Promotion is a way of getting the message of a product to the target market. It is used to get new customers and to maintain existing ones. The objectives of promotion can tie in with a business’ overall objectives, for example, to become well known within a certain area, to gain a good reputation in a certain area, to make a lot of sales, or to make repeat sales. These are only a few examples. The ‘certain area’ could be as small as a few streets, or as large as a country, or even a worldwide market, although promotion for a global product would differ in each country.

There are two main categories of promotion; above the line and below the line. Above the line is the traditional kind of advertising such as posters, radio ads, TV ads, newspaper ads, etc. Below the line advertising inludes things such as special offers and exhibitions. Below the line is sometimes much cheaper than doing huge television campaigns, but different types of expenses are involved. Re-branding a whole line of products, for example, is very costly.

You might think that marketing and promoting are pretty much interchangeable words, but then, you might as well think that the world is flat. Marketing, as it is defined by the American Marketing Association, 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." Promoting, on the other hand, is defined by the aptly titled book Advertising and Promotion as "the coordination of all seller-initiated efforts to set up channels of information and persuasion to sell goods and services or to promote an idea", which might not sound that different, but it is.

Promotion is in fact a subset of marketing. Marketing includes product, price, distribution, and promotion. Marketers have to identify the kinds of products that the public or private businesses may be interested in, how to price the product competitively, where to sell it (online, in stores, in business catalogs, through telemarketing, and etc.), and how to promote it. Promotion itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, and includes advertising (in print, on TV or the radio, and on billboards), sales promotion (offering discounts to retailers and consumers), public relations, internet marketing, and other elements. There is a staggering amount of firms that exist, as it is vitally important. Promotion is perhaps the best way to get a product noticed. An eye-catching commercial or a virile Youtube video can make a product otherwise undifferentiated from many of its competitors into a leader in its market. As an advertisement from the American Advertising Foundation states, next to a picture of what appears to be a Coca-Cola bottle: "A secret formula is revealed. Advertising. The way great brands get to be great brands."

For example, in my home state of Michigan, there were no Sonic drive-in restaurants until about a year or two ago. Despite that, Sonic advertised in the state for many more years than that. I watched commercials bragging about new food items I couldn't buy in my state even if I wanted to. Why did they do that? They were building brand recognition. The result was that when Sonic did finally expand into the Metro Detroit area, cars were lined up into the street as their drivers salivated at the thought of trying out the restaurant's seemingly generic hamburgers and hot dogs.

Some companies use promotion to craft an image. Oil companies explained their record profits to an outraged American public that was paying $4 a gallon at the pump by running ads that detailed the costs of exploring for new oil wells and developing alternative sources of energy. Starbucks advocates "corporate social responsibility" in their attempt to attract affluent people who like to feel socially conscious, which is actually quite a lucrative market (ask Al Gore). The sleeves on their coffee cups advertise that they are made out of recycled material, and the company itself brags about their efforts to be active in the communities around their stores. Workers are encouraged to volunteer and customers that bring in their own reusable mugs get a discount on their drinks, all in an effort to build a brand name associated with environmental friendliness (one might ask how any megacorporation can truly be environmentally friendly, but then again one might be too busy drinking a cappucino frappe to care).

Promotion can be more subtle than that. When you go to the mall and see a sign that says "all of X company's shirts are 3 for $30", it's almost guaranteed that the company in question paid the store either directly or indirectly through retailer discounts to get that kind of product placement. The shirts may have the company's logo on it, which is then advertised to other people when customers buy and wear the shirt. Another common example is how cereal companies pay grocery stores to stock particular brands of cereal where consumers look first.

It is estimated that Americans are exposed to hundreds, perhaps even thousands of advertisements a day, all depending on how you define an advertisement (for example, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated the number to be 300, while the Newspaper Association of America placed the amount in the thousands). Not only is it a great tool for corporations, it is a shaping force in our lives. Most of us have certain brands of jeans we like, a particular cell phone brand we think is good, and so on. As technology increasingly invades our lives, we will undoubtedly be exposed to even more advertisements. Advertisements will become increasingly interactive, allowing us to customize the products we buy and to inform companies of our unique sense of tastes so that they can meet them more closely in the future. We will have a working relationship with companies that will mutually benefit both parties. Through this, we will be able to express our individuality more than ever before with our store-bought possessions. The 2000s will be remembered as the century of self-expression.

Sources: Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective,

Pro*mot"tion (?), n. [L. promotio: cf. F. promotion.]

The act of promoting, advancing, or encouraging; the act of exalting in rank or honor; also, the condition of being advanced, encouraged, or exalted in honor; preferment.


Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. Ps. lxxv. 6.


© Webster 1913.

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