Difference between an advertising agency and a marketing agency?

“What’s the difference between an advertising agency and a marketing agency?”

We get this question from people looking for help for their business or even college students looking into possible careers.

Here’s our best answer:

It just depends.

Lame answer?

Maybe, but it is the truth because the lines are so blurred between the two.

Traditionally an Advertising Agency focuses on creating exposure (and thus revenue) through commercials and direct marketing mediums.

Think radio, tv, billboards, and direct mail.

A marketing agency (or marketing firm) will dive deeper into the marketing strategy.

Now you might be wondering what we align with… and we identify as an advertising agency.

That’s because that’s what people are most frequently looking for:

What's the difference between an advertising agency and a marketing agency?

Above are the search results for various terms related to our industry (in the United States via Google Keyword Planner).

You can see a clear winner for the term advertising agency.

In our case the lines are so blurred that it is most advantageous to identify with what people are seeking out.

Here’s my theory on why the lines are blurry.

Advertising is sexy.

Marketing strategy is not.

People want an exciting attention grabbing commercial that people will remark about.

However, that doesn’t increase leads on it’s own. There needs to be a strategy revolving around it.

The city of Los Angeles is putting together a marketing strategy to convince residents to conserve more water.

Here’s a radio ad that played in LA and was turned into a web video as well:


This is a great ad because the majority of people love Steve Carell.

His likability buys our attention.

The personification of “the drop” is a fun technique that helps make the piece much more interesting.

Like you’re a hero saving a damsel in distress.

An advertising agency can do all of this but a marketing agency takes things further.

The marketing agency creates the website, posters, and generates PR for the campaign.

They most likely had a hand in creating the demonstration rig that moves around the city too.

You can see all of this on their website.

Advertising is just a step in the process. A marketing agency helps to craft the full experience for the consumer.

The reason the answer “depends” is because it just depends on who you’re talking to.

There are business owners who want a comprehensive marketing strategy and they’re searching for advertising agencies.

They’re not wrong, it’s just a difference in language and understanding.

That’s why as a business owner it pays to listen to the intent of the customer and not just what they claim to be looking for.

You can learn more about our process and approach by clicking here.