Digital advertising Vs. digital marketing – what’s the difference?
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Digital advertising Vs. digital marketing – what’s the difference?

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

Marketing is a must… and not just because you think so. In this competitive age where every business is pushing through to get their message across, choosing a powerful and effective customer acquisition channel can be intimidating. Trying to figure out how to develop the strategy is enough to keep anyone up at night.

If you were to choose between digital marketing and digital advertising, which one would you go for?

Marketing and Advertising.

Are they the same?

Sure, both advertising and marketing are interrelated in several ways. In fact, a lot of marketers use them interchangeably.

Read: The definitive guide to optimising your sales funnel

Ironically, those who have studied digital marketing, digital advertising, or both use the two terms interchangeably and they do it confidently.

Some of the bugging questions we need to get out of the way are:

  • Are these two different terms?
  • Is digital marketing different from digital advertising? If so, to what extent?
  • Do I need a digital advertising plan or a digital marketing plan for my business?
  • Should I contact a digital marketing agency or a digital advertising agency for business growth?

These are some of the questions that will be discussed in detail in this article. Once you finish reading this article, you’ll hopefully be in a position to conceptualise and use digital marketing and digital advertising to grow your business.

Let’s start by looking at the definitions of both digital marketing and digital advertising.

Digital advertising

Wikipedia defines digital advertising as a form of marketing and advertising in which the messages are delivered to the target audience through the internet.

Digital advertising is also referred to as online advertising, web advertising, internet marketing, and more.

Chron defines digital advertising as a marketing media that is digitally displayed.

A much simpler definition comes from the balance, “if you see an ad on the internet, it is known as digital advertising. Pretty simple, right?”

Here’s how Marc Slutsky, the author of Smart Marketing defines it:

“The advertising campaign is the media that you use during a certain time frame to promote a product, service, or an event.”

So digital advertising is simply an ad on the internet.

Here’s an example of a digital ad promoting a chatbot. You see this banner ad pretty much all over the internet because Google display is the advertising channel used. It’s purely a form of digital advertising.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

The ads that you see in search results are also a type of digital advertising.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

So, when you run ads online to promote your products, services, business, or create brand awareness, you’re engaging in online advertising.

There are three main types of digital advertising, such as:

  • Pay Per Click search ads – also known as PPC (AdWords search ads, Bing ads, and Search7 ads)
  • Display ads (banner, static, video, mobile, pop-up, etc.)
  • Social ads (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc.)

When you see a suggested post on Facebook, then you’re looking at a social ad which is a form of digital ad too.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

What is Digital Marketing?

According to Wikipedia, digital marketing is an umbrella term for marketing using digital technologies.

Business Dictionary defines it as a promotion of products/services via any form of electronic media.

Dave Chaffey defined digital marketing in his book Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation, and Practice, as achieving marketing objectives by applying digital technologies and media.

According to HubSpot, digital marketing is any form of marketing that is done online.

In a nutshell, digital marketing is the marketing that’s done on the internet or through digital technologies. In order to fully understand digital marketing, it’s critical to understand what marketing is.

Marketing is defined by American Marketing Association 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.”

Ever heard of 4Ps of marketing? Truth is, that’s actually what marketing is all about. It’s the process of putting the product in the right place at the right price at the right time.

When all of this is done using the internet, it transforms into digital marketing.

According to Chaffey, digital marketing includes managing different forms of online company presence such as the website, social media accounts, mobile app, etc.

HubSpot states that there are several assets and tactics that are part of digital marketing starting from company’s website to branding including digital advertising, email marketing, blog posts, infographics, logos, tools, white-papers, and everything else that is helpful in online promotion.

There are six different types of digital marketing:

  1. SEO
  2. SMM
  3. Content marketing
  4. Email marketing
  5. Online advertising
  6. Online PR

The following infographic puts everything about digital marketing into perspective.

This makes one thing clear, digital marketing is a broader term while digital advertising is just a part of digital marketing.

Is digital advertising necessary for your business?

No. It isn’t.

Your online business can survive without digital advertising.

