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Passive vs Active Advertising: Which One Is Right for Your Brand

by Stephanie Mialki in Advertising, Google Ads, Facebook Advertising This image shows passive vs active advertising techniques.

Today’s marketing efforts fall into one of two categories: passive advertising and active advertising. Although the two are opposites, and active tactics tend to be more common, neither one is necessarily “better” than the other.

In fact, passive marketing has plenty of advantages. Let’s take a closer look at what it is, how it differs from active marketing, and some examples.

What is passive advertising?

Passive advertising promotes your products and services in seemingly small, subtle, more native ways that doesn’t inconvenience or overwhelm consumers. It involves marketing efforts that reach people whether they know it or not, such as placing ads in locations where they are looking anyway.


A display ad in the margin of a website, or in between website content, is a passive form of advertising:

Main example banner ad

Since visitors have the option of looking at the ad or other content nearby, passive advertising doesn’t feel forced or annoying, but rather optional and expected from customers. It makes content and opportunity available to online users through smart positioning–but then waits for consumers to view the content on their own.

Compared to active advertising

Active marketing generally involves invading consumers’ space or time in larger, more aggressive ways. These efforts are more obvious and intrusive, so people know right away they are seeings ads.


Pop-up ads are the most obvious example:

Popup ad example

The consumer wasn’t looking for the pop-up or expecting it, but it was put in front of them regardless. Once they see it, there’s no question they’re being targeted, and they must take action to remove it from their view. Either click through to see the offer, or close the window.

Blast email advertising is another example of active marketing, because it invades users’ inboxes, instead of waiting for users to come to you:

Email advertising

Similarly, mid-roll in-stream video ads are active because they disrupt the video viewing experience, and the only way to continue watching a video is by watching the ad:

Midroll ad

Paid search advertising would be considered active as well. In comparison to SEO (a form of passive marketing discussed below), paid search ads proactively get in front of searchers based on queries:

Paid search ad

Many businesses use a combination of both active and passive advertising, each one to a different degree, depending on the company and its specific marketing goals. Below are more differences between the two.

Passive advertising vs active advertising


Often, when brands publish digital content on the web (videos, blogs, infographics, etc.), they create “footprints” not necessarily to be immediately seen by everyone but to be found by those who are actively looking for that information.

For example, a consumer searches Google to locate a blog article about a specific topic they’re interested in. The content was already published before the search was conducted with no additional effort required to bring the customer into the business.

Although passive marketing still takes work and planning, it’s thoughtful, anticipatory, and practical, so it gets long-lasting, continued results.

Active advertising generally requires more action and effort on the part of the business. Since it’s deliberate and purposeful, it takes consistent effort, skill, and persistence to see positive results.


Intent can be strong in both cases.

With passive advertising, you’re not pushing content at consumers. However, there’s a good chance they will see it when they are purposely looking for specific information, since you’re publishing it where they are likely seeking related content.

Intent can be strong with active methods, too, because brands can proactively search for specifically targeted consumers to convert into customers. Keep in mind, though, people are often put off by pushy marketing campaigns, so if you’re not careful, consumers may be less likely to take action.


Passive marketing tends to be more cost-effective, because there’s usually only a one-time cost or minimal investment to passively market your product, service, or brand.

When publishing blogs or social media posts, for example, it may require occasional refreshing. But once it’s published, it won’t cost as much as active, consistent advertising to keep up.

Again, since active advertising requires constant attention and effort, it’s naturally going to require more marketing budget as well.

Business model & image

Some businesses may depend on active strategies more than others. In competitive industries, for instance, a brand may have to take drastic, more intrusive measures to win the attention of consumers–and may be more willing to pay to do so. However, passive marketing may suffice for already-established businesses, or those in a less competitive industry.

It’s also important to consider the corporate image you want to convey. To stay more conservative and convey professionalism, sticking with a passive marketing approach may be best. If you are primarily concerned with your bottom line and increase sales, a more active advertising method is the better option.

If you aren’t making good use of passive marketing techniques and want to try, here are some ways to start.

Examples of passive advertising

Social media ads

Most social media advertising is native–the ad matches the form, feel, and function of the content among which it appears, rather than being disruptive.

For example, image and video ads directly within the Facebook feed (or other platform’s feeds) are native because they blend in with the rest of the feed:

Facebook feed ad

The only difference is that they say “sponsored” but even that doesn’t disrupt the user experience.

Ads feel especially native and passive when brands use targeting based on a user’s demographics or interests because it feels more natural when it’s relevant and shows up in their feed.

Display ads

While these Square examples aren’t as native, they’re still passive because they don’t interrupt the user experience on

Square display ad

Not only that, but they’re highly relevant after recently visiting and interacting with the Square website.

Retargeting isn’t the only way to serve relevant ads to internet users. Contextual ads are equally as important. Contextual advertising refers to placing ads on web pages based on the content of those pages, rather than past browsing behavior or user demographics.

Verizon does this by placing an ad for a mobile plan on a Business Insider article about Verizon-Synchrony:

Contextual advertising

Visitors are already on the site to read about Verizon-related content, so an offer directly from Verizon attracts their attention.

Which is better?

There’s no right answer to the question. The method you select depends on your audience, advertising goals, brand image, industry, budget, and more. It’s likely the best solution would be to combine the two.

To see how Instapage can help you create and scale the best possible campaign from ad to landing page, sign up for an Instapage 14-day free trial today.

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Stephanie Mialki

by Stephanie Mialki

Stephanie Mialki is a digital marketing professional with expertise in ecommerce trends, landing pages, journalism, and mass communication.

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