What is Institutional Advertising?

John Lister

Institutional advertising is marketing designed to promote a company rather than a specific good or service. It can be designed to make the public more aware of a company or to improve the reputation and image of an existing company. Depending on the company, this can be a form of brand advertising.

Institutional advertising is designed to promote a company.
Institutional advertising is designed to promote a company.

Many forms of advertising are about promoting products. This can involve promoting a new product so that the public is aware of its existence, or trying to persuade the public to buy more of an existing product. Institutional advertising instead promotes the company itself. One example would be a grocery chain running advertisements which stressed the general quality or low prices of its food, rather than detailing specific offers it was running.

Alcohol firms may run commercials warning against excessive drinking or driving while under the influence.
Alcohol firms may run commercials warning against excessive drinking or driving while under the influence.

Some forms of institutional advertising are so geared towards promoting a positive image that they effectively discourage sales of a product to some extent. For example, alcohol firms may run commercials warning against excessive drinking or driving while under the influence. Such commercials are usually designed to improve the image of the company, making it seem more trustworthy or responsible.

In some cases, institutional advertising is the same thing as brand awareness advertising. This is where the advertising promotes a particular brand rather than the product itself. For example, a banking group might run commercials promoting one of its banks as being dynamic and exciting, while promoting a sister bank as being particularly helpful to customers. In both cases this is different than promoting a specific service, for example by advertising a low rate on loans for new customers.

It is also possible for institutional advertising to promote an industry rather than a particular company. This will usually be carried out by an industry association. It happens most often in industries where many of the companies are small firms without the budgets to carry out major advertising, particularly in national media. To give a hypothetical example, most wills prepared by lawyers are done so by small law firms with only a few offices. A trade association for inheritance lawyers could carry out this type of advertising by putting together a television commercial which promotes the importance of getting a will, then lists a website which refers viewers to lawyers in their area.

Institutional advertising can cause problems for marketing analysis. Where a commercial is for a specific product, marketers can track how it affects sales and see how effective the advertising was. With institutional advertising, the link between the advertising and the effect on business is much weaker and may take longer to show any effects.

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Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - I actually find it a breath of fresh air to watch ads that don’t hit you in the face with a hard-sell. Low-key, philosophical institutional ads are the best advertising going around in my opinion. They make you think without punching your buttons so to speak. In that sense, they plant ideas in your mind that stay with you long after the commercial is over.


I suppose I understand what institutional advertising is, but I don’t always “get it.” By that I mean there are so many examples of institutional advertising where the message is so subtle that I don’t even make the connection to the company. I wind up being more focused on how clever the ad was and forget about the connection to the company altogether. I don’t know if that’s the intent of the advertisers, but that’s a lot of money they’re spending for some very soft-sell brand awareness marketing.

I think companies need to spend more time focus-grouping these kinds of brand awareness ads to make sure consumers understand what companies are trying to say.

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