Why? Because it’s just one way to promote your products on the internet. You can use any other medium to attract leads and customers and as long as you’re seeing results, it’s absolutely fine.

Your business needs digital advertising to generate traffic which is the third stage of the digital marketing process as defined by emarkable. You can choose to generate traffic from any other tactic via a search engine (e.g., Google), social media, email marketing, press release, content marketing, etc.

Digital advertising is just one part of your marketing mix. You need it the at promotion stage to inform target audience about your products and services.

Although digital marketing is one option, you don’t necessarily have to use this form of advertising at the promotion stage to reach your target audience. ADP, for instance, used content marketing to connect and engage with their target audience.

They used white papers and assessment tools. The campaign generated well over $1 million in sales within 3 months.

The company didn’t use any other form of marketing. They didn’t use any ads to drive traffic and to generate sales.

So you can see that you can run a business successfully without digital advertising.

Twist Image is a website that was founded in 2000. The founder never ran a single ad. They never used digital advertising and they’re still doing very well today.

Is digital marketing necessary for your business?


You can’t be in business without digital marketing. Better yet, if you want to cut through the noise and finally drive loyal customers to your brand, you need to market digitally.

It defines the strategy on how you’ll market your business, how you’ll define the target audience, how you’ll attract, convert, and retain customers for your business. There is a whole lot of different things that are in the mind of a digital marketer.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is a strategy that helps you run your business without assumptions. It has multiple stages, here are some to name a few (as defined by HubSpot):

  • Defining the target audience and developing buyer personas.
  • Identifying goals and objective for digital marketing.
  • Evaluating digital marketing channels such as SEO, content marketing, PPC, etc.
  • Audit existing channels and acquire new channels.
  • Analysis and monitoring.

In a broader sense, it is a complete process that runs your business on the internet.

Clearly, a business will struggle to thrive without digital marketing.

The differences between digital advertising and digital marketing

In the section below, I’ll list all the noticeable differences between digital advertising and digital marketing so that you know when you’ve to use advertising and when marketing makes more sense.

Digital advertising is a subset of digital marketing

The definitions and types of digital advertising/marketing make one thing clear: digital advertising is a subset of digital marketing. It’s just one aspect of it.

When you want to market in a digital channel you need to begin with the business idea. When you share the business idea with an expert, you’re involved in marketing – not advertising.

The product idea, product creation, packaging, pricing, finding the target audience, defining marketing segments, are all the essential parts of your business marketing strategy.

Digital advertising comes into play when you use the internet to advertise your products or services or business or brands — that’s when you use one of the three types of digital advertising discussed above to promote your products or to generate traffic.

Digital advertising is one part of the digital marketing amongst several others. The purpose of all the marketing techniques is to generate traffic so you can choose any tactic that will grow your business. It could be SEO or PPC or both.

Digital marketing is a process while digital advertising is an activity

Digital marketing is a process that begins from the moment you choose the name of your business or even before that.

The process is continuous and never-ending. It starts from the market research phase and moves all the down to control and refining stage and the data from refining stage is then used again for research and to create a new marketing strategy.

In a nutshell, everything that you do online or share online is part of your business’ digital marketing process and strategy.

The McDonald’s iced fruit smoothie app is a perfect example of the digital marketing process. McDonald’s partnered with Innocent to promote its smoothies and ice cream.

Instead of creating a new app, McDonald’s partnered with apps that consumers had already downloaded. By playing a simple game, consumers win a free smoothie.

This partnership was McDonald’s digital marketing process to increase the sales of smoothie and ice creams. It wasn’t a digital advertising campaign because they never ran a single ad. The process began by:

  • Identifying the objectives
  • Creating buyer personas
  • Finding partner opportunities
  • Evaluating opportunities
  • Pushing the message
  • Tracking and refining the offers

This is how digital marketing process works.

Digital advertising, on the other hand, is an activity in the entire digital marketing process. In the image above, digital advertising fits in Step 6: Promote — where the purpose is to promote the published content, product, or anything else via ads to get exposure and traffic.

