Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising: What’s the Difference?

Christy Walters


June 13, 2018 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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One of the most important parts of running a business is getting your brand, products, and company name in front of the right audience. There are different methods you can use to do this based on your industry and ideal customers. Learning about content marketing and traditional advertising can help you understand if one or both of these approaches is right for you.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is any attempt to attract or communicate with your customers and leads without a direct sales pitch. You’re delivering information to your clients consistently that provides ongoing value. The Content Marketing Institute refers to it as “non-interruptive marketing”. It’s also related to the term “inbound marketing” because it relies on drawing consumers to your brand on their own, without an invitation. Content marketing is a symbiotic relationship. You provide customers with information they need, and they, in turn, may reward your company with loyalty and monetary business.

What Is Traditional Advertising?

Traditional advertising is the precursor to content marketing as we know it. This type of advertising reaches out to the audience rather than inviting them to you. The goal is to get as many people as possible to view your ads. What we call “outbound marketing” today is an evolution of this type of advertising. It’s considered an interruption marketing strategy because it goes out to reach customers wherever and whenever the company deems necessary.

Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising

When evaluating content marketing vs. traditional advertising, you’ll see there are many differences between the two. Understanding them can help you learn in which type of marketing you’re engaging, and how best to execute your strategies. Some of these differences include:

Display Mediums

Traditional advertising uses hard-copy, print items and familiar media channels for displaying ads. Some types of traditional advertising include:

  • Television and radio commercials
  • Newspaper and magazine ads
  • Billboards
  • Banners or signs
  • Direct mailers or flyers
  • Brochures

We associate content marketing in the digital age with online marketing. Though some print materials count as content marketing, too, some of the most common types exist on the internet, and include:

  • Blogs
  • Social media platforms and posts
  • Websites
  • Emails
  • Apps

Types of Content

Traditional advertising is just what it sounds like: an advertisement. These pieces of content use static or dynamic images of models or products, splashy sales words, and a call-to-action (CTA) to encourage people to buy or explore products and services. There are many more options for creating content for a content marketing campaign. Some include:

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Email newsletters
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • eBooks
  • White papers
  • Webinars


Traditional marketing is informational. It tells you more about a business’ products or services it intends to sell. Marketers hope if they put the product or service in front of people and tell them why they need it, those customers will make a purchase. Content marketing isn’t the same direct sell. It provides value for a reader or viewer to draw them toward a company. That attraction invites the lead to look around on their own.

Think of walking through a mall. When you’re passing kiosks, the salespeople call out to you, try to get you to test products, and make a hard sale. That’s equivalent to traditional marketing. In contrast, if you enter a store, you may have more freedom to browse around on your own and decide what you like or want to buy without pressure. That’s the equivalent of content marketing.


Traditional advertising is more time sensitive than content marketing. Traditional campaigns typically run for a definite period. They air on TV for a certain amount of time or go up on billboards for the time you paid for the space. With each one, there is a time constraint. Many campaigns are also seasonal or reflect time-sensitive events like product launches. The advertising isn’t for life, even if you expect to sell that same product or service indefinitely.

Content marketing doesn’t have to have the same time restraints. While some items, like blogs or social media posts, may focus on a trending or time sensitive topic, a lot of content is evergreen. This means the information is relevant for a long time, possibly forever. It can also stay online for as long as the company has access to their digital platforms. Evergreen content is a way for brands to stay consistently in front of their target audiences without pushing a specific product or service, like in traditional advertising.

Conversational Style

When using traditional advertising, the company is talking to, or at, consumers. Marketers put information out into the world with no easy way to converse with the public about it or answer questions. It’s meant for the public to consume, and then, hopefully, lead to sales and conversions. With most content marketing happening online, there’s more room to talk with customers rather than at them. Comments sections, feedback forms, and digital contact information allow consumers to interact with brand representatives and learn more about products and services before purchasing.

Content marketing in this category is beneficial in two ways. First, it helps the customer feel more involved in the purchasing process, which may increase trust in the company and lead to more sales. For the brand, it helps marketers learn more about their customers, which can positively influence future marketing campaigns.


Traditional advertising is general. Marketers don’t have too much control over who’s going to see their advertisements. They may know a few pieces of data, like the geographic placement for a billboard or the average audience demographics of the TV show during which the ad airs. But, these types of ads may benefit from being more general to appeal to the broadest range of people.

With content marketing vs. traditional advertising, you can really target your audience. Marketers can research exactly what types of people fit into their audience categories and learn important details about them. That research lets them create content specifically designed for the right people and displayed on the most effective channels or platforms.

Driving Force

In traditional advertising, the business is the driving force behind the content. The marketing team decides what to share, when to share it, and where to share it. This same principle is more relaxed for content marketing. While the company does ultimately choose what content to produce and where to publish it, distribution is less clear. That’s because the public decides what content is worth sharing. With infinite access to content, consumers have the autonomy to engage with and promote it at their own pace.


