The Difference Between Advertising & Design

The great ad man Lee Clow once famously proclaimed that everything is advertising. He’s not wrong. But is everything design?

For clarity, we’re talking about advertising and design as nouns, not verbs. The things, not the process of making things.

So, what is the difference between advertising and design?

A major difference is the outcome.

Advertising is mostly ephemeral. An ad should reach an audience as fast as it can and get them to do something ­ —  like think, buy, click, feel, etc. If the ad achieves this, it is a rousing success and is usually quickly discarded unless you’re a geek like me who keeps these kinds of things.

On the other hand, design is not only meant to serve a function but it is also meant to last. You hang onto a good design.

That’s not to say an ad cannot be designed well. A true testament to good design is the ad campaign Absolut ran for 25 years or so. What separated this campaign from the herd is that each ad was a testament to good design — thoughtful, memorable, and timeless.

Even though both disciplines may start from the exact same point, and even lean on each other in the process, they often end up in vastly different places. Caring while crafting and focusing on the outcome makes all the difference.