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Consider for a minute that this green rainbow is an ad:
McDonald’s “Shambow” light installation, Chicago, St. Patrick’s Day 2018 (Image via Adweek)
And this “Ketchup” jersey is also an ad:
Doritos’ limited edition Ketchup streetwear line (Image via Vancourier)
Once easily defined in terms of medium, today’s ads are designed to slip seamlessly into our lives without causing noticable disruptions (whether or not they always succeed in this area is another story entirely).
With advertisers working harder than ever to create unexpected (and undetected) ad experiences, a clear definition of advertising is more difficult than you might think to pin down. If you’re here, I’m guessing you’re looking for a succinct, simple definition of advertising. Maybe even — and I’m reaching here — in 50 words or less? I won’t delay you further.
What is Advertising?
Advertising is a form of communication that attempts to influence the behavior of a defined target audience. Any message developed and placed with the ultimate intention of persuading a group to take a specific action (such as buying a product) can be considered an ad.
To be considered an ad, messages don’t need to specifically mention a product or service. In fact, many of the ads you encounter on a daily basis are more about cultivating a general sense of awareness for a brand than directly influencing buying decisions right away.
As a general rule of thumb, if you think it’s an ad, then it probably is.