In today’s increasingly digital landscape, capturing consumers’ imaginations and connecting them to a brand, product, or service remains a key objective for companies worldwide. As a broad field that encompasses content production and management, consumer behavior analytics, visual design, consumer ethics, and customer relationship management, modern marketing goes beyond traditional print, radio, and television advertisements. Marketing now consists of multi-channel narratives that are integrated into much of consumers’ everyday lives, from logging into their social media accounts or using an app on their phone, to reading the news on the internet or walking through the grocery aisle.

The modern marketer is an interdisciplinary professional, one that can call upon strategic creativity to plan, launch, track, and analyze effective advertising campaigns. A master’s in advertising and marketing builds upon foundational principles in marketing theory and consumer behavior and provides students with real-world instruction in strategic media planning, advertising management, digital marketing, branding and visual identity, account management, and more.

Note: The terms “advertising” and “marketing” are typically used interchangeably by graduate programs in the field.

Classification of Master’s in Advertising and Marketing Programs

Master’s programs in advertising and marketing blend the study of marketing theory (e.g. consumer behavior) with instruction in advertising techniques (e.g. market research and business intelligence). This dynamic combination prepares graduates for professional opportunities in today’s integrated marketing environment, and to use business intelligence to shape managerial decisions in creative design, account management, sales, digital marketing, and more.

Students pursuing graduate education and advertising can select from a variety of academic tracks, including a Master of Arts (M.A.) and a Master of Science (M.S.). Although core curriculum typically overlaps, the Master of Science generally has a greater focus on research and business analytics coursework (although this is not always the case). These programs are offered by a number of different schools or departments, including communication (e.g. Michigan State University); management (e.g. Vanderbilt University); advertising and public relations (e.g. University of Texas); and business (e.g. Johns Hopkins University). Other example programs can be found at the following institutions: Boston University, University of Alabama, and Webster University.

Like most graduate programs, students have the opportunity to shape their educational experience by concentrating their coursework in specific areas of study. Within the master’s in advertising and marketing, common specializations include the following:

  • Creative Strategy and Branding
  • Digital Marketing
  • Product Management
  • Brand Management
  • Marketing Analytics
  • Enterprise Marketing
  • Global/Multicultural Marketing

Note: Master’s in Marketing and Advertising programs are distinct from Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) programs with a concentration in Marketing/Advertising. The core curriculum in an MBA program provides students with a general business education that covers areas like finance, accounting, and business operations and management. These courses are not typically required in a Master’s in Marketing program, as these programs focus more on marketing tactics and their connection to an organization’s overall business plan.

Online Master’s in Marketing Programs

Professionals in the advertising and marketing space who want to earn their graduate degree while still working may find online master’s in advertising and marketing programs a preferred option. Online programs are also a good option for students who are looking to change careers, as they can continue to work while pursuing their degree. Online programs grant students more flexibility in terms of navigating their academic schedule alongside professional and personal responsibilities, as they do not require students to commute to campus for lectures and other course activities. This is especially true for students who plan to pursue their degree part-time and do not want to commute to campus after work for evening classes. In addition, students who do not live near a campus-based program can access graduate education without having to relocate.

For students interested in earning their graduate degree online, it is important to understand the types of instruction methods used in online programs, as they vary in terms of their flexibility. Programs that use mainly asynchronous instruction deliver pre-recorded lectures and other course materials through a learning management system that students can access at any time of day or night. Students are not required to be online at specific times for live lectures or discussions. Asynchronous instruction has the benefit of being highly flexible, allowing students to log in and learn or complete projects when they have time. This is particularly advantageous for students in different time zones from the campus of the program in which they are enrolled, and for students whose work does not allow them to adhere to a traditional student schedule. However, programs that use asynchronous instruction require students to be self-motivated and dedicated to earning their degree, as they are inherently less structure than programs that use synchronous instruction that have live lectures students must attend online at specific times.

