Advertising and promotion are two related marketing tools, both widely used in the modern world. At first glance, it may be difficult to understand what exactly the difference between them is, since they both use many of the same techniques, and apply them for very similar ends. A few things differentiate one from the other, however, including the scope of time involved, overall cost, impact on sales, the purpose, and what kind of companies the technique is suitable for.
Both advertising and promotion are types of marketing, involved in getting information about a product out to the buying public. Advertising is usually undertaken by mid- to large-level firms, which come up with cohesive messages that help strengthen the brand and aim to build long-term sales. It includes things like buying radio or television spots, printing up advertisements in regional or national papers, hiring guerrilla marketing teams to spread the word about the product, or billboard or poster campaigns.
Advertising has as its goal not only an increase in sales in the short- to mid-term, but also a strengthening of the brand and image of the company and products, to build long-term sales and consumer loyalty. Advertising is a costly endeavor, and it can be months or even years before results are seen from a successful ad campaign. As a result, measuring sales directly from advertising can be difficult, although overall trends will of course be noticeable. Advertising is, as a result of its long-term agenda and high cost, best suited for large or larger medium-sized companies, which have the budget for comprehensive campaigns and a higher interest in building long-term sales.
Promotion, on the other hand, is a more short-term strategy. Although brand-building may occur as a result of promotions, it is not the point. The only real purpose of such a campaign is to build sales in the short term, either to move a company back into the black, to build capital reserves for expansion, or as a long-term strategy of constant promotional pushes to reach sales goals. Promotions include things like two-for-one specials, coupons in the local or regional paper, free samples, or special in-store events.
Because promotions are so easy to set up, and tend to be created for short-term gains, they are well-suited to small- or medium-sized companies. Although ad agencies may come up with promotional campaigns as part of a larger ad campaign, they are the sort of thing that even a one-person company can put together to help drive sales. This is not to say that larger companies don’t use promotions, of course, and many rely heavily on them in tandem with larger regional or national ad campaigns. Coupons, heavily discounted products, and value-added services like technical support are all examples of promotions that might be used by national chains.
There is, of course, a great deal of overlap between advertising and promotion. The two disciplines feed and support one another, and healthy ad campaigns often rely on promotions and visa versa. For example, a company may offer a two-for-one coupon on a product for two weeks before Christmas, with this promotion expected to bring in more business. For months before hand, the same company would likely have an ad campaign pushing that same product, and the campaign would continue for months after the promotion. The promotion, in this case, serves to bring a surge of interest in at a specific time during the campaign, helping to make it more effective.