In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Advertising

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Advertising Appeals
  • Advertising as a Science
  • History
  • Ethics
  • Cross-Cultural Variations
  • Managing Advertising
  • Social and Societal Impacts
  • Regulation and Self-Regulation
  • Brand-Building

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Advertising
Esther Thorson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0016


Advertising is defined as paid communication from an identified sponsor using mass media to persuade an audience. There are many ways to promote ideas, brands, politicians, or issues, but advertising involves mostly professionally designed commercials (this word implies video) or advertisements (this word implies print or online display advertising). Mass media, such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines, are paid to carry those messages to their audiences. Advertisements can also occur via the Internet, and this medium can be more “individualized” than the mass media (for example, email advertising is designed and delivered very specifically). Additionally, a new form of advertising created by ordinary people (“user generated” advertising), rather than by professionals, is now recognized. But in spite of these current variations in messages that are referred to as advertising—a phenomenon caused mainly by the digital revolution—the definition above is generally accepted. Advertising is distinguished from other promotional tools, such as marketing and public relations. Marketing refers to everything that is done to promote a brand: for example, creating the product, pricing it, placing it where it can be purchased, and promoting it. Advertising is a subcategory of marketing. Public relations is usually defined as management activities carried out to enhance the relationships between a company and its stakeholders. Although public relations uses messages, such as press releases to the media, it generally does not involve paid professional messages carried by the media. Sales promotions are incentives that organizations use to temporarily change the perceived value of a brand or idea. Coupons, contests, rewards, and price discounts are all forms of sales promotions. They may be targeted toward consumers or toward retail organizations. Likewise, personal selling is another promotional tool. In general, then, advertising is a subcategory of marketing, and it is one of four categories of persuasive tools. Advertising varies in many ways beyond the media that carry it (for example, television commercials, newspaper advertisements). For example, political advertising promotes candidates for office. Issue advertising promotes ideas from the public service domain (such as forest fire prevention or crime prevention), health advertising promotes behaviors that increase healthiness (such as promotion of vaccines, admonishments to engage in safe sex and to quit smoking), children’s advertising promotes directly to the young, and corporate advertising promotes the viewpoints of companies (for example, that corporations are environmentally responsible, or that they regret product failures or accidents).

Core Texts

The best way to learn about advertising and the advertising industry is to start with advertising textbooks. Arens, et al. 2008 overviews all areas of advertising and is especially strong in its examination of the look and feel of effective advertising and how it is created. Wells, et al. 2007 is a popular textbook that combines a rich representation about how advertising works in the real world with fundamental advertising theory. O’Guinn, et al. 2009 identifies brand building as the central task for advertising, taking a more management-focused approach than other advertising texts. Jones 1999 provides elaborated definitions for terms and theories of advertising.

  • Arens, William, Michael Weigold, and Christian Arens. 2008. Contemporary advertising. Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

    This text is particularly good in discussing the role of creative work in advertising. It also addresses extensively how digital media have changed much about how advertising is done.

  • Jones, John Philip, ed. 1999. The advertising business: Operations, creativity, media planning, integrated communications. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This is a useful dictionary of many of the foundational terms and vocabulary used in the advertising business.

  • O’Guinn, Thomas C., Chris T. Allen, and Richard J. Semenik. 2009. Advertising and integrated brand promotion. London: Cengage Learning.

    One of the most up-to-date advertising textbooks, this text emphasizes the brand-building role of advertising.

  • Wells, William D., Sandra Moriarty, and John Burnett. 2007. Advertising: Principles and practice, 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    In addition to being a scholar of advertising, William Wells served for many years as the vice president of research at DDB Needham-Chicago and thus brings the richness of his real-world experience to this text.

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