A digital advertiser needs input from the digital marketer in the form of what to promote, when to promote, what the advertising budget is, etc. The marketer will then create ads to send traffic to a landing page. It’s just a tiny activity in the entire digital marketing process.

Digital advertising is tactical while digital marketing is strategic in nature

Let’s start by understanding the difference between tactical and strategic operations.

The strategy is the plan that might be complex and often involves decision-making, patterns, and several activities while the tactic is the means used to obtain the desired goal.

Digital advertising is tactical in nature. It defines how you’ll promote the product or an offer to the target audience. It has a short time frame and can be easily replicated.

For instance, you might need to run a social ad on Facebook to promote your new product in order to increase sales during Christmas. Once you achieve the desired goal, you can stop the campaign and shift to another advertising campaign or channel.

On the other hand, digital marketing is strategic in nature. In fact, it’s deeply rooted in your business’ strategy. It involves:

  • Planning
  • Defining objectives
  • Setting annual goals
  • Setting marketing budget
  • Defining marketing metrics
  • Developing means to achieve the objectives

This strategy marketing plan has the potential longerity and is not easily replicated.

Let me share the case study of B2B Inbound Marketer, which grew its website from 0 to 4,000 monthly visitors in 4 years. Sounds too much, right? Well, the founder John Beveridge developed a digital marketing strategy from day one he knew the plan and what his projections were.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

This is what digital marketing does.

As compared to an advertising campaign that can show results instantly. Angela Ponsford ran a Facebook ad campaign to generate leads. She spent $507 which resulted in $1980 of revenue and collected 400 leads.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

The campaign was successful and there wasn’t any long-term planning behind it. She created the ad and that’s all.

Remember an advertising campaign doesn’t impact business if it fails but a digital marketing campaign severely hurts the business if it fails.

Digital advertising creates brand awareness while digital marketing develops the brand

The purpose of digital advertising is to promote the brand or generate sales. An advertisement is defined as a promotional message to sell a product. In the case of digital advertising, it is more related to traffic generation.

In all the cases, advertising is either used to promote a brand, a product or a service, or an idea.

For instance, LEGO used three documentaries to build brand awareness among mothers. They targeted mothers through Facebook ads and lifted brand awareness by 7-point.

On the other hand, marketing is used to develop a brand image and how your target audience perceives your brand when they see a logo or hear about your brand. The image is developed by digital marketing.

Again, it’s deep rooted in the strategy and can’t be achieved in a few months, it takes years. You have to develop a strategy to show your brand and its message to your target audience over and over again. This way, you’ll create an unforgetable brand.

Digital marketing is strategic in nature, therefore, a carefully-crafted strategy will help build a brand as compared to digital advertising that will only give a slight push to sales or brand awareness.

Digital advertising is sales-focused while digital marketing is focused on audience psychology

When you run a search PPC campaign or a banner ad campaign, the purpose is to send traffic to your landing page and collect leads, right?

Digital marketing on the otherhand is not always intended to drive sales. Though the ultimate objective is to increase sales and maximise revenue, especially with personalised message, but the path that is used to achieve this objective is fairly different.

For instance, you have to conduct market research to understand your target audience and to figure out the demand for your product. Similarly, when you write and publish a blog post, the purpose is to build a relationship with your readers.

This is what makes digital marketing audience psychology-focused.

The first step of the digital marketing process is to understand your target audience and create buyer personas. This cannot be achieved by understanding audience psychology.

Again, digital marketing takes into account the entire target audience by developing buyer personas — while digital advertising only focuses a specific segment of the target market that can be reached via any form of ad.

The similarities between digital advertising and digital marketing

Despite all the differences discussed above, there are quite a few similarities between the two.

The ultimate goal is to increase revenue

The objective of digital advertising is to boost sales in short-term while the objective of digital marketing is to boost sales in long-term. The approach used is different but the ultimate goal is to increase revenue.

Businesses exist to earn revenue.

The approach to increasing revenue by generating sales is different. In the case of digital advertising, ads are used to drive instant sales. This results in instant sales and revenue as it happened with Jordan Schaffel who ran a PPC campaign for one hour. He spent $243 and earned $70K in sales.