Programs that use synchronous instruction have the benefit of being more interactive in the sense that students are expected to log in at specific times to participate in real-time lectures and class discussions (either by video chat or forum discussions). These programs also have some asynchronous elements, such as independent course readings and assignments; however, there is an expectation that students will be online for the live sessions. Programs that use synchronous instruction have more of a traditional on-campus classroom feel, which may be desirable for students who learn better in a more structured environment or who value direct discussions with instructors and classmates. These programs are typically still more flexible than commuting to a campus-based program, but they are not as flexible as programs that use asynchronous instruction.

Curriculum Details for Master’s in Advertising Programs

Today’s globally connected, digitally driven business environment requires marketers that possess diverse skills in data analytics, communication and strategic thinking. Marketing professionals — whether starting out or seeking to advance in their careers — can enhance those skills through a master’s in advertising degree. These programs combine classroom learning, real-world instruction, and networking opportunities into a multidisciplinary curriculum that covers brand management, digital marketing, sales, customer insights, data analytics and more.

Master’s in advertising programs may take between 12 and 36 months to complete and some programs offer both part- and full-time options. For example, some programs, such as the Master of Arts in Advertising at Syracuse University or the Master of Science in Marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago can be completed in as little as one year.

Traditionally, these programs divide their curriculum into sections: core classwork, electives and specialization coursework, and thesis/internships. Core classwork, typically 15 credit hours, introduces students to fundamental concepts in marketing, including advertising research, marketing management, consumer behavior, and data analysis. Through this coursework, students may gain knowledge and skills in key marketing principles and techniques, including how to:

  • Build customer data sets from multiple data sources
  • Identify and understand brand assets
  • Use appropriate quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyze consumer patterns and psychology
  • Conduct competitor analyses and develop strategic business intelligence
  • Understand the lifecycle of product management, development and promotion

The final year of the program is spent taking specialized coursework in concentration areas, such as product development, design leadership, visual communication, digital marketing and social media, data visualization, business-to-business marketing or branding communications. Depending on the institution, students usually complete between 15 and 18 credit hours of elective study in their graduate program. To earn their degree, students may also be required to write a thesis, complete an internship, or develop a marketing portfolio with the support of their graduate committee.

Below is a list of example classes students may encounter while enrolled in a master’s in advertising or master’s in marketing degree program.

  • Marketing Analytics: A foundational examination of analytics, exploring underlying principles, data gathering and analysis techniques, marketing segmentation, testing, and analytics software.
  • Consumer Behavior: An exploration of the core concepts of behavioral science, introducing students to consumer behavior theory and practical knowledge of studying consumer purchasing patterns and preferences.
  • Marketing and Business Intelligence: The study of transforming data into actionable insights, teaching students how to use statistical software to collect, analyze and interpret data from multiple sources.
  • Product Management: Examines the product lifecycle journey, from inception to development, production, and promotion, reviewing the product manager’s roles and responsibilities in each stage of product management.
  • Introduction to Marketing: An overview of the fundamental concepts and theory of marketing, introducing students to topics such as consumer behavior, product development, product pricing, and product distribution.
  • Multicultural Marketing: Advanced study of multicultural marketing theories and behaviors, emphasizing strategic marketing practices that consider various cultural, religious and gender-based audiences.

The majority of master’s in advertising and marketing programs require students to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours of study to earn their degree. Depending on the individual program, students may select from thesis and non-thesis degree tracks. Typically, the thesis track requires fewer credit hours to complete, while a non-thesis track may require additional coursework and a professional marketing portfolio.

The table below contains a sample curriculum plan for a master’s in advertising that requires 36 credit hours of study to complete.

Fall Term
Spring Term
Year 1
  • Introduction to Statistical Analysis
  • Marketing & Advertising Management
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Principles of Advertising
  • New Media Strategy
  • Creative Strategies
Year 2
  • Strategic Brand Communication
  • Integrated Media Marketing
  • Internet Marketing Practices
  • Brand Management
  • Quantitative Analysis in Marketing
  • Business Law and Ethics

In addition to master’s in marketing programs, there are also master’s programs that focus on specific subspecialties within the field of marketing. These include online Master’s in Digital Marketing programs, online Master’s in Public Relations programs, and online Master’s in Social Media programs.

