barcelona market by Karsten Wentink

Blogging & Social Media Tips, Op-Ed, Technical & How-to

Words Have Meaning: Marketing vs Promoting vs Endorsing

6 Sep , 2018  

Words. A smorgasbord of crunchy, chewy, salty, sweet, bitter, tasty food for thought. You can overindulge in words, as in food. You can play with them to the point where your language arts teacher wants to slap you upside the head and say, “Stop playing with your words! Write!” My husband often annoys me with his arguments against the need for, nay, the very existence of, a thesaurus. When it comes to words, I want the 16 billion color box of crayons. Not the eight, not the twenty-four, not even the sixty-four — well, sometimes the sixty-four will do, in service of clear and unambiguous communication. Sometimes, we want to savor a nine-course meal with all the appropriate wine pairings, and sometimes, a plain and properly grilled strip steak will do.

Language evolves, as it should. Read Beowulf — in its original form — and argue with me on this, if you will. But we needn’t contort every word, twisting bad to mean good, and sick to mean amazing. This is just obfuscation and lunacy.

My friend, Mitch Mitchell, is a bit guilty of this. I hate to call him out, but for those of us without degrees in Marketing or Business Administration or Advertising, who are dabbling, as it were, in all three from time to time, it is essential to define words in ways that are commonly understood and agreed upon. This is why dictionaries exist. And while Mitch may want to bop me upside the head for calling him out, he did say, “I’d love to hear your take on it.” I’m giving him a link (well, three, technically) and telling you to go read his post, Marketing vs Promoting (I’m promoting, I’m promoting!!). You decide for yourself which one of us you agree with and why, and leave comments on both our blogs, please, with your thoughts on the topic.

Mitch writes, “Let’s talk about the concepts of ‘promotion‘ and ‘marketing‘ When one ‘promotes’ something, they’re supposed to be telling you that something is good based on their own experiences and they’re recommending it. When someone is ‘marketing’ something, they may or may not have any personal knowledge of ‘it’, but they’re trying to sell it anyway.”

Let’s look at some definitions (I’m linking to and providing a shortened version relevant to this discussion):

Marketing:  the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling

According to the American Marketing Association, it is “the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Promotion:  something devised to publicize or advertise a product, cause, institution, etc., as a brochure, free sample, poster, television or radio commercial, or personal appearance, to advance its rank or position, or to increase sales

On the subject of “promotion,” it appears that the American Marketing Association has simply given up — or left it to the ordinary dictionary. The word is listed under the letter “p” but has no definition.

Advertising, then, is part of both marketing (a broad, umbrella term covering the whole lifecycle of the product from manufacture to delivery) and promotion (the more specific term that involves increasing awareness of a product and generating more demand and more sales). Neither of these things really requires personal use of the product. The term for that is “endorsement.” The FTC has specific, common-sense guidelines — if you click that link — that govern the sort of endorsements bloggers regularly make on their sites. It’s worth a read.

Mitch is using the term “promotion,” then, in a way that really specifically refers to “endorsement” — which is a type of promotion. Endorsements carry the additional obligations he associates with promotion – that you have used or have personal knowledge of the product in question. An ad is a promotion, but if I run an ad in my sidebar, I don’t need to disclose to anyone that I was paid to run the ad. If I make a YouTube video gushing about how this thing is the best thing since the invention of sex, I’d better be completely truthful about my personal knowledge of it and whether I have any “material relationship” with the company that makes it. (For example, if I work for them or got paid by them to write a positive blog post, I need to tell my readers that! It doesn’t make me any more or less truthful than usual, but it adds a fact that enables readers to judge my credibility for themselves.)

I would argue that what Mitch was promoting is smoking cessation or improved health. As a human being who has ever been exposed to second hand smoke, whether he has ever smoked, himself, or not, he has personal knowledge and reason to care that people stop smoking. By mentioning or including ads for products designed to help them do that, he’s engaged in advertising, which is one component of marketing. He has not, however, endorsed these products — unless he claims to have personal knowledge that they work, or said he plans to try them on himself. He does always have an obligation – legally – to be truthful and forthcoming in his statements of fact, if he writes about products. (That said, if he says, “I don’t know jack sh** about this thing, but it looks cool, and you should click this link and buy it,” you’re on your own if you do. If, on the other hand, he knows there’s a 70% chance the thing will blow up in your face the first time you turn it on, but fails to mention that, he could be in deep trouble later.)