Traditional advertising is an example of experiencing something you didn’t ask to experience. You don’t ask to see a billboard as you drive down the road. You’re also not usually excited when a commercial interrupts your streaming show right when it gets to the best part. Traditional ads are just there, in your way. Aside from skipping or muting ads, you also don’t have any choice but to wait them out.

With content marketing, you’re invited to view each piece, but not forced. If you’re interested, you can click and read. If you’re not, you can keep scrolling, delete the email, or otherwise walk away. You don’t have to finish an article you start if it doesn’t appeal to you, or you can shut off the podcast if you get bored. With content marketing, the viewer has the power of when, and even if, they want to interact with a specific piece.


Traditional advertising audiences are what Lander calls a “rented audience.” By that, it means the ad audience is one you haven’t captured yet. You don’t “own” the viewers’ attention. They passively consume your ads in the world around them without a connection to your brand. In contrast, you earn your content marketing audience. You’ve provided them with something they want or need, and it’s encouraged them to return. What you have to say matters to them. This practice builds loyalty.

That readers or viewers can come back at any time to review their favorite pieces or find new, helpful content is another beneficial factor for building an audience. Your online space is permanent, unless you choose to take it down, unlike the rented space used for traditional advertisements.


Traditional advertising can be costly. Even with the most inexpensive methods, there’s often still payment involved. Companies buy ad space in magazines, newspapers, pay-per-click (PPC) online ads, and even on billboards. It requires an advertising budget to make it happen.

You can, essentially, do content marketing for free, even if you’re just starting your company. While many companies that do content marketing have budgets and pay for things like web space and email programs, that’s not a requirement to run a campaign. There are plenty of free content marketing tools available to help teams get started at little or no cost.

For a limited time, CopyPress is also offering a content marketing analysis tool without charge. See how your business and brand compare to your top competitors. Request your content analysis today!

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo


With a traditional marketing campaign, you can’t make real-time edits to your content. If you find a spelling mistake or see that you’re not getting the expected return on investment (ROI), you’re stuck until the end of the campaign.

Tracking the analytics of content marketing in its digital form allows you to make on-the-spot changes to any campaign or piece. If, over the life cycle of the content, you learn about new information that could make it more appealing to your audience, you can make updates. This allows you to put out the most helpful, polished pieces that grow over time.

Criteria To Choose Between Content Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising

Content marketing and traditional advertising don’t have to be two exclusive strategies where one is right and the other is wrong. Your company can use a combination of both to promote itself and find new leads. If you’re trying to decide which option to use first, or if one over the other would be more successful, consider criteria such as:

Business Size

Any size business can use either traditional advertising, content marketing, or both. There is no limit on who can use either. But it may be more common for small and medium-sized businesses to put more time into content marketing. Larger companies may rely more heavily on traditional advertising.

Think about the billboards you see when you’re driving in the car. Many are for places like Walmart or McDonald’s, large, well-known corporations. But how often do you see blog posts from these companies sharing recipes or shopping hacks? Probably rarely. You might, however, find those types of content from local boutiques or restaurants.


Industry can also play a role in whether traditional or content marketing might be a good first strategy for your company. More niche industries may benefit from engaging in content marketing. This is because it’s so targeted and their audiences are very specific. Marketers can really create content that matters and is valuable to that group of people.

In industries that sell things like paper towels or other necessity products, there may be a wider audience appeal. Rather than trying to force your content to fit into certain niches, you might benefit more from trying to catch the collective attention with traditional advertising.


Though we already discussed this point briefly, companies with bigger budgets may have an easier time working in traditional marketing. They may have more resources and the ability to interact on paid channels. Companies with a smaller marketing budget, or without one, can use content marketing. It’s a great way to introduce your brand name to the world. It also has the potential to catch viewers’ attention where they’re already spending their time, like on social media. Because content marketing uses fewer paid channels, it’s easier to start and maintain without a large cash flow.


The size of a marketing staff isn’t as important as the experience and knowledge if you’re trying to choose between traditional advertising and content marketing. Both require team members with special sets of skills and strategy knowledge. It may be easier for a small staff, or anyone new to marketing, to learn the basics of content marketing on their own time. This is because of content marketing itself. There are many how-to and do-it-yourself articles and information about the topics available online.

If your team includes many marketing professionals with degrees, experience, and knowledge of the industry, you may have more expertise to work in traditional advertising. For any company, you also have the option to work with a content agency like CopyPress. We can provide you with content writing services so you don’t even have to think about that aspect of your business. Just leave it to us!

Both traditional advertising and content marketing can help your company build an audience and make more sales. Learning how to work within each type can help you decide which is best for your company and how to turn leads into lifelong brand loyal customers.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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