Master’s in Advertising versus Master’s in Communication with an Advertising Specialization

On the surface, a graduate degree in communication or mass communication with an advertising concentration may seem to be quite similar to a graduate program in advertising. However, while there is some overlap in coursework, they are distinctly different programs.

The master’s in communication with a focus in marketing is designed for communication professionals who want to reach broad audiences with their messaging. This type of program introduces students to the latest strategies in marketing, but does so by covering advanced principles and concepts in communication and connecting them to the practice of marketing. The core curriculum for these programs typically covers the fundamentals of communication, exploring subjects such as marketing communication research, communication theory, persuasion theory, intercultural communication, and gender communication. Armed with advanced knowledge of how communication works in various mediums (e.g. print, social media, web), students progress into specialized advertising coursework. These classes typically cover topics such as the following:

  • Strategic marketing
  • Intercultural communication
  • Integrated marketing communication
  • Visual identity and branding

Students gain a basic understanding of marketing principles, from advertising concepts to account management, logos, and digital campaigns. However, the instruction in these classes are aimed at communication principles and practices.

On the other hand, the master’s in advertising is solely focused on advertising and marketing best practices, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of advertising theory and a working, practical skill set that empowers them to reach today’s consumers through any number of media and marketing channels. Core classes concentrate on marketing fundamentals rather than communication concepts, and cover topics such as ethical marketing, marketing strategy and analytics, developing marketing plans, brand management, and product development. Electives dive further into marketing-specific areas, such as the following:

  • Strategic brand communication
  • Media strategy
  • Consumer psychology and behavior
  • Social media marketing
  • International advertising

Before deciding on a program, students should take stock of their professional aspirations. Are they a public relations professional seeking additional awareness of marketing practices, a brand manager seeking a promotion to brand director for a Fortune 500 company, or a scholar of communication and how it connects to consumer perspectives and behavior? Both graduate programs are inherently different and the curriculum and learning objectives should be considered before making a decision.

Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in Marketing

Marketing and advertising is an expansive field, one that is applicable to every industry – from technology to higher education. Yet, marketing is also an evolving field that places a greater emphasis on data to make strategic marketing decisions. Career opportunities in digital marketing, big data, artificial intelligence and data analytics are emerging as new employment paths while also being adopted in traditional marketing roles, such as sales, promotion and creative design. Employers are seeking multi-faceted marketing professionals that understand the latest integrated marketing practices and leverage data to create effective marketing tactics.

Graduates with a master’s in advertising and marketing can pursue roles in diverse areas, ranging from account management to content creation, digital and online media, graphic design, and branding. The expanded skill set developed in a graduate program allows students to advance in their current career paths or explore new employment avenues. Below is a sample list of marketing roles individuals with a master’s degree in the field may want to consider:

  • Market Research Analyst: Responsible for studying and analyzing market conditions and consumer behaviors, market research analysts transform multiple data points and market trends (e.g. shopping behaviors, website traffic) into actionable marketing strategies for businesses large and small.
  • Digital Strategist: Armed with a knowledge of online media, especially search engine optimization and search engine marketing, digital strategists use web analytics to create, launch and track digital marketing initiatives (through web content and paid advertising).
  • Digital Analytics Director: In charge of data gathering, tracking, processing, and analysis, the digital analytics director manages business intelligence for companies, aligning the company’s goals with data strategies – whether in e-commerce, website behavior, consumer tracking and more.
  • Interactive Marketing Director: The interactive marketing director plans, develops and launches marketing campaigns and strategies across various marketing channels (e.g. print, digital, social media, television), to enhance a company’s brand, customer loyalty, product promotion, company awareness, consumer engagement and bottom line revenue.
  • Product Manager: Product marketing managers conduct market research to understand consumer needs, developing a project scope, specifications, and strategies to develop, produce and market new products, such as software, apparel, hardware, cars, and toys.
  • Creative Marketing Director: Overseeing a company or organization’s brand, creative marketing directors lead a team of creative staff members, managing brand guidelines, providing guidance for marketing campaigns, and developing strategies to protect and expand a brand’s recognition and impact.