Promotional Advertising and What it Can Do for Your Business

Promotional advertising has served as a staple across several industries for long. Now, it’s almost unimaginable for a business to reach its complete potential without boosting awareness through promotional products of different kinds. After all, when you see a pen or a t-shirt with a brand’s name, or a great online promotional campaign, there’s a good chance it’ll leave a lasting impression. The good thing about promotional advertising is that it has something to offer for businesses of different sizes from just about every industry.

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Promotional Advertising is Not New

Constantine the Great is said to have used engraved coins and jewelry to spread the Christian word way back in 312 A.D.  After Johannes Gutenberg’s work in the 1400s that led to the printing revolution, promoting businesses through newspaper ads and business cards became commonplace. Anheuser-Busch, an American brewing company, started promoting their brews through promotional corkscrews soon after beginning operations in 1852.

While customized promotional metal trays found favor with businesses in the early 1900s, plastic led to way more alternatives soon after. Now, you may find just about any type of product that you may use to promote your business, be it via a print ad, a billboard, or an online campaign.

What is Promotional Advertising?

According to one definition of promotional advertising, “promotion refers to any type of marketing communication used to inform target audiences of the relative merits of a product, service, brand or issue, most of the time persuasive in nature.”

More often than not, promotional advertising involves offering some type of incentive for carrying out the desired action. For instance, offering a free eBook in return for getting people to subscribe to your blog counts as promotional advertising. Traditional promotional marketing tools come in the form of price reductions, buy one get one offers, coupons, giveaways, and prizes.

Offering some kind of an enticement to your target audience can help increase sales during the short term, and it can also help build long-term customer loyalty.

It is common for advertising and promotions managers to view promotional advertising in two parts. Think of it as an iceberg. The tip that you see above water is in clear sight and involves media promotion. The major part of the iceberg, or a promotion, remains largely unseen.  This part of promotional advertising is not in one’s face and can come in the form of:

  • Building public relations
  • Sending emails to existing and probable customers
  • Taking part in trade shows
  • Relying on product placements
  • Getting products/services endorsed

What is Promotional Advertising Used For?

Businesses employ short-term promotional advertising strategies with the aim of building interest in a product or a service, and thereby, boosting sales. Some businesses also rely on promotional advertising to increase brand awareness, publicize events, and highlight changes in existing products/services.

Common Traits of Promotional Advertising

Promotional ads come with a few unique attributes that help distinguish them from regular ads. Just about all types of promotional advertising include:

  • The incentive. The incentive you provide is what encourages your target audience to carry out the desired action. This could be buying your product/service or subscribing to your online content.
  • The time factor. Since offering incentives comes at a cost, promotional advertising campaigns tend to run for predetermined time periods. In addition, running time-based promotional campaigns simplifies measuring their effectiveness.
  • The reply mechanism. Promotional advertising requires the facilitation of replies. This can be through a website address, an online form, a social media profile, a phone number, or a physical setup. For example, a restaurant that wants to offer discounts during a holiday period may get people to sign up by visiting its website or in person.

The Link Between Advertising and Promotion

Advertising and promotions are different facets of marketing. In essence, advertising is typically a part of a promotional strategy. Promotions tend to come with two basic functions. One involves marketing a brand, product, service, event, or any other business function through earned or paid media with the aim of increasing awareness, participation, or sales. The other requires offering incentives of some kind. It’s this second functionality that promotional advertising falls under.

Advertising and Promotion – The Differences

While advertising plays a long-term role in supporting a brand, promotional adverts tend to go for immediate and short-term results. Besides, advertising campaigns require building effective strategies and extensive planning, whereas promotional ads are typically simpler and faster to put together. Unlike promotional advertising that encourages user participation, advertising typically supports unidirectional communication. Some of the other differences include:

  • Aim. The main aim of advertising is to create brand identity and equity, while also building emotional bonds with a target audience. For instance, if you plan to launch a new product, you need to highlight how it’s a must-have and how it’s better than its top competitors.  Your overall advertising campaign in this scenario needs to be informative, which is rarely the case with sales-oriented promotions. More often than not, the main goal of promotional advertising is to increase sales.
  • Pricing. Advertising campaigns typically market entire businesses or brands, whereas promotional advertising tends to focus on one or two products or services. As a result, the latter is usually lighter on the pocket.
  • Emotional connect.  Advertising campaigns rely on building emotional connections with target audiences, whereas this is typically not the case with promotional ads. The latter are usually succinct in message delivery.
  • End result. Advertising campaigns typically take time to build trust and relationships.  Promotions, on the other hand, come with quicker results because customers tend to get time-based offers.

What Are the Types of Promotion?