It was instant sales and the ROI was amazing. Jordan says:

“No other media purchase could ever provide this type of ROI, not print, not mail, not TV…nothing!”

Sure, no media beats digital advertising.

Not even digital marketing.

Digital marketing is time-consuming and you need to set clear goals to achieve great results. It doesn’t focus on short-term sales rather the idea is to focus on business growth by focusing on building customer relationships.

Cisco created a social media listening centre that helps them reap $1.5 million in pure benefits every year. They have reduced agency costs and the process has been working awesome for them.

Digital marketing ROI is consistent and huge as compared to that of digital advertising. Though, it may take some time before you start to see results.

Digital advertising and digital marketing are linked

Digital advertising can’t be done in isolation. The data for running an advertising campaign is provided by the digital marketing strategy such as buyer personas, campaign objective, landing page, lead magnet, core product, conversion funnel, etc.

Since digital advertising is part of the overall marketing, therefore, it has to be linked to the strategy in some way.

Digital marketing can exist without digital advertising. For instance, you can stick to content marketing and SEO for reaching your target audience. In this case, you’ll not have a digital advertising campaign but the marketing campaign will continue to work.

Can you use the terms interchangeably

The simple answer is no.

Despite the similarities between the two terms, these are different terms. You shouldn’t use these two terms interchangeably.

Digital advertising and digital marketing aren’t synonyms.

When these terms are used interchangeably, it gets hard to understand what you mean.

For instance, you need a digital marketing agency to help your business with growth and sales. If you don’t have a digital marketing strategy or plan in place, ask your agency to create one for you.

If you search for a digital advertising agency, they won’t help you in creating a digital marketing strategy because their job is to run and manage ads, not aid your strategy.

Imagine, you use Google to find a digital marketing agency and end up dealing with an advertising agency. You’ll waste your time.

This is what happens every day on the internet. All types of businesses contact digital marketing agencies to manage their Facebook ad campaigns and contact advertising agencies to create a customised digital marketing strategy for their business.

Every day, businesses waste a few good hours sending inquiries to wrong agencies.

This is not just related to finding an agency but using these terms interchangeably creates unneeded confusion.

Can you use digital advertising instead of digital marketing and vice versa?

Absolutely not.


It would be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make and you won’t get any other chances because doing so will result in total waste of time and money.

Imagine running a PPC campaign instead of creating a digital marketing plan first or without having a landing page. This will hurt your brand and result in huge losses.

You can use digital advertising in place of any other traffic generation technique such as SEO, SMM, content marketing, etc., but it should never replace digital marketing.

When to use digital advertising

Digital advertising is your business’ best friend for several reasons. But the fact of the matter is, your target audience hates ads. They use ad blockers to block ads. As you can see, an ad won’t be of much use if your target audience doesn’t see it. The most common reasons for using ad blockers are:

  • Ads are annoying.
  • Ads interrupt browsing.
  • Ads are perceived as a security threat.
  • Removing ads improve page load time.

Whenever you’re running an ad campaign, keep these end-user concerns in mind and create ads in a way that they’re perceived as healthy and friendly by your target audience (more on this coming soon).

Here’s a list of reasons when you should use digital advertising.

1. Drive sales and boost ROI

When you need to boost ROI and increase sales, there doesn’t seem to be anything better than a digital advertising campaign.

According to Nielsen, businesses that engage in digital advertising receive $3 for every $1 spent. Nielsen has been working with over 300 brands for the last 7 years and have completed well over 800 studies.

Of course, it makes sense too. If your ads are optimised, they’re sure to increase sales and will give a decent return on every dollar spent.

2. Digital creative lift brands

Are you interested in improving your brand’s awareness? Of course you are, who isn’t?.

In that case, digital advertising might help.

Digital advertising can help businesses improve brand awareness. Running a quick display PPC campaign will put your brand in front of several eyeballs.

The quality of your ad helps to create brand awareness and increase customer engagement. In a study by comScore, it was found that high-quality creative ads drive more than half of the sales. The number of sales generated in the study was 4x higher than the overall impact of the entire media plan.

