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The Complete Guide to Online Advertising



What is advertising?

Advertising is a step within the marketing process in which brands produce a piece of media (called an advertisement, advert or ad) that encourages potential customers to buy a product or service. One of the main differences between advertising and other types of marketing is that you pay to distribute ads. In traditional advertising, you would pay a publisher for an ad spot or rent space from the owner of a billboard. In digital advertising, you would pay a platform, such as YouTube, Facebook, Google and websites. Advertising is one of the oldest marketing strategies, and as a result has a plethora of tested best practices. It's also intricately linked with branding, and advertising is usually another way in which brands manage their branding efforts.

To get started on your advertising journey consider creating a blog or creating a website with a website builder.

By 2026 global spending on advertising is set to hit a trillion US dollars. In 2020, according to Statista, Proctor and Gamble was the world's largest global advertiser - spending $8 billion on its advertising efforts. Overall worldwide advertising spend increased by 8% in 2022, with the US leading as the biggest ad spender.

History of advertising

The very first mass advertising campaigns began in the 19th century among, believe it or not, soap businesses. The very first brand manager ever believed to be hired in that specific role was Thomas J. Barratt in 1865, (or the father of modern advertising as he is more often known) at Pears Soap where he worked on creating slogans and images for the company. One of his first major coups was to use West End stage actress Lillie Langtry as the brands first poster girl, and this is now believed to be one of the earliest instances of celebrities being used to advertise commercial products.

Advertising took another major leap forward when it was adopted more and more by the tobacco companies in the 1920's and the campaigns of Edward Bernays.

Over the years advertising has become the force it is today, driven by significant innovation and changes of the time - radio in the 1920's, television in the 1950's, cable TV from the 1980's and then of course the internet from the 1990's.

Advertising is now usually divided into commercial advertising - the push to market and sell a commercial product or service made for profit, and non commercial, i.e. the campaign's of non profits or charities or even countries or individuals.

Advertising vs marketing

Advertising and marketing are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually have very different meanings. Advertising is the process of creating awareness of a product or service through paid mediums such as television, radio, print media, digital media, and outdoor signage. These campaigns can also be created to attract new customers and strengthen existing customer relationships.

Marketing, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses all activities involved in creating a brand and communicating with customers. This includes advertising but also encompasses strategies such as research, product development, pricing, distribution, sales promotion, and public relations.

Goal of advertising

The primary goal of advertising is to effectively communicate a message or idea to an audience in order to influence their opinion, attitude, and behavior. Advertising aims to create brand awareness and attract new customers by promoting products, services, or ideas. It can also be used to strengthen existing relationships with current customers and remind them of what the brand stands for.

Advertising is an important part of any successful business strategy and has the power to significantly increase brand awareness, improve customer relationships, and ultimately drive sales.

But at the same time advertisers must also consider the legal and ethical considerations associated with creating an advertisement. These include topics such as copyright laws, privacy laws, and regulations regarding what types of advertising can be used in what areas. Companies must always make sure that any advertisement they create is compliant with applicable laws and regulations.

Advertisers should also take into account the potential impact an ad may have on their audience. It's important to remember that the goal of advertising is to create an impression of what a company stands for and what it offers, not to manipulate people into making purchases.

Benefits of advertising

Depending on the types of ads you use and the way you position them, advertising can achieve a wide variety of benefits. Mainly, a quality advertising campaign can help your business:

  • Increase brand awareness

  • Educate and attract customers

  • Increase sales

  • Compete with other companies

Types of advertising

There are four major types of advertising: print advertising, online advertising, TV advertising, radio advertising and outdoor advertising.

Print advertising

Print advertising refers to ads in magazines, newspapers, brochures, fliers and direct mail. Although it has lost popularity since the advent of online advertising, most consumers trust it over advertising formats.

Online advertising

Online advertising is popular as an advertising format because it is efficient and affordable, plus it offers an easily measured return on investment. For example, when you advertise on Google you pay-per-click (PPC), which means you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Google advertising can be broken down into many different types of campaigns and ad formats, including Google re-marketing. Formats like Reddit advertising allow you to hone in on niche target markets. Similarly, local advertising allows you to target consumers who live or spend time in a specific area.

TV and radio advertising

TV advertising is the most expensive type of advertising—it can cost anywhere between $63,000 and $8 million dollars, depending on the level of production value and the network ad slot you purchase. Radio advertising, on the other hand, is quite inexpensive, as an advertising format, since there is less production involved and fewer competitors for radio ad slots.

