May I tell you the difference between Advertising, Marketing, and Media Buying?

Mary Donné
5 min readSep 1, 2022


Advertising and marketing are two closely related disciplines, but they are not the same thing. Pay Per Click (‘PPC’) advertising — Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Google etc — is ONE form of advertising, and is different from the others*. Why does this matter? Because understanding it will change the way you approach your online advertising, and may save you a heck of a lot of time and money.

Marketing is a broad discipline that encompasses all of the activities involved in getting a product or service from the manufacturer to the customer. It includes everything from product development and research, to promotion and sales. Most self-employed marketers will specialise in one or maybe two aspects of marketing e.g. branding.

Advertising is a limb of marketing that focuses on creating awareness of a product or service. It is media space or time which you pay for.

Up until about 10 years ago, you could expect most advertisers to have some sort of marketing training or background. I’m old school and started my career in a London agency where I learnt copywriting, research, and sales psychology. I’ve also worked in media buying. I mention this because, while thinking about it, I sometimes hear new or very young online advertisers refer to themselves as media buyers which is normally incorrect.

PPC advertising is, quite literally, when you run your ads on one of the platforms and every time someone clicks on your ad you pay the host a charge. It is not the same as media buying where you pay in advance for ‘impressions’ usually according to a geographic location. Understanding this can have a big impact on your budget. If you are paying for clicks then you need to make sure that your ad is effective and that people are actually engaging with it.

On the other hand, if you are paying for impressions then you need to make sure that your ad is seen by as many people as possible. Can you see the difference here? To put it more succinctly, a good and experienced online advertiser will understand that ‘reach’ (i.e. impressions) is usually far less important to a business than clicks and conversions and create their ads accordingly.

Online advertising is a process. In fact, anyone who’s ever listening to my training or presentations about Facebook ads may tell you they left the session with the words, ‘Facebook ads are a process’ ringing in their ears!

The process for creating a really good ad campaign starts with audience and competitor research. Even if you think you know who your audience is, unless you actually have hard evidence, then please don’t be tempted to skip this process. Firing out a bunch of online ads which you’ve narrowed down by ‘age’ and ‘gender’ is no different to standing outside Leeds train station and handing out flyers to every man/woman who looks like they’re about 30/50 years old or whatever your parameter was.

Marketers are taught how to create tailored audience personas. To go deep into your ideal customer’s psyche and get a feel for what they want, their needs and desires, their pain points, and how your product solves these. My own customer persona descriptions can take up five sheets of A4 paper — that’s how deep I go!

Then there are your competitors. What are they doing well? What could they (you) improve upon? How can you position yourself in a way that sets you apart from them.

Spending time on this, and doing it properly, really will save you time and money in the long run.

It’s at this point however that advertising deviates from marketing. Whereas a marketer will normally bring the product to the audience, an advertiser does it the other way around.

A marketer will take their product and, using a blend of approaches (PR, influencers, events etc), put it before the audience and encourage them to engage with it.

An advertiser is focused on creating messages that speak to the needs and interests of potential buyers. The goal is to reach as many people in the target audience as possible and lead them to the product (‘click here to learn more’).

This is a subtle but important difference in approach.

Perhaps you can now see that while online advertising is a discipline in itself, the most effective practitioners are the ones with a wide skill-base and a well-rounded background. I have met and worked with some fantastically data focussed and tech-minded PPC experts who could analyse and optimise campaigns to an amazing level but their advertising just didn’t convert. Usually because the advertiser was completely focussed on the metrics forgot to think from a customer-centric point of view.

Many self-styled ‘Facebook ads experts’ got caught out in the Apple iOS update a couple of years ago. This was because they were relying on third party data collected from pixels and email lists to target their ads to Facebook-curated lists of the customers. This change had a massive impact on their ability to do this and, as a result, those who had no real advertising training were left high and dry. It was a bit like relying 100% on your calculator to get you through an arithmetic test, and then being asked to take one without it.

A good online advertiser should:

· Write great copy

· Create and utilise graphics and imagery

· Understand the numbers

· Be able to conduct proper research

· Have some understanding of audience and buyer psychology

· Understand the tech (e.g. basic coding and integrations)

Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you now know that online advertising is its own unique beast that should not be approached with the same mindset as marketing or media-buying. It requires a different skill set and knowledge base to create great ads. When someone asks for ‘Facebook Ads’ what they are asking for is one small part of a much larger whole. If a new or inexperienced advertiser doesn’t really understand how all their different pieces fit together, it’s going to be hard to create a great, effective campaign that converts.

Did you learn anything new reading this? Let me know in the comments!

In case you were wondering, the others are: Native advertising, Display advertising, Print advertising, Broadcast advertising, Outdoor advertising.



Mary Donné

Media Buyer | House Stark 🐺 | Slytherin 🐍 | ENTJ | Gen X 🎸