What is an Advertising Degree?

Degree programs in advertising teach students how to create promotional messages and campaigns to sell products and services. The curriculum is made up of courses that demonstrate how to develop a brand and communicate it through the various advertising channels of print, television, radio, and online media.

By its nature, advertising is an art, a science, and a business. Classes therefore span these three sectors. Artistic aspects are covered in courses like visual design, copywriting, and creative strategy. The science of the field is studied in consumer behavior, communication, and psychology courses. And the business of advertising is examined from the perspectives of research, account planning and campaigns, and sales.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Advertising - Two Year Duration
Advertising degrees at the associate level are not that common, probably because most entry-level jobs in the field require a bachelor’s degree. However, associate degree programs provide a general overview and can help students decide if they wish to further their studies in advertising. Some employers may hire associate graduates in advertising support or assistant roles.

Coursework at this level typically includes:

  • Principles and Terminology of Advertising
  • Copywriting and Editing for Advertising
  • Basics of Photography
  • Graphic Design
  • Fundamentals of Computer Graphics
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Media Planning and Buying in Advertising

Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising - Four Year Duration
This is the degree that typically lays the foundation for full-time work in the advertising industry, in roles such as advertising research, ad campaign development, and account management.

Four-year bachelor’s programs in advertising expand on the topics listed above in the associate degree section.

They also cover:

  • Advertising Research and Strategies
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Brand Positioning and Management
  • Advertising Sales
  • Retail Advertising
  • Ethics and Law in Advertising

Certificate in Advertising (To Complement Another Undergraduate Degree) - Varying Durations
It is worth noting that some schools offer a Certificate in Advertising. In this case, the word ‘certificate’ does not refer to a diploma that is often a less advanced credential than an associate degree. Certificate programs in advertising are designed to complement an undergraduate degree in a related field such as business administration, marketing, or communications. They allow students who have graduated in another discipline to configure their degree to help them succeed in working in advertising.

Master’s Degree in Advertising - Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Advertising typically qualify for many senior roles in advertising itself, and in other related fields. Among these are advertising manager, creative director, graphic designer, copywriter, and web designer.

Some master’s programs require that students choose a specialization like management or research. The specific curriculum that students follow often depends on their particular interest.

Courses that are common at this level, though, include:

  • Social Media in Advertising
  • Marketing and Brand Communication Strategies
  • International Advertising
  • Television and Video Campaigns / Commercials
  • Consumer Behavior Analysis
  • Managing Advertising Accounts
  • Media Ethics

Doctoral Degree in Advertising - Five to Six Year Duration
Doctoral programs in advertising are not common. Those that exist, however, typically focus on consumer psychology and behavior analysis. Holders of a Doctorate in Advertising often conduct research and teach at universities or colleges or work as advertising agency directors.

Programs at this level tend to cover these topics and how they influence advertising decisions:

  • Psycholinguistics – the relationships between language and psychological processes
  • Popular Culture
  • Freedom of Expression

Degrees Similar to Advertising

Business Administration
Advertising is part of running a business. So, advertising and business degrees are naturally linked. Business administration or management, though, has a broader scope. It is concerned with more than advertising. Its mandate includes overseeing finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. A business administration degree program, therefore, teaches students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
Advertising degree programs have a fairly narrow focus. On the other hand, degree programs in communications teach broad skills that graduates can apply in media, public relations, and general communications and content writing work.

Graphic Design
The common goal of graphic design and advertising is to produce visual concepts. Both disciplines employ layout, color, and other creative concepts to inspire and captivate consumers.

Journalism degree programs teach students how to report, write, and edit articles for broadcast or publication. They include classes in broadcast news writing, copyediting and design, reporting, and media law and ethics.

A degree in marketing prepares students to enter the creative business of promoting and distributing products and services to specific customer markets. Programs typically combine core courses in economics, finance, and business management with specialized courses in areas like marketing trends, applied marketing research, marketing communication, and digital marketing.

Merchandising is closely related to advertising. It can be said that advertising is a longer-term process than merchandising. While advertising, along with marketing, leads customers to a product, merchandising makes sure that that product is displayed in the right store or on the right website at the right time. Many merchandising managers and merchandisers hold a marketing or advertising degree.

Psychology and advertising are not as far apart as some people may initially think. Students from both degree programs learn about individual and group behavior and they evaluate and make use of data. Advertisers and marketers, in fact, routinely use psychological tactics to influence consumer behavior. They appeal to our emotions. They reveal our flaws in using competing products. They position their product/service as exclusive versus that of the competition. They introduce fear and doubt to steer us to where they want us to go.

Public Relations
This is another field that is closely aligned with advertising. Public relations degree programs teach students how to manage corporate reputations by communicating with stakeholders and generating positive media coverage. The success or failure of a company’s advertising activities, of course, has huge impact on both consumer perception and company reputation.

Skills You’ll Learn

The goal of all advertising is to communicate a message and draw feelings and emotions about that message in those that receive it. This is the primary lesson taught to and learned by advertising students.

This is another foundational piece of a career in the field. Advertising students are encouraged to think imaginatively, untraditionally, to come up with ideas that are unique and unexpected.

Ability to Accept and Use Criticism
People who work in a creative role know that they will face criticism, simply because their work is work that requires vision, draws on inspiration, and demands originality. Students of advertising learn that this comes with the job. Understanding this, being able to accept it, and knowing how to put constructive criticism to use are valuable in any career, and in life in general.

Design Skills
The ability to effectively use words, images, and color to develop a layout and convey a message is something that can be applied in many occupations.

Data Interpretation and Problem-Solving Skills
Advertising students learn that solving the problem of how and what they need to create often comes from looking at data concerning consumer psychology and behavior.

What Can You Do with an Advertising Degree?

Virtually every business advertises its products or services. It follows, then, that the number of occupational categories that advertising graduates can explore is extremely wide, if not almost endless.

Here is a list of some of them:

  • Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
  • Banking and Finance
  • Charity, Not-for-Profit, and NGOs
  • Culture, Music, and the Performing Arts
  • Energy and Utilities
  • Environment, Agriculture, and Conservation
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Management Consulting and Business
  • Manufacturing and Production
  • Media
  • Public Sector and Defense
  • Recruitment and Human Resources
  • Retail and Sales


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