Digital Marketing vs. Advertising

What exactly is the difference between digital marketing and advertising, and when is it appropriate to use each?

To illustrate the difference, let’s first define “marketing” and then “advertising”.


One of the best ways to understand marketing is to consider this scenario:

Say you walk into a classroom of 14-year-old school children. You ask this question, “Hey kids, which beer goes best with football and baseball?”

I’ll bet the answer that comes back from most of the kids is “Bud!” or “Budweiser!”.  That’s because the makers of Budweiser invest heavily in marketing, and they understand that marketing is all about influencing perception, even if the target audience isn’t in the market for what you’re offering at that moment.

Marketers shape your perception of brands in an effort to sway your preference.  They understand that you may not be ready to buy right now, however you will be in the market for what they’re selling at some time in the future.  Marketing is a slow, long-term process; it aims to change the buying preferences of a large number of people over time through positive association between the product/service being promoted and your likes and desires.  A successful marketing campaign results in you thinking highly of a particular product or service, even if you don’t need to buy that product or service at this time.


In contrast, the aim of advertising is to persuade you to buy something right now.  Advertisers communicate information about a product or service, and associate that product or service with some benefit. A perfect example of this is something you receive in the mail or see on television, offering a special price or discount for a limited time.  “Buy one large pizza, get the second one free every Tuesday!” is a great example of a benefit (“free pizza”) combined with a limited opportunity (“every Tuesday”).

Not all advertising is based on a benefit; sometimes advertising focuses on avoiding a negative. For example, “Get your flu shot now, before it’s too late!”, or a combination of benefit plus avoiding a negative, like this, “Our snow tires are at their lowest price of the season right now – come in before winter hits!”.

Digital Marketing

Now that you understand the difference between marketing and advertising, what is meant by “digital marketing”?

Digital marketing is simply those activities that happen online – on the Internet, on websites, on social media, even on your smartphone app – that shape your perception of a brand. This blog is an example of digital marketing; so are the websites you’ve visited today.  When a business, or an individual, pays attention to how they appear on the Internet, they are working on digital marketing – either for themselves, or for their business.

Knowing how to use advertising and digital marketing can help small businesses to compete — and succeed — in today’s highly competitive environment.

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