Advertising, Marketing: What’s the Diff?

While we were chatting this week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau‘s (IAB’s) new president and CEO Randall Rothenberg made an statement that underscored something I’ve been pondering of late.

“We’re about 100 percent of the marketing spend,” he said of the IAB’s scope and mission.

“But you’re the Interactive Advertising Bureau,” I countered. “Advertising is generally considered to be a subset of marketing. So are you guys going to change your name?”

“We’re just changing the definition,” Rothenberg replied. The body’s mission, he says, is to help marketing companies grow their businesses. “Do you limit yourself to the traditional notion of advertising, or do you think bigger than that?”

Bigger, or Just Different?

Are marketers thinking bigger or just (to paraphrase a marketing tagline) different in interactive digital environments?

Dictionary definitions of “advertising” and “marketing” are too general to really correlate with how the words are used, and viewed, by practitioners in either discipline.

Advertising has always more or less meant placing someone’s message on someone else’s media for a fee. Marketing is, well, that plus everything else: branding, PR, promotions, blogging, newsletters, e-mail, SEO (define), packaging, merchandising, direct mail, product placement, sponsorships, swag… the list goes on and on.

Perhaps the most substantive differentiator between advertising and marketing is the media buy. And while the buy isn’t exactly disappearing, online marketers are becoming quite accustomed to rolling their own media. And they’re getting more sophisticated in their approach to doing so.

Rothenberg pointed out that Procter & Gamble’s extensive site,, boasts traffic numbers that rival the leading print women’s magazines. I pointed to a number of examples last year. It’s only grown from there. Heck, Anheuser-Busch just launched its very own online TV network.

That doesn’t mean the company isn’t advertising, online or on TV. What it does mean is it has more control over its messaging. (Hey, it’s not just users who are seizing control.) Why wouldn’t you create your own network in addition to buying time on someone else’s, assuming you could at reasonable cost and had the means to drive the traffic? The online barriers to entry (for marketers and consumers alike) are very, very low.

Who Buys? Who Builds?

In a world in which advertising is more marketing-y and marketing more advertising-y, what becomes of the roles and functions of the people and companies that make all this stuff come about?

What of media buyers, if you’re building your own media? If you are building, who builds it? An agency? A publisher? Your own Web team?

“If everything is going to become interactive, where do you place your priorities?” Rothenberg asks. He was referring to convergence. Take TV, for example. It’s getting very interactive. Taken to an extreme, does this mean the IAB will subsume trade organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB), and Promax/BDA? Gobble down the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) as light snacks?

Extreme (and extremely unlikely) scenarios, to be sure. But a pretty a good indicator of where things are heading, nonetheless. TV, print, even outdoor are all firmly on the path toward interactivity.

Will Change Change Everything?

Back to the original question. If your interactive (ad) agency creates, say, a blog for your new product, are you marketing or advertising? If a user posts a TV spot for Volkswagen, Sony, or a purported mini mall to YouTube, is it still an ad? Should any of this result in a reexamination or shift in professional ethics and best practices?

At the end of the day, does it really matter whether you’re “marketing” or “advertising”?

Tell me what you think.

Meet Rebecca at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video in San Francisco on March 19, 2007.

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