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In today’s data-driven business landscape, understanding the impact of your advertising efforts is critical to success. There are numerous metrics available for companies to assess the performance of their marketing campaigns, but two metrics often stand out due to their crucial role in evaluation – Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) and Return on Investment (ROI). At first glance, these two metrics may seem similar. After all, they both deal with the returns of a particular endeavor. However, the nuanced differences between ROAS and ROI can make a substantial difference in how you perceive your marketing and advertising efforts. In this post, we’ll delve into the details of ROAS and ROI, highlighting their differences, how to calculate them, and their relevance in the digital marketing landscape.


What is ROAS?

Return on Ad Spend, commonly abbreviated as ROAS, is a metric that is specific to advertising campaigns. It measures the gross revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising. In essence, it helps businesses understand how effectively their advertising spend is translating into revenue.


If you’re an online retailer, for example, and you spend $1000 on a Google AdWords campaign that generates $5000 in revenue, your ROAS would be 5:1, or $5 revenue for every $1 spent on ads. High ROAS indicates that your advertising efforts are working well, generating high revenue relative to the costs.


The formula to calculate ROAS is simple:

ROAS = (Revenue from Ad campaign) / (Cost of Ad campaign)


Benefits and Limitations of ROAS

ROAS is a vital tool for digital marketers as it provides a clear snapshot of advertising campaign performance. It’s easy to understand and straightforward to calculate, making it an excellent indicator of ad efficiency. If you’re looking to understand the direct financial implications of a specific ad campaign, ROAS is your go-to metric.


However, it’s essential to note that ROAS does have its limitations. It does not take into account the overall profitability of the business or the costs associated with producing or delivering the product or service being advertised. Thus, a campaign with a high ROAS is not necessarily profitable. ROAS is a gross metric, meaning it does not consider costs beyond advertising spend.


What is ROI?

Return on Investment, or ROI, is a broader metric used across industries and business functions, not just marketing. ROI measures the efficiency of an investment. It calculates the net profit of an investment relative to the cost of the investment, expressed as a percentage. ROI considers the total cost of doing business, including production costs, overhead costs, and other relevant costs, providing a more holistic view of profitability.


The formula to calculate ROI is as follows:

ROI = [(Net Profit) / (Cost of Investment)] * 100%


ROI offers a comprehensive view of profitability. Using the same online retailer example, let’s say that you spent $1000 on Google AdWords, which generated $5000 in revenue. However, the cost of goods sold (COGS), including production, shipping, and other costs, amounted to $3000. Your net profit is $5000 – $3000 = $2000. Thus, your ROI is [(2000) / (1000)] * 100% = 200%.


Benefits and Limitations of ROI

ROI offers a more detailed perspective on profitability than ROAS. By including all costs and considering net profit, ROI gives businesses a clearer picture of the actual return of an investment.


But, the ROI calculation might be a bit more complicated as it requires a deeper understanding of all costs involved in producing and delivering a product or service. Furthermore, when applied to marketing campaigns, attributing all costs and profits can be challenging due to factors such as consumer lifetime value and long-term brand recognition.


How do ROAS and ROI Differ?

While both ROAS and ROI provide insights into the profitability and effectiveness of investments, they are different in two main aspects:


Scope: ROAS is specific to advertising campaigns, while ROI is a broader metric applicable to any investment.


Calculation: ROAS is a gross revenue metric, calculated using only the revenue and costs from a specific ad campaign. In contrast, ROI is a net profit metric, incorporating all costs related to producing and delivering the product or service.


Which One Should You Use?

ROAS and ROI are both useful, but they serve different purposes. If you want to evaluate the direct financial impact of a specific ad campaign, ROAS is your metric. It provides a clear view of how effectively your advertising dollars are converting into revenue.


On the other hand, ROI should be used when you’re looking for a more comprehensive view of your investments’ profitability. ROI can help you understand whether your business operations are profitable as a whole, factoring in all costs, not just those related to advertising.


In reality, businesses should use both metrics in tandem. ROAS can guide day-to-day advertising decisions, while ROI can inform broader business strategy and resource allocation decisions.



In the fast-paced, competitive world of digital marketing, it’s essential to use the right metrics to guide your decision-making process. ROAS and ROI, while similar, serve different but complementary roles. Understanding both these metrics, their benefits, and limitations, and when to use each can empower you to make smarter, data-driven decisions, ultimately driving business success. By integrating these metrics into your performance evaluation processes, you can ensure that your marketing and overall business operations are as effective and profitable as possible.

Ikonik Digital

As an ROI-focused agency, Ikonik Digital helps brands and businesses reach & understand their customers while growing the bottom line.