3 Key Differences Between Endorsements and Advertisements

Looking at endorsements from the right perspective can drastically change the way you recruit and market them.

Understanding the differences between endorsements and advertisements will allow you to address each more effectively. Failing to understand the differences can lead to unauthentic endorsements and ineffective advertising.

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with your definition of the word.

When we say endorsement, what do you think of?

You’re probably picturing a well known professional athlete doing a TV spot during the Super Bowl. Let me guess. Is it for a sports beverage (Gatorade)? Maybe it’s a razor (Gillette)? Restaurant (Subway)?

Ok, we give up. But you were definitely thinking about an ad on television, right? That would make sense. Most of the endorsements you see are on television. But, they don’t have to be.

When you envision Michael Phelps telling the public that he eats Subway sandwiches, that is an endorsement. But, it is also an advertisement.

However, endorsements and advertising are not the same thing. In fact, endorsements can exist without advertising. Ever see an athlete tweet about a great burger joint?

In fact, has one of your friends ever done this? Guess what? That tweet is an endorsement. While you would never say that your friend was advertising for anyone, it most certainly is an endorsement.

So let’s define our two words:


advertisement: A public promotion of a product or service

endorsement: A public approval of a product or service

Pretty similar definitions, right?

Both an advertisement and an endorsement are public. That’s obvious.

The other similarity is the “product or service” part. While we like the idea of “brand” here more, it’s clear that both advertisements and endorsements benefit a product/service/brand.

So, when we look at the difference, we’re really looking at just that one key word.

Promotion vs Approval.

This single word difference between an endorsement and an advertisement may seem small, but underestimating it is a mistake.

When you define an endorsement as an approval and not a promotion, your whole perspective on how to effectively market your brand changes.

Now you no longer care as much about recruiting an A-list athlete for that national endorsement deal. And you definitely don’t need a TV spot to “make it public”. Twitter and YouTube can handle that job.

As you redefine your perspective further, you see that there are a lot of free and low-cost platforms where you can build your brand’s reputation. In addition, you notice how often endorsements happen without advertising. Remember, all you need is public approval of your brand.

Eventually, you’ll realize that you use endorsement marketing all the time. Whether you’re following other people on Twitter or displaying a customer testimonial on your website, you probably create or read hundreds of endorsements every day.

Since you read or hear so many, by now you’re probably also really good at identifying endorsements that sound baked or salesy. They probably sound like promotions. That is what you want to avoid. It’s OK to promote an endorsement, but your endorsements should not sound like promotions.

Knowing how to write endorsements so they sound like approvals instead of promotions is crucial to your success as an endorsement marketer. But before you do this, make sure you know why. That starts with knowing these three key differences front to back:

1. Endorsements talk with the customer while advertisements talk at the customer

Advertisements are loud. Promoting your brand when hundreds of other brands are also trying to be heard is tough. You need to make claims that resonate with your audience and set yourself apart.

How do you write an ad? Think: what would Don Draper say? An ad is something that could be seen on a billboard but would be out of place if it were said in the middle of a conversation amongst friends.

Endorsements are the opposite. You get the luxury of trust. You don’t need to stand out to be heard. You get the opportunity to talk with your audience instead of yelling at them just to get them to listen.

How do you write an endorsement? Think: What would my friend say? An endorsement is something that could be said in the middle of a conversation amongst friends, but would seem out of place on a billboard.

When you can talk with your audience, you don’t have to worry about standing out. You just have to be yourself and be transparent. In the end, that’s what earns you the most trust anyway!

2. Endorsements encourage sharing while sharing advertisements is often taboo

When is the last time you saw a friend retweet a message that included the text “Now with 50% more X”. Probably never.

That’s because advertisements are not conducive to sharing. It is difficult to share any TV, billboard, or print ad; whereas sharing a Twitter endorsement or Facebook “Like” can be done with a simple mouse click.

Don’t get us wrong, brands are conducive to sharing. Building brand ambassadors from your customers is a great idea (and often occurs organically).

However, those ambassadors are not sharing ads with others. Instead, they share their love with their own voice.

But wait, I had a friend that shared a groupon deal on Twitter the other day. Isn’t that an advertisement?

While we would agree that it is a “promotion”, we would not classify it as an advertisement. To be honest, coupons should be classified as a separate marketing category, alongside ads and endorsements.

Coupons make sharing easy. They are a call to action that can be associated with an endorsement or an advertisement.

Maybe most importantly, when someone shares an endorsement with a friend, family member, or co-worker he/she has now also informally become an endorser for your brand! When people share an endorsement for your brand with friends and family they put their own seal of approval behind your brand and encourage others to do so. This is a great way for your brand to reach a larger audience.

3. Endorsements are personal while advertisements are commercial

Something personal is not easily ignored. Personal is authentic. Personal is helpful.

Commercial is easily ignored. Commercial is salesy. Commercial is competitive.

It’s hard to break through these immediate associations. The context of a message defines these associations.

Also, because endorsements are personal, they don’t have to be repeated in order to have value. They connect with consumers to create instant value in the form of brand awareness and even brand preference.

Ads rely more on repetition in an attempt to make an impression. They have to because their commercial language is often times initially ignored. More often than not, this strategy fails to register any value with consumers or even gain their attention.

The personal connection created by an endorsement more effectively leads to positive residual effects such as brand awareness and preference.

So, is an Endorsement the Way to Go?

Clearly, there are many advantages that you have when utilizing endorsement marketing. But don’t interpret this as a call for you to stop your traditional advertising.

We just want to outline reasons why your brand would benefit endorsement marketing. We also want to give you a fresh perspective on how to adopt endorsement marketing into your overall marketing strategy.

In it’s most basic form, an endorsement puts a stamp of approval on a brand or product. This stamp of approval quickly resonates with consumers. It also makes messages personal and leads to many positive residual effects like brand awareness and preference.

Know how and when to write a promotion (advertisement) and an approval (endorsement). Also, remember to do the following to make the most use out the 3 key differences:

  • Talk with the customer (not at them)
  • Encourage sharing
  • Be personal

In addition, see this post for the full rundown on how to write tweets using an athlete’s voice. Or, if you’re ready to capitalize on the unique advantages that endorsements have over ads, you can get started on your endorsement marketing strategy with just a few clicks here!



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