Depending on the size and requirements of a business, it may benefit by employing different types of promotional techniques. These include:

  • Advertising. Businesses may reach out to large audiences through promotional ads via different forms of media, online included.
  • Sales promotion. Sales promotions typically run for short durations and rely on different marketing tools to communicate with target audiences.
  • Direct promotion. Direct promotion involves communicating with existing and probable customers directly. This may happen via email marketing, online advertisements, promotional landing pages, text messages, flyers, and more.
  • Self promotion. This process requires that businesses send their representatives to meet with leads and try to convert them into customers. However, it may happen with existing customers too.
  • Public relations. Building public relations involves using non-paid media channels with the aim of drawing attention to a product, a service, a brand, or any business message in particular.
  • Online promotion. Online promotions have grown by leaps and bounds in recent times. Businesses of different sizes now use various online tools to increase awareness and convince their target audiences.  Given the widespread use of the internet and the role it now plays in peoples buying decisions, ignoring this element comes with a high level of risk.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Promotional Advertising

While promotional advertising gives you an effective way to run short-term campaigns and get desired results, the process comes with some possible drawbacks as well. This requires that you understand what you may expect before you decide to tread this path.

The Benefits

  • Brand recognition. When done right, people who keep coming across your promotional adverts might become more aware of what your brand has to offer. Once your target audience becomes familiar with your brand, you may expect it to try your products/services at discounted prices.
  • Customer referrals. In this day and age where sharing information takes no more than a click or two on a mobile device, you may expect customers who use your promotions to spread the word. If you’ve got a great promotion, the chain of referrals may work rather well for you.
  • Customer loyalty. Running promotions from time to time brings with it the potential to create repeat customers and build brand loyalty. Running promotions for existing customers is typically a good idea, as it gives them an indication that their presence matters in your overall scheme of things.

Possible Shortcomings

  • Price sensitivity. It is common for customers to wait for promotional campaigns to make purchases, even when they’re loyal to the brands in question. The risk of running promotions often is that there might be a noticeable drop in purchases at market prices during non-promotional periods. Besides, the large sales volumes generated during and just after a promotional campaign are typically hard to maintain in the long run.
  • Image of the brand. The image of a brand may take a beating if it runs a promotional campaign for an extended period of time. This is because customers might then start viewing the business as one that offers sub-standard or outdated products/services at regularly discounted prices.

Tools of the Trade

Irrespective of whether you wish to offer freebies, discounts, incentives, add-ons, rewards programs, or extended warranties, getting your message to your target audience remains crucial. While you get various traditional methods from which to choose, the online world has added several great tools as well.  

Digital Marketing

The online world gives advertising and promotions managers the ability to reach out to their target audiences quickly and in a cost-effective way. However, they typically need to have a multipronged digital marketing approach that includes:

Traditional Tools

Traditional tools involved in promotional advertising include television and radio commercials, advertisements in print media, billboards, and product placement. One drawback with these methods is that while they can work rather well when used in the right manner, they tend to come at significantly higher costs than most online alternatives.

Factors to Consider

Determining which promotional advertising tools would help your business requires that you consider a few simple aspects.

  • Target audience. Does your target audience spend more time watching television, listening to the radio, or browsing the internet? This is relatively easy to find out by going through your buyer persona.
  • Location. This aspect is crucial when your promotional advertising campaign extends beyond the online world. This is the case if you’re going the billboard, physical signage, or product placement way.
  • Size of your business. This factor plays a role when determining feasibility surrounding the cost of a promotional campaign. For example, small businesses might find print, television, and radio ads to be cost-prohibitive.

Some Great Promotional Advertising Examples

Creating contests, giving gifts, offering free shipping, up-selling, and cross-selling are some of the methods that advertising and promotions managers turn to in different scenarios. Here are a few great promotional advertising examples that can help businesses get desired results.

  • Running promotions using your Google My Business account
  • Organizing a live-streamed event
  • Offering incentives for customers to record video testimonials
  • Using the services of social influencers
  • Offering discounts to people from specific demographics (students, teachers, seniors, and so on)
  • Offering free samples (in-store and online)
  • Running a buy one get one (BOGO) campaign


Promotional advertising might just be what your business needs if you plan to launch a new product or service, or if you wish to make your target audience aware of any particular aspect of your business. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your business as well as understanding your buyer persona is crucial when determining which type of promotional advertising might work well for you. While you may turn to promotional advertising with the aim of attracting customers, it also helps retain existing customers by building repeat business.

Given that a significant number of consumers now turn online to make purchases of different kinds, it’s important that you pay due attention to this medium. If you feel you don’t have the required time or know-how to implement suitable promotional advertising strategies, working with a reputable agency that specializes in this realm might be in your best interest

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