to mingle. You scan the room and see someone you know who is already talking to someone else. You walk over, hoping to work your way into their conversation. That, right there, is advertising. You’re asking for their attention. They have to decide whether to give it to you or not. How they decide will be dependent on how they feel about you, but it will also depend on what else they’re doing -- how interesting the conversation they’re already engaged in is.

Another variable is their expectation of what a conversation with you might hold, and the anticipated utility of said conversation. Are you going to tell them some news that would be of great interest to them, ask for a favor, or just bore them to tears?

So, the success of the advertising exchange in the eyes of the recipient can be defined by three variables: emotional investment in the advertiser (brand love), openness to interruption and expected utility if interrupted.

If this analogy approximates the truth of what is the essential nature of advertising, why do I feel advertising is doomed?

I don’t think it has anything to do with branding. I’ve gone full circle on this, but right now, I believe brands are more important than ever. No, the death of advertising will be attributable to the other two variables: Do we want to be interrupted -- and, if the answer is yes, what do we expect to gain by allowing the interruptions?

First of all, let’s look at our openness to interruption. It may sound counterintuitive, but our obsession with multitasking actually makes us less open to interruption.

Think of how we’re normally exposed to advertising content. It’s typically on a screen of some type. We may be switching back and forth between multiple screens, juggling a full load of enticing cognitive invitations: checking our social media feeds, deciding which video to watch, tracking down a wanted website, trying to load an article that interests us. The expected utility of all these things is high. We have "fear of missing out," big time!

This is just when advertising interrupts us, with brands asking us to pay attention to their message.

“Paying attention” is exactly the right phrase to use. Attention is a finite resource that can be exhausted  and that’s exactly what multitasking does. It exhausts our cognitive resources.

The brain, in defense, becomes more miserly with those resources. The threshold that must be met to allow the brain to allocate attention goes up. The way the brain does this is not simply to ignore anything not meeting the attention worthy threshold, but to actually mildly trigger a negative reaction, causing a feeling of irritation with whatever it is that is begging for our attention. This is a hard-wired response meant to condition us for the future.

Secondly, what is the expected utility of paying attention to advertising? This goes hand in hand with the thought that advertising was always type of a toll gate we had to pass through to access content -- but now, we have choices. The expected utility of the advertising-supported content has been largely removed from the equation, leaving us with just the expected utility of the advertisement itself.

The brain is constantly running an algorithm that balances resource allocation against reward -- and in our new environment, the resource allocation threshold keeps getting higher as the reward keeps getting lower.

3 comments about "Marketing Vs. Advertising: Making It Personal".
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  1. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, February 5, 2019 at 6:06 p.m.

    There is theory and there is practice. I combine both in the marketplace, school and in court.  Advertising is a small part of Marketing. I have taught both subjects in the MBA programs at USC, UCLA, LMU and all five campuses of Pepperdine, for 40+ years and have been a Marketing and advertisng client as well as working in account management at Grey.

    For 12 years, I have a presentation, at Law Schools and Grad Schools, which goes for about 60- 90 minutes and it is titled "What is Marketing? What is Advertising?" I give dozens of practical examples.  Marketing and advertising are not interchangeable words. Never have been. 

    I have a website There are nine P's of Marketing (r) (copyright 2007) which includes Planning or Research; Product; Place or Distribution; Promotion; Price or Pricing; People or Targeting; Partners; Passion and Presentation. The 9P's break down each component, with eight components or parts under Promotion. Advertising is just one of those eight. 

    Advertising is a small component of Marketing. 

  2. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, February 6, 2019 at 1:26 p.m.

    IMHO, you are confusing "advertising" with the P standing for Promotion

    Always laugh at those people (academic or not) thinking they are "creators", "inventors", just because they try to add a new P to the original 4.

    You can add 120 Ps to the Product P, 34 to the Price P, 345 to the Place P, and 1989 to the Promotion P and still you will end focusing on the original 4... I have even read that the "Package P is a new P". Anyhow, just because its name starts with P doesn't mean you have a "brand new P"

    Something you forgot to mention is the new trend about marketing: making a business work (grow, get revenue, adapt to market changes --sustainability and social responsibility-- and focusing on the global vision while trying to going local with clients)

    It was nice to know your positioin and enjoyed picturing myself entering to the room and being welcomed by almost everyone ;-)

    Keep it going, articles like these are needed and not those silly ones metioning "4 ways to make Instragram work" et al.


  3. Stephen C from Retired, February 7, 2019 at 12:21 p.m.


    ...behave yourself.

    An open challenge to any reader (or author) of this post, to define in one sentence "What is Marketing?" Until you can define it, you're not in a position to argue the differences between Marketing and Advertising. @Greg I believe you understand the difference (and without the need for ridiculous extra Ps). Would love to see your definition of Marketing.

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