Outdoor advertising

Outdoor advertisements are ads that appear outside of the home, such as billboards and signs. These kind of mass media advertising campaigns are often referred to as above the line advertising, whereas something on a more targeted platform is known as below the line advertising.

Advanced advertising

In recent years, advanced or data-driven advertising has grown in relevance and application. It involves using data and technology to deliver ads to targeted audiences. The idea being that these ads can be better optimized to meet the known needs and pain points of a specific audience.

Advanced advertising relies on the collection and analysis of large amounts of data to identity patterns and insights that advertisers can then use to make more accurate decisions about which ads to show specific people, at specific times and on specific platforms.

In other words data-driven advertising allows marketers to tailor their messaging and creative to specific consumer segments based on factors such as demographics, psychographics, behavior, and contextual information. It also enables advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns in real-time and make adjustments based on performance data. This makes them more effective, quicker.

Advanced advertising may involve a range of techniques, including programmatic advertising, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics. These technologies allow advertisers to automate the process of buying and selling ad inventory, as well as to optimize targeting and creative decisions in real-time.

Brand advertising

Brand advertising is a type of advertising that focuses on creating an impression of a brand in the eyes of the consumer rather than just promoting a single product or service. It usually involves creating a cohesive, unified look and feel for all aspects of the company's products, services and image across all aspects of its advertising.

This might mean a unified style guide for every advertising resource created - from text, to copy to images and videos.

Advertising strategies

These advertising strategies can help you build a strong campaign:

01. Media planning

Media planning is an advertising strategy that supports your decision-making process. It will help you decide what types of advertising to use, how much money to spend, when to place the ads and how frequently the advertisements should appear. The media planning process has five steps:

  1. Market research and analysis

  2. Establish the media objectives

  3. Develop the media strategy

  4. Execute the plan

  5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign

  6. Determine if any follow-up is necessary

02. Retargeting

With retargeting tools, you can promote your campaign to people who visited your website and encourage them to finish their buyer’s journey.


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How to make an advertising campaign

Every ad campaign works to achieve different objectives. Awareness and desire campaigns help build a positive image of a brand. Interest and action campaigns have the more direct goals of encouraging the target audience to purchase a product or service. To develop your advertising campaign, take the following steps:

01. Establish your business goals

Because each type of campaign achieves a different objective, the first step in developing an advertising campaign is to determine your business goals. Do you want to develop brand awareness, promote a new product or differentiate your company from the competition? This decision will help you determine ad distribution options, define your budget and develop the creative strategy.

02. Determine your target market

Define your target market (the consumer group most likely interested in your product or service) and use that insight to tailor your ad copy and distribution strategy. Age, gender and income bracket are important demographics in advertising, but education level and marital status are also useful.

03. Define your budget

The goal of an ad budget is to figure out how to keep costs as low as possible while still meeting your goals. You’ll need to look over your bookkeeping to establish a reasonable limit. For example, holiday marketing ideas are more expensive, but they also offer a bigger payoff. If you advertise online, you’ll have to get a bit more granular with your budget.

04. Decide on media platforms

Once you have established your goals, audience and budget, you can decide which advertising types will be the most impactful. Determine if you’ll go with more traditional advertising, such as radio or newspaper ads, or digital advertising, such as social media or video advertising.

05. Build a creative strategy

Narrow down your focus to a consistent message with effective visuals that meet your specific campaign goals. Add a clear call-to-action (CTA) that encourages viewers to take the next step. Make sure your tone and visuals align with your brand image.

06. Determine your advertising KPIs

Determining your KPIs, or key performance indicators, is an essential step in the ad development process. These metrics help you refine your advertising strategy over time. Some of the most commonly used advertising KPIs include:

  • Cost per click (CPC) measures how much each ad click costs.

  • Cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) tells you how much you spent on a thousand impressions, which refers to views or user engagement.

  • Click through rate (CTR) measures the effectiveness of a campaign.

  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) is the average amount a company earns per customer.

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC) tells you how much it will cost you to gain each new customer.

  • Return on advertising spend (ROAS) tells you how much money you earned per dollar spent on an ad campaign.

07. Write the ad copy

Because the text in your ad is limited, every word counts. Marketers will spend days pouring over a single line of ad copy. Use language that will make your target audience feel like you’re talking to them, and add emotional appeals whenever you can.

