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The Difference Between Permission and Interruption Marketing

In 1999, marketing guru Seth Godin coined the terms “permission marketing” and “interruption marketing.” Over 20 years later, these two terms are still widely used to describe an array of marketing strategies. Wondering which strategy will work for you? Sparx Publishing Group breaks it down – keep reading to learn more.

/ 6 mins / SparxTeam

What Is Permission and Interruption Marketing?

To define permission marketing, let’s turn to the man who coined the term: Seth Godin. The bestselling author and marketing expert first described it in his book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers. He explains it as “…the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

In other words, permission marketing respects a customer’s right to opt into receiving marketing information, which is a way of forming a positive relationship with the customer right from the start.

The result is marketing that is anticipated, personal, and relevant. Producing opt-in email newsletters and offering loyalty programs are common examples of permission marketing.

On the other side of the spectrum is interruption marketing. It’s the traditional marketing method we all know, such as television ads that cut into your program or print ads in the middle of a magazine article. There is no way to opt in (or out), so the ads reach audiences without explicit consent.

The difference is that one interrupts someone to grab their attention, while the other gets attention by targeting people who have relevant and aligned interests.

Marketing in the Real World

So you might be asking: how are these strategies being used in the real world? And who’s doing what, and why? For the answers, we wanted to focus on impact-driven companies – ones focused on making a difference in the world, while also promoting themselves and making a profit.

Example of Permission Marketing in Action

One business that’s doing things differently is outdoor-clothing company Patagonia. Their mission: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” And their marketing strategies support that statement. 

According to this Forbes article, the brand “spends more time advocating for environmental causes than they do marketing their own product.” It also states that “the only television commercial [they] ever ran… was designed to generate more comments on the Trump administration’s decision to reduce national monuments.” (Although they do run print ads, including, famously, the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad.)

People who want to learn more about Patagonia’s environmental activism can subscribe to their newsletter or blog. Or connect with activism groups through Patagonia Action Works. Or watch their film Public Trust. All are examples of permission marketing strategies.

It comes down to building a positive connection with a specific customer. 

In this case, someone who enjoys the wilderness, and has an interest in protecting and preserving the environment. Those customer connections – whether it’s opting in to environmental activism or the email newsletter – build loyalty, and are part of “turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers.”

Example of Interruption Marketing

On the other end of the spectrum is IKEA. We all know the Swedish store for its relatively low-cost, ready-to-build furniture and home accessories. But did you know that many of its stores are powered by solar panels and wind farms? And that they use their huge reach to get sustainable products – made from recycled plastic, or sustainable cotton, wool and bamboo – to the masses?

Many who like IKEA furniture also like the IKEA catalogue. The catalogue arrives directly in people’s mailboxes, which is an interruption marketing strategy called Direct Mail. But after 70 years (and a pandemic), the catalogue launched in digital format in 2021 – with a twist. 

As reported on Strategy Online, IKEA posted pages of the “catalogue on bus stops, buildings and coffee cups across the country, to bring the catalogue to where Canadians were during social distancing.” Plus, the brand’s irreverent humour makes its way into traditional commercials (like the famous “Experience the Power of a Bookbook” ad that spoofs Apple).

The IKEA catalogue has a long history, strong visual branding, offers something of value to the reader – and it comes right to you. That’s what makes this interruption marketing tool so effective for this company.

Difference in Strategy

When it comes down to it, marketing is about effecting some kind of change. 

In interruption marketing, the marketer broadcasts the benefits of a good or service to the general public, with the hope of influencing enough people to not only like it, but consume it as well. 

In permission marketing, it’s more about listening to what the consumer wants, learning more about their specific problems and interests, then creating relevant experiences that offer value. This helps build a relationship with the customer, which makes them more likely to purchase from you.


At the end of the day, both strategies have a place and time – it’s about how you use them. As Seth Godin explains in his book, it’s all about holding a customer’s attention. When permission-based marketing strategies are used, that attention is usually earned and therefore easier to hold for longer periods. 

At Sparx, we recognize that growth using permission marketing strategies can take more time, but we believe it yields stronger, more impactful results and helps create more loyal customers by offering value and delight. And for those reasons, it can be more profitable.

What’s important is taking the energy and passion spent on product development, and bringing it to the marketing efforts. If the first half of the equation was spent thinking hard about the end-user, the user experience, and a product or service that’s genuinely useful, then the marketing tactics should also naturally reflect that.

Get in Touch

Better marketing is just part of our mission to make the world better. Need help with your business’s marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you!

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