With the proliferation of marketing jargon out there, getting to a basic understanding of key marketing terms can occasionally be hard. This is particularly true when talking about the types of advertisements we run in the "non-print" world. So online, digital, social - what does it all mean?

These terms are not the same, but they often get used interchangeably. This overlap adds to the confusion, so we're going to break it down.


Digital advertising is an umbrella term, capturing all advertising that happens on digitally-based channels. These channels are very diverse, including the things you would typically think of like websites and online videos, but also reaching out to things like online radio and SMS texting. Another way to think about digital advertising is by identifying it as anything electronic versus non-electronic. So newspaper print ads would NOT be digital marketing, but a banner ad on a newspaper website WOULD be digital marketing.

Another key distinction of digital marketing is the channel's ability to be measurable. Because digital marketing is built on platforms that are tied to individual users (through ISP or IP address, phone number, email address, or URL), the performance of the advertising on that channel can be measured more effectively than a non-digital ad type, like a magazine or print ad. We can know exactly how many people visit a website and click through to a specific page. We're less able, however, to understand how many people see a magazine and respond to a particular ad. For this reason, most digital channels have robust analytics capabilities, allowing marketers who use them to understand key metrics like return on investment, click-through or open rates.


So if that's digital, what's online? Well, remember digital is the umbrella term. All online ads are digital, but not all digital ads are online. Online advertising specifically describes ads that happen in conjunction with the Internet. These can include banner or display ads, search or keyword ads, and pay-per-click campaigns. There are different types of online ads - static display versus pre-roll video, for instance - but they all rely on the Internet as the channel for delivery. Like all digital ads, these ads provide marketers with extensive analytical understanding of their performance.


Social advertising is a world unto itself. Social ads happen exclusively on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, utilizing those platforms' proprietary ad placement programs. Because social ads are placed on social channels, they can use the extensive demographic understanding of the platform users' preferences, locations, and other individually-recognizable information to get your ad in front of very specific audiences. This is a good mechanism for "push" ads targeted at particular groups - for instance, men ages 25-50 in the Upper Midwest with a demonstrated interest in hunting whitetailed deer. If you were marketing a new type of deer stand to hunters, social would be a good place to start.

Knowing the difference between the terms, and the types of advertising they describe, can help make your marketing more effective and your conversations with marketing agencies and advertisers clearer. Happy ad placement!