08. Create a campaign landing page

Landing pages are standalone web pages that have direct messaging and a specific intent. Your online advertisements will link to a landing page that helps potential customers understand your promotion and easily make a purchase. These landing page templates can help you start.

Types of ads for advertising campaigns

The type of ad or ads you choose to use will depend very much on the goals and budget of your advertising campaign. Here are a few of the main types of ads used:

- Display ads: These are the most common type of ads. They're visual ads (meaning they can be text, images, videos) first of all, that appear on websites and social media platforms. You might also distribute them through email and apps. They're often used to promote products and services.

- Native ads: These ads blend in with the content on a website or social media platform and appear like a regular post or article. They are most commonly used on news websites and blogs as well. Native ads can be text, image or video. They are often considered a less intrusive ad type compared to display ads, for example.

- Search ads: These ads appear at the top or bottom of search engine results when someone searches for a particular keyword. They are most likely to be text ads only and they're a popular way to generate traffic to websites.

- Social media ads: These are ads that appear on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They also, like the other type of ads here be text, image or video. They are used by brands to promote products and services.

Popular advertising techniques

There are a number of well-know and commonly used advertising techniques used by marketers and advertising professionals in order to get potential consumers to engage and interact with ads. Some of the most popular include:

Emotional appeal: This means tapping into common emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, or nostalgia to create a connection with the audience and make them more likely to take action. The use of emotional appeal is common in seasonal ads.

Celebrity endorsements: Using celebrities or influencers to endorse a product or service is an incredibly popular advertising technique on social media platforms such as Instagram. Using celebrities in advertising can help to increase brand recognition and credibility.

Testimonials: Customer reviews and testimonials can be used as a part of advertising campaigns to showcase the positive experiences that others have had with a product or service.

Humor: Humor can be a great way to grab your audience's attention and create a memorable impression. But it should be used carefully, what's funny to one audience may not be funny or even potentially offensive, to another audience. When using humor as an advertising technique it's important to be alert to cultural and social norms where the ads will run.

Limited time offers: This technique when used properly creates a sense of urgency by offering a limited-time discount or promotion on a product or service.

Product demonstrations: This involves showing your audience how a product or service works and its benefits through a demonstration or tutorial. These have grown in popularity with the advent and rise of video marketing and short form video content on social media.

Personalization: This technique uses data and personalization to create ads that are tailored to the individual preferences and interests of the target audience.

Free advertising sites

If you’re working with a particularly tight budget, look into free advertising sites. Platforms like Google My Business, Better Business Bureau and Yelp can help you boost traffic to your website and improve organic search engine rankings.

Best advertising examples

Here are a few memorable examples of advertisements to get you in a creative mindset:

  • Data shows that 60% of men’s body wash buyers were women. So, Old Spice’s Super Bowl commercial, “The man your man could smell like,” addressed women instead of men. Four months after the campaign, sales were up by 60%.

  • When lockdowns canceled travel plans, Audible made a video and audio marketing campaign called “Fly Audible” that mimicked vintage airline ads to tap into the consumer’s yearning to escape.

  • An ad agency designed a transit ad that made buses appear as if they were being crushed by giant snakes to promote the city zoo. The ad was so successful that the agency expanded the campaign to subways and won multiple awards.

You can check out more advertisement examples here.

Criticisms of advertising

Tasked as it is with influencing large numbers of people to buy a specific product or engage with a brand, advertising is not without its criticisms. Some of the main ones leveled at commercial advertising include:

  • Advertising can be intentionally or unintentionally deceptive by making exaggerated or false claims about products or services. In some instances, when it comes to your money or your life topics, for example, this can be confusing and in extreme cases, harmful too.

  • One argument goes that advertising may encourage a culture of consumerism. And a society where material possessions are valued over more meaningful pursuits. This has been driven into sharp focus with the advent of Instagram influencers as the line between genuine and naturally created content, and content advertising becomes more blurry.

  • Advertising may perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce discrimination by portraying certain groups in a negative way that taps into existing bias, or by excluding or under-representing certain groups altogether.

  • Advertising can also promote unsustainable consumption - encouraging people to buy products and services that are harmful to the environment, or that promote wasteful or unsustainable practices.

  • Some advertising has been shown to have a significant influence on children's behavior and attitudes, leading to concerns about its impact on their developing mental wellbeing, and values. This in turn has led to an increase in the regulation of advertising, in some countries, and across specific products, most specifically gambling, tobacco and gambling. Some European countries also impose regulations on advertising to children, both in terms of the types and amount of exposure.


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