What Is Promotional Advertising?

Updated on May 11, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


The terms "advertising" and "promotion" define different aspects of marketing. Technically, advertising is just part of a larger promotion strategy. Briefly, promotion has two primary functions: 1) Publicizing a product, service, event or person with paid advertising or earned media to gain sales, awareness or participation; and, 2) Special offers and incentives. Promotional advertising falls under the second promotion function.

While all advertising has the goal of encouraging customers to buy (or buy in as in the case of causes), promotional advertising has the goal of encouraging customers to buy NOW!

Promotional Advertising Attributes

Promotional advertising has a number of distinct attributes that differentiate it from standard advertising:

  • Incentive. Typically some type of incentive is offered to encourage customers to buy.
  • Time Limit. Because offering incentives to purchase is an expensive marketing effort, a time limit is usually placed on these offers. Additionally, marketers want to know how well a particular campaign has performed during a target time period. This assists in planning for future campaigns.
  • Reply Mechanism. Usually a special reply card, coupon, website address, phone number, QR code or promotional code is included to facilitate a sale and provide a means for tracking. For example, a special 800 toll-free number might be provided for a campaign. Customers appreciate the instant ordering convenience and the free call which won't run up their phone bill. The volume of calls to a particular phone number, and ultimately the resulting sales, helps marketers determine the success of that campaign.

By contrast, standard advertising would not typically include all of these elements, but is done to build brand, or top of mind, awareness for the advertiser. The hope is that when a buying need arises, potential customers will recall the advertiser. Additionally, standard advertising is a long-term effort with the goal of keeping the advertiser's name in front of its target audience.

For maximum benefit, a marketing action plan should include both standard and promotional advertising efforts.

Promotional Advertising Tools

Promotional advertising tools commonly used include:

  • Discounts
  • Free gifts
  • Promotional products
  • Incentives
  • Add-on items or services
  • Financing options
  • Extended warranties
  • Loyalty or rewards programs

All of these tools have a cost to the advertiser either in the way of lower profit margins due to discounting or for the cost of products and services offered as incentives.

Key to measuring the success of any promotional advertising is a systematic method of tracking redemption of these offers. This requires coordination of the marketing, sales, accounting, technology and human resource functions.

For retail operations, tracking is usually built into the POS (point of sale) transaction processing system. Self-service websites often employ promotion codes that customers enter during the checkout process. More complex sales often include incentives in contracts for sale. However these sales are tracked, reporting needs to be set up to measure the amount of redeemed offers and compare with sales realized.

Goals and Tactics

The ultimate goal of any promotional advertising effort is to grow and stabilize revenues and profits throughout the year. There are three ways this can be done:

  • Promotions are offered during slow times or for slower moving products.
  • Deep discounts (also called loss leaders) are placed on a few popular offerings with the hope that customers will also consume higher profit margin goods and services.
  • Incentives may be offered for purchases of higher priced or higher profit selections which customers might not normally consider.


In addition to the added cost of providing incentives, one of the challenges of promotional advertising is that it may be difficult to tell if customers are buying because they are genuinely interested in what is being offered or if they are just buying as a result of the incentive.

This very problem has plagued many "daily deals" programs. Customers only show up when a deal is in force and then do not patronize the business again until the next deal comes along. Even worse is that regular customers end up using the deals when the intent is to draw in new customers. In this case, businesses can lose significant revenues, causing them to quickly discontinue these promotions.

This is not to say that promotional advertising tactics cannot be used for existing customers. They can be very successful for building repeat business. However, those incentives would be considered loyalty programs and should be marketed separately from new customer deals. Loyalty programs should also be attractive enough so that regular customers do not feel slighted when new customers are offered huge discounts and perks.

Identifying Promotional Advertising in the Wild

Next time you sit down to watch an hour or two of television, keep a tally of which commercials were standard branding and which ones were promotional (included incentive, time limit and reply mechanism). Now that you know the difference, you'll be able to see how others are using it and apply the principles to your own marketing.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    7 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi, btrbell! Glad you found the hubs helpful. Building a brand is a big challenge for both businesses and writers. Keep working at it. You already have a great presence and brand here on HP. Cheers!

  • btrbell profile image

    Randi Benlulu 

    7 years ago from Mesa, AZ

    These are all great ideas! I look frowar to checking out your hubs and bookmarking these in hope that I will build a strong enough brand to need them! Thank you! Up+


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)