What’s the Difference Between Video Marketing and Advertising?

The words marketing and advertising are used interchangeably so often that it’s easy to think of them as synonyms. Is the YouTube pre-roll considered marketing? Does a video on a company’s home page count as an advertisement?

The picture is getting even blurrier on social media with the growing deployment of promoted video posts on platforms like Instagram, which will also host the same video for free on a brand’s feed. It makes one wonder if marketing isn’t just a fancier way of saying advertising.

Robert Helstrom

Robert Helstrom

Not so, according to Robert Helstrom, vice president of product and marketing at Sightly. He often encounters this kind of confusion on the part of advertising clients. They tell him that, “We already do video,” when all they really have are videos on their YouTube channel or Facebook page. He says to them, “But no, you don’t advertise.”

Simply put, with advertising, “I am paying for you to see this ad,” Helstrom says. “There is that line in the advertising budget called media spend that you don’t have when it comes to ‘the rest of marketing.’”

However, in a too-common scenario, video ads are treated as “a one-off project,” explains Jake LeVoir, director of sales for the creative video firm Slate and Main. “They [advertisers] look at their budget, find some extra money, and then send out RFPs.” Advertisers make their video, “and they come back and they’re really disappointed. ‘I got this video and nothing really happened with it.’” That’s because there was no strategy for using that video effectively.

Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange

“I see advertising as part of marketing,” says Jessica Lange, senior communications counsel at the B2B communications company McClenahanBruer. “If you think of marketing as your overall strategy for getting a client’s message out… then I see advertising as a channel with which to accomplish that job.”

David Murdico, creative director and managing partner of Supercool Creative, says an effective video marketing campaign should align paid ads with video distributed through social media and other owned channels. In fact, “Video should be an integral part of the overall digital marketing plan, along with social media management, PR, advertising, content marketing, and outbound.”

Video Marketing as Strategy

If video marketing means having a strategy for your video ads, then it is important to have both a rationale and a direction. “You can’t just say other people are doing video, it’s everywhere, and you should do it,” Lange counsels.

When first meeting a client interested in producing a video ad, LeVoir asks one simple question: Why?

“The real question isn’t, can we make a beautiful piece of artwork? [But], why are we making it, and will people see it or not?”

Lange says, “We identify the [client’s] message and the goals and use it as our North Star, to guide our decisions in the video making process.” The message should be, “something that resonates with our audience, that they find useful and helpful.”

David Murdico

David Murdico

Murdico asks clients, “What’s currently not working, that you believe video advertising will improve?”

With online video ads, Lange emphasized the importance of a “strong call to action.” Know what you want viewers to do, and ask them to do it. Create a seamless user experience, “so that when they click there is one place to go.” Don’t leave the engaged viewer just hanging.

It’s vital, LeVoir stressed, to know how to measure success. For instance, if lead generation is the goal, define what qualifies as a lead. “Is it a view, an opt-in form completion, a person who inquires about a product, or an actual phone?” Also set a time frame for achieving that goal. 

Advertising’s Contribution

If businesses can distribute video content for free, then one might wonder, why pay for it? Why not just plan for a video to go viral?

No doubt, viral videos are great when they happen, but it’s like waiting for lightning to strike. With unpaid social media there’s little to no control over who actually sees any particular piece of content, even if that content is pretty great.

“Placing content on your YouTube channel is different than paying to run your ad on YouTube,” Helstrom says. “You use different technologies. You target your audience and geolocation when you place an ad, for example. Whereas that’s not part of the content marketing activity.”

Helstrom recommends customizing the content for the target audience. His company worked on a campaign with the Marquette Group for Nationwide Insurance, localizing video spots on YouTube and the Google Display Network. Sightly created separate versions of the ad with graphics featuring local agents and maps intended to allow potential customers in matching regions to more easily find them. The campaign led to 7,000 visits to local agents’ landing page visits and over 140 conversions.


Paid placement targeting includes other channels that have inventory that may be purchased directly, like trade publication websites, where McClenahanBruer runs B2B video ads. Lange said her company chooses those channels carefully based on their target audience, and to align with a campaign’s messaging and goals. 

Aligning Advertising in your Marketing Strategy

For the most potent mixture, free or paid should not be mutually exclusive choices. Both can be employed to build off each other.

Murdico suggests starting by identifying target audiences on social media platforms, then creating videos that viewers organically will be inclined both to watch and share.

“Advertising is then the paid element that jump-starts the videos into the mainstream,” he says, “so they can be discovered by the right viewers and shared via social media channels and email, picked up by blogs and publications, and amplified to reach even more of the right viewers… that are most likely to buy your products or services, or further your cause.”

Keysight_screenshotA B2B campaign that Supercool Creative ran for Keysight Technologies is an example of this tactic. It featured a 55-second video posted to Keysight’s Facebook page and YouTube channel that Murico says, “walked the line between appealing to an audience of engineers while remaining entertaining. It combined product, brand messaging, and a call-to-action.”

According to Murico, the campaign used Facebook promoted posts for the whole video, as well as 15- and 30-second YouTube pre-roll ads as teasers to help drive traffic. The full-length video has received over 185,000 views on Facebook.

Keysight“We’re getting lots of requests now for one- to two-minute-length social media videos accompanied by 15- and 30-second cut-down versions used as teasers to direct either to a landing page, the full length video, or social media channels where viewers can learn more and make buying decisions,” he says

Sharpening the Focus Between Marketing and Advertising

If we draw a big circle and label it video marketing, then draw a smaller circle inside, we can call it video advertising. That’s where all the paid distribution channels live. There can also be a small circle next to it for social sharing and another one for a brand’s own website. But these small circles inside the marketing arena don’t overlap, because they’re not advertising. Understanding this difference between marketing and advertising leads to a clearer picture and a more coherent strategy.

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