At the outset, let us understand what advertising is.
Advertising and Public Relations are not ‘mass media’ in the way that the press, the cinema, radio and TV and the folk media are.
They are not so much mediating technologies for reaching the masses as commercial uses of the mass media to get across persuasive messages to large numbers of customers with the primary purpose of selling products, services and ideas.
Advertising and Public Relations are thus ‘applied’ mass media.
Advertising and Public Relations have indeed been the engines of growth for the mass media since much of the financial support for the development of the technological media has come from business and industry.
Both business and industry need large-scale advertising and public relations to make their wares, strengths and differentiators known in the marketplace.
This has resulted in a certain ‘interdependence’ of the media and business. Further, since other social institutions too (such as politics, education, religion, atheism, agnosticism, science, rationalism, empiricism, and art and culture) need to speak to the public and to publicise their activities, they are required to make use of the media as well.
As a consequence, advertising and public relations have become so closely intermeshed with the mass media that the distinction between the media as public fora and as tools of publicity for business and other social institutions has become gradually blurred.
Advertising and Public Relations thus hold the key to understanding both the form and substance of modern mass communication.
Indeed, the history of mass communication has been largely shaped by the needs of advertising and public relations on the part of business, government and other social, political and cultural institutions.
Both advertising and public relations are forms of publicity, but with a difference.
Advertising is paid for, and is direct and explicit: media users for the most part recognize advertisements for what they are, and know who has paid for them, as well as who the sponsors are.
Advertising rates for the various media are in the public domain and so the ‘adspend’ can be calculated.
The source of the advertisement is also known, so is the name of the agency that created or produced it.
Public Relations, however, is subtle and often unrecognized by the general public. It is not paid for directly, and the sponsor is rarely mentioned.
That is largely true for ‘press or media relations,’ ‘advertorials’ and lifestyle/celebrity (or ‘Page Three’) journalism. However, in PR activities such as community services, exhibitions, cultural and sports events, health camps and so on, the sponsor’s name is widely publicized.
An advertisement is thus a public announcement with the avowed purpose not so much to inform as to persuade the public to buy a product, a service or an idea.
According to the Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act of 1954, an advertisement includes ‘any notice, circular, label, wrapper, or other document and any announcement made orally or by means of producing or transmitting light, sound or smoke.’
Public Relations, on the other hand, is the ‘deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain understanding between an organization and its public.’