Later, Mitch said he was promoting Mailwasher — an app he had personal knowledge of, had used, and liked. This is endorsement, and endorsement is a very powerful form of promotion. You might also hear it referred to as a “testimonial.”

Anyway – words have meaning. Mitch was clear on how he thinks of, and uses, the term “promotion.” But I’m going with the dictionary, the American Marketing Association, and the FTC on this.

Featured Photo Credit:

barcelona market by Karsten Wentink

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19 Responses

  1. I don’t always go with dictionary definitions, especially since in the last 10 years or so they’ve all decided that the word “racism” has a much different meaning than it had in my first 50 years. Since there was no in my past, I’m certainly not taking their word for it. lol

    It’s like the term “leadership”. Even though there are dictionary definitions, what I’ve learned is that all of us get to share our own definition of what we think it is since we talk about it, write about it and educate on the subject.

    In health care, most people merge the term CPT codes to mean both CPT codes and HCPCS codes, which are definitely different entities. I find myself having to change people’s definitions on this because they’re not only separate manuals but the way they’re manifested are different… not that you care much about that. lol

    As it regards marketing and promotion… well… I could have gone the route of a rich friend of mine who said that, in his opinion, I’m good at marketing but it’s the selling piece I’m missing. I said that I’m not sure how good I am at sales since I haven’t had a lot of practice with it.

    In the end, the precision of definition is up to the writer/educator I figure. If we don’t like it or want to contradict it… well, that’s why we have our own blogs. 😉

    • But the educator is fighting an uphill battle if EVERYONE agrees with you and starts making up their own definitions. This is why we HAVE dictionaries!

      I’m wondering, now, what racism meant then vs. now. I’ve been having a running argument with someone on this, and I think maybe – in this case – you MAY be agreeing with them, while I’ve thrown in the towel on the evolution of the term! (That, or the term’s been so overused it’s evolved into what he thinks it means. I need to go find an OLD dictionary, and see which way it’s actually gone.)

      • I don’t have any old dictionaries anymore, but from the past definition minorities couldn’t be racist in America because they didn’t have the capability of setting up an inherently unfair system based on race.

        These days, definitions give non-minority people the right to call minorities racist for events that they determine are against them because they’re in the majority, whereas in my day the circumstances were so drastically disparate that any epithets or actions used against the majority were considered reactions and not a plan or doctrine that could hold the majority back in any way.

        Actually, I touched upon it in 2009 when the definition was still the old way; let’s see if your blog allows me to post a link since mine doesn’t lol

      • OK, so I thought it was the opposite – that the use of “racism” to be inherently “institutional, systemic race-based discrimination” was the newer term. And I’m all for defining it that way, but it seems to be confusing to younger people, and some older people are encouraging the confusion in a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters.

        Honestly, my kids used to come home from school, and if I said, where’s the black crayon, they’d go “Ummm um um um um, that’s RACIST!!” At the same time, the casual put-down, “That’s so Jewish!” was making the rounds, and they could not see what was wrong with it. I had two little white boys across the street trying hard to “be gansta” and talk with what they THOUGHT was a “black accent” – Holy hell it’s hard to raise kids right, these days. I think I managed, though.

        So, the person I was debating with – he was arguing for racist meaning “I judge you lacking based on your skin color.” It’s hard to explain that people can be prejudiced, and hate people based on skin color, but on the whole be powerless to hold them back from upper management jobs. He gets it, but I don’t blame him for wanting clearer terminology and definitions in a world that is – much as you were advocating FOR – defining terms any way they FEEL like it, on any given day or in any given conversation, if it seems to be to their advantage.

      • BTW. Mitch, you’re among the privileged here. 😉 You’re allowed to drop a link or two. Don’t abuse it. You do know how to make an actual link to the page you want to link to, like, right?

      • Of course it would help if that link didn’t go straight to a 404 error. 😉

  2. Bellybytes says:

    The dictionary is my favourite read . I thoroughly enjoyed this quibbling of words . Semantics is it ? I find it amusing how jargon differentiates the normal to a specialty

  3. Patrick Chase says:

    When asked what he would do to set the world right, Confucius said, “I would insist on the exact definition of words.” Good for you, Mitch, that he didn’t get his way.

