What Is Advertising? Definition and Guide

what is advertising

Advertising is a marketing tactic involving paying for space to promote a product, service, or cause. The actual promotional messages are called advertisements, or ads for short. The goal of advertising is to reach people most likely to be willing to pay for a company’s products or services and entice them to buy.

Finding your ideal customer

When trying to zero in on the types of people who are more likely to need or want your goods or services—and be willing to shell out hard-earned cash for it—you might look at demographic characteristics, such as:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education level
  • Income level
  • Zip code

By more precisely defining who your target customer is, you can better choose advertising vehicles that will reach more of your target customers for less money.

Sure, you can buy an expensive ad in the Wall Street Journal, for example, but if your best customers live in the western Boston suburbs, you can buy ads in local papers there for far less.

Where to advertise

Traditional advertising outlets include newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio stations. Today, however, advertisements are placed nearly everywhere and anywhere, including:

  • Roadside billboards
  • Sides of buildings
  • Websites
  • Email newsletters
  • Print newsletters
  • Inside bills
  • Product packaging
  • Restaurant placemats
  • Event bulletins
  • Store windows
  • The sides of cars and trucks
  • Subway car walls
  • Airport kiosks
  • Sporting arenas
  • YouTube videos

Creating effective ads

Advertising messages are designed to persuade an individual to buy a company’s goods or services. Even in B2B transactions, individuals have to first be convinced to choose one product over another.

To accomplish this, ads have five main components:

  1. Headline: This is the key attention-getting message. “Got milk?” is a perfect headline. Or Wendy’s old, “Where’s the beef?”
  2. Subhead: Some ad headlines need clarification, much like a book’s subtitle.
  3. Body copy: The meat of the advertising message occurs in the main section, where the product or service’s features and benefits are highlighted.
  4. Image: Unless you’re advertising on the radio, including a product photo or image illustrating a key benefit is critical.
  5. Call to action: At the end of the ad you want to invite the consumer to take a step toward doing business with you, such as visiting a website or texting a certain number.

While advertising is the only way to guarantee that your message will be seen or heard, it's expensive compared to other marketing methods. For that reason, it's more popular with large corporations and brands than small businesses.

Advertising FAQ

What is advertising and example?

Advertising is a form of communication used to persuade an audience to take some action, usually with respect to a commercial offering, such as an item for sale or a service. Examples of advertising include television and print advertisements, product placements, and infomercials.

What are the 4 types of advertising?

  • Print Advertising (newspapers, magazines, direct mailers)
  • Broadcast Advertising (television, radio)
  • Outdoor Advertising (billboards and transit advertising)
  • Digital Advertising (online display ads, search engine marketing, social media ads)