While you’re busy running ad campaigns, don’t ignore the ad quality to boost sales.

In another study by IAB, the interactive mobile rising star ads received 3x greater interaction, 74% increase in brand recall, and improved brand image by 83%.

With so much that you’ve got to offer, you cannot ignore digital advertising and interactive ads at this point. Never.

3. Reach your target audience

Use digital advertising when you’re interested in reaching your entire audience.

The time spent on digital media like mobile and the internet has surpassed the time spent on TV, radio, and other media. Therefore, to reach a wider audience and to reach your full audience, you should run ads on the media which is mostly used by your target audience.

The average time spent on the internet daily is expected to increase and this is why digital advertising should be a MUST in your digital marketing strategy.

4. Increases the ROI of other media

When you’re promoting your business through multiple types of media, using digital advertising will help in multiple ways.

This form of advertising doesn’t just boost sales and ROI for your online store, but it increases the ROI and effectiveness of non-digital channels by as much as 70%.

All you’ve got to do is add digital advertising to your media mix – it’s not rocket science.

If you’re promoting your products across multiple non-digital channels such as TV, radio, print, outdoor, etc. adding a digital advertising campaign will increase the ROI of all the non-digital campaigns.

This is one of many reasons why you should use digital advertising.

5. Drive instant traffic

Digital ads are best when you need instant traffic to your website or landing page.

Other online promotion techniques such as SEO and content marketing don’t generate instant traffic. For instance, SEO takes anywhere from 10 to 22 weeks to show results.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

However, digital advertising is instant. You start getting traffic as soon as your ad goes live. How cool?

When to use digital marketing

There is no point in running an online (or even an offline) business without a digital marketing strategy. If you don’t know when to use it, here are a few sure cases when nothing works better than digital marketing.

i) When you have no clue: not sure what to do and how to increase sales?

Not sure where your business is heading?

Research shows that 50% of business don’t have a digital marketing strategy while a futher 18% don’t have it integrated into the marketing strategy.

When you need something to work and need clear direction, a digital marketing strategy comes into play. It clearly defines objectives and how to achieve them.

ii) Reduce marketing cost: When you’re sick of investing heavily on TV, trade shows, telemarketing, and other traditional marketing media and things don’t seem to work, you should move to digital marketing.

It’s cost-effective. More than 40% of businesses reported that they were able to save a significant amount by either switching to digital marketing or integrating digital marketing into their traditional marketing strategy.

Digital marketing is less expensive than all the other media channels out there. It is, therefore, the best bet not only when looking for affordable marketing channels but for startups too.

Digital Advertising Vs Digital Marketing

iii) Reach more people: When you plan to reach every single individual in your target audience while communicating in a language that they will understand, you need digital marketing. It helps you find and contact people that otherwise would seem impossible to reach.

An average user now spends 3x more time on social media; do product research online; and is more likely to buy if one of his friends have liked that product on Facebook.

Your business needs a digital marketing strategy to reach your target audience online. It”s mandatory. Your target audience is already using the internet, so it’s time to start using digital marketing and targeting them.

iv) Improve business performance: if you intend to improve performance, you need to define a digital marketing strategy which can also help reduce cost, reduce resource wastes, improve team productivity, and build a strong customer relationship.

A rigorous digital marketing strategy improves business performance since it integrates into marketing and business strategy. Above all, it improves customer experience.

A study by Forrester says that a well-thought, clearly defined, and well-integrated digital marketing strategy lets business take “a user-centred approach to understanding the needs and behaviours of their omnichannel customers and filling in the experience gaps in a disciplined manner.”


Digital advertising and digital marketing are clearly two different but related terms. You now know what each means, how these two are different, and when each one has to be used.

Spread the word and help others understand the differences.

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Michael Chibuzor
Michael Chibuzor
Researcher. Writer. Content marketer. Known for his killer headlines, well-researched articles and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael’s content can be found across the internet. Since signing-up for Fabrik, traffic, social interactions and rankings have gone through the stratosphere. No coincidence there, then.

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