  4. Damyanti says:

    Words have meaning, sure, but over time, in certain cases, meanings change.

    We have to be very careful with words in certain contexts (as a writer I defend each word I write in a story—nothing that is indefensible remains).

    • True, but we can also hold others accountable for defending their own use or misuse of words. We don’t do that often enough (think “Marketing-speak,” funnily enough) and it ERODES, rather than evolving or adding to the meaning of words. Slang is always meant to obscure meaning to anyone outside the in-group; words are co-opted for unsavory purposes, too (think Orwellian “Newspeak,” which is quickly becoming a nightmarish reality). When did we allow a phrase like “social justice” or “social justice warrior” to become a BAD thing? YOU can’t be the only one “defending” your use of words, and probably have less reason to do so than many.

  5. this is a very interesting remark… analysis.. I always thought marketing and promoting was the same thing. And people promote things without knowing how to. 🙂 🙂

    • This is the problem, isn’t it? Especially in blogging. Popular terms and concepts get picked up on as “a THING to write about if you want more traffic.” Doesn’t mean the blogger actually has a freaking CLUE what he’s talking about (and I am NOT referring to Mitch – Mitch is a successful consultant, even if “marketing” and “promotion” aren’t his primary THING). I’m talking about the other 50 bazillion bloggers out there who pick up on a keyword, poorly understand it, and spread their misunderstanding around until no one really gets it, anymore. I figured I’d go straight to the profession for these definitions – no matter WHAT my understanding of the terms was to start with. And I learned something about “marketing.” I did not realize it was an umbrella term for everything between the making of a thing to sell and the delivery of it to the customer! I’d also thought it was synonymous with “advertising” (with the added emphasis on targeting the right audience and perhaps GENERATING a demand – like the science BEHIND the advertising). I could’ve written a whole post on my misunderstanding of these terms, and I guarantee you I could have sounded authoritative about it. Given my blog still ranks lower than the top million – hah! – it would have been read, but probably not noticed by anyone who’d have the specific knowledge and chops to slap me down and put me in my place. I’d have further cemented my own belief in what I thought the terms meant, led half of my readers down the garden path, and that would be that. I’ve always said it’ll be a sad day if I ever ditch my scruples and go to work creating propaganda. Fortunately for all of us, I can’t lie with a straight face to save my life. And it’s really not a thing I aspire to.

      • You’re in the minority, in that respect. Millions of blogs have amplified various echo chambers of misinformation, to the detriment of common sense and critical thinking skills everywhere.

        I understand exactly what you mean by your misunderstanding of marketing and advertising. Fortunately, I had read enough authoritative sources–outside of the blogosphere–that I was able to separate wheat from chaff when browsing the IM blogs.

        Speaking of meaning, I always hated that Internet Marketing shared its acronym with Instant Messaging…wonder if anybody ever thought those two were interchangeable! LOL



  6. Brlf cozaaq luft.

    Or, said another way, communication is more important than technicality. I wrote an article, years ago (“Fruitless Debates”), in which I asserted the need for strict definition of terms. While I still hold with that assertion for debates, I have come to be more lenient about terms used in general conversation.

    Some of us are more careful speakers than others. Some of us are more discerning listeners. As long as all speakers are heard and understood by all listeners, communication will succeed and we can get stuff done. (Or, at least, be entertained by the words.)

    By the way, the first sentence translates roughly to, “I know what you meant to say.” 🙂



  7. It looks like you need the entire link if it’s going to a https site; that’s intriguing since I’m sure I’ve been to other sites where that wasn’t the case. Oh well… You said to try again to see if it’d go through a second time so let’s see what happens if I post this link…

  8. It looks like you need the entire link if it’s going to a https site; that’s intriguing since I’m sure I’ve been to other sites where that wasn’t the case. Oh well… You said to try again to see if it’d go through a second time so let’s see what happens if I post this link…

    Nope; this time it said I appeared to be a spambot lol

  9. I suppose each word has got a different connotation in different contexts. The very fact that marketing and promotion are different means we assume too much.

    • Yes!! We do assume too much! And then we perpetuate our assumptions, sometimes with the certainty and confidence of authority, to the detriment of clear communication.

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