Advertising is a Marketing Tactic

A recent AdAge article exemplifies a common mistake exhibited by a great majority of journalists, professionals, students and even academics alike: mistaking advertising for marketing and conflating the two. In fact, the best way to spot someone who doesn’t know their advertising from their marketing is to listen to them conflate the two as if they are one and the same thing. Funny enough, as the title of the article suggests, most marketers have no idea what you do and most people have no idea what marketers do!

The best way to set the record straight once and for all is to put things in context using some fundamental definitions that help everything make sense:

The purpose of business is to create value for profit.

The purpose of design is to create value.

The purpose of marketing is to engage the marketplace by delivering & communicating value.

As with the above definitions of business and design, the definition of marketing contains a few fundamental keywords:


Marketing must assist business in creating value by first and foremost identifying the market opportunity for whatever product or service the business aims to deliver to its intended consumer(s). In other words, without an understanding of the market opportunity, no business can ever take the first step of establishing itself because business must know what its product or service offering is and who might benefit from it — before anything else can happen, otherwise it is not a business. Notice that a market opportunity assessment can be made even before a product or service idea might come to exist, or even before a business is named and/or officially registered. Sometimes, an invention or solution to a problem is developed as a result of tinkering, but then the inventor has to determine who might benefit from the invention and how the marketplace might react to such a new product or service offering. Therefore, a business is engaging in marketing at the first instance its founder realizes that the business must come into existence or to engage the marketplace, whether or not the founder is in fact cognizant of the fact that he or she is marketing! To put it another way, a business — by virtue of needing to engage the marketplace to transact with consumers — must be marketing. No business can avoid marketing because to engage the marketplace is to be marketing. Therefore, marketing is not some activity a business can choose to engage in or not. To be in business is to be marketing because that is what business does when it delivers value to the marketplace.


Marketing must assist business in communicating the value of its product and/or service offering to its target consumers. This is where most people misunderstand marketing because as consumers, we are all exposed at one time or another to interruptive advertisements or telemarketers bothering us during dinner. Over time, we begin to associate such tactics with marketing in general especially if we have never been exposed to marketing as a discipline to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. It is true that marketing must ultimately communicate the value of a business to its intended audience, but such behavior is referred to as tactics that marketers have at their disposal and not all marketers use all tactics available to them. Therefore, marketers can absolutely get away with marketing without ever engaging in advertising as a tactic.


Ultimately business is about creating value for profit and marketing assists business in delivering and communicating that value to its target consumer by understanding what consumers value, what solutions competitors might be offering that may impact perceived value, what pricing the marketplace is willing to value product or service offerings at, how best to maximize customer lifetime value and a host of other issues related to the notion of value.

Therefore, marketing is a discipline and advertising is only one tactic that some marketers may (or may not) engage in. It is important to use the correct terminology when referencing the discipline vs. the tactics used therein so as to minimize confusion while maximizing clarity and understanding.