What Are Advertorials And Why Should You Start Using Them.


Advertorials deserve a special place in copywriting’s heaven. In the past, they were amongst the most effective forms of advertising. This is because an advertorial is an ad disguised as something offering valuable information. Instead of screaming “I’m an ad, I want to sell you something”, it educates and persuades you at the same time.

While some may argue with this, advertorials spanned an entire new school of marketing. The best known is the catalog copy. This would be a small magazine containing both articles and ads. You can find them on every plane or receive them in your mail from direct mail companies.

A more recent version of the advertorial comes in the form of blogging. While not all blogs are advertorials (most are not), talented marketers can write a blog posts that persuades to an action while educating the reader. I have seen this done by App Sumo with great success (and they know what they are doing) but this is mostly something used by other information marketers and publishers.

I do feel that most people don’t recognize advertorials as the powerful marketing weapons they are. Just recently, I have received an opportunity to write an advertorial for an e-commerce store and in my research, I have seen that most have no ideas how to write them properly. While there were a few advertorials in the range of 1000 words which were designed using real copywriting techniques, most were not.

Most were a line or two, were unclear on a objective, had no clear call to action and generally were not very interesting. Ogilvy would turn over in his grave if he knew that such pieces exists … and that for all intents and purposes, poorly written, confusing advertorials are the norm nowadays online.

Even the companies that self-identify themselves as marketing companies providing advertorial services suck at this. From my research, 4 out of 5 companies put almost all the focus on where the advertorial is going to reside, the distribution model and not on the copy itself. These are people who never got a good, solid education in salesmanship and see marketing just as a game of numbers. This may be true, it is a game of numbers, but good copy goes a lot further than good distribution.

So should you write an advertorial for your product … and how should you do it?

Well, theoretically any product is a good fit for an advertorial. Think of it this way – instead of trying to sell directly, you’re writing an newspaper / magazine article that is also persuasive. The central idea is not your product but another hook, even if eventually the call to action will lead to your product.

An advertorial can be something like a review or news or how to. The logic here is that through educating the prospect you are making him realize that there is a need and then you position your product as a way to fulfilling that need.

You’re selling covertly, plain and simple. You want to make the prospect say “wow, this is so interesting” before you shift focus to the product at hand. In other words, the hook comes first, the product comes second.

Let me give you an example. As I’ve said, I’ve recently wrote an advertorial for an e-commerce store selling perfumes. A normal ad would be to simply sell the products and the concept. In the advertorial, I’ve started with a story of how a young lady saved hundreds of USD by buying online and then all the advantages of buying online. I’ve countered an objection (that you can test them in a physical store and then order from your phone for a 50% discount) and only at the end I’ve came with a call to action for the store itself. The idea of the advertorial was to sell the idea that shopping online is a lot cheaper and convenient and 90% of the space was used to sell that idea.

At the end, the prospect was sold on the general idea but not on a specific call to action so I’ve simply plugged in what she must do now (visit a specific store) and I’ve gave a good reason to do that now (three products heavily discounted aka loss leaders).

Let me give you another example – the Tony Robbins commercials from the 90s. These were superbly done and I have a feeling they’re still studied in business school.

Most late night commercials were simply benefit after benefit, bonus after bonus. It was a matter of “you’ll get this … you’ll get this … but if you order in the next five minutes, you’ll also get this”. It was a way of stimulating the greed of the prospect and playing on everyone’s desire to get something for nothing or a better deal than others.

Tony Robbins did something different. He created one to two hours videos which were far longer than the competition (an average commercial was maybe 10 minutes). He boosted the production quality by recording them in nature or in good set-ups as opposed to generic television studios.

That was not the most important thing though. The important one was that these videos were more educative than actual products.If a video was two hours, then 90 minutes were actual education. He was talking about goal setting, strategies to lose weight, how to manage your stress, NLP, etc and for the longest period, he wasn’t trying to sell you anything. Tony would provide this massive value and only afterwards he would promote a product, something that would naturally tie in with everything he had said before.

Because of this, he became the king of late night commercials in the early 90s. The modern equivalent of this, today, is the webinar, which contains an educational section and a sales one. These were modeled directly on the above mentioned commercials.

So as you can see, it is not a matter of format but one of principle. You lead with massive value, something that you could even charge money for, something that makes your prospect’s life better and only then you start promoting. This can be done in article form, as a webinar, as a video presentation, as a blog post, etc. It’s not relevant. What’s relevant is to gain ownership by providing highly relevant and valuable information and to use this momentum to transition into a sales mode.

But how would you write an advertorial – in the classical sense of the word – as an article?

The most important element is your hook. A hook can be roughly defined as “what gets attention”, as the central element of a piece. It must “hook” your prospect into reading. This can be a story about you, about your product, about the marketplace or something that has no connection whatsoever (btw, don’t confuse an advertorial for a press release – while an advertorial can be focused completely on the launch of a new product, it focuses on creating value first and informing second).

How to floss properly can be a hook for a dental cabinet. A news article on a new painkiller can be a good hook for a massage saloon. Advice on how to avoid the most common English mistakes (as past simple and past particle) can be a hook for a book on how to improve your English.

Marketing advice can be a hook for the marketing services you are offering. A story about how you’ve became a well known professional, especially if it is intriguing can be a hook for selling your services, if you can make the connection.

Don’t get stuck on the “how to”. Anything that makes the reader say “hmm … that’s interesting, even intriguing and helpful” can be a good hook. The important thing is that your hook is valuable and it is relevant to what you’re ultimately selling.

An article about the best night clubs in Vegas can be used to promote a certain type of drink or a hotel chain but talking about Dublin when you’re selling computers may not. Apply common sense here. Writing an article about the dangers of UV can be a great way to sell sun-screen but the same article will not sell a new backpack, even if you use a backpack when you’re going outside.

The best way is to sell a concept and then to tie it in with your product. In the sun-screen example, you’d sell him on the danger of UV rays and then explain all the benefits of sun-screen and only then sell your own brand.

After you’ve educated him and provided value, simply switch to selling. Make the connection between him getting more or easier of what you’ve taught him in the product and then introduce whatever you’re selling. A simple example would be how to get more out of your engine, making it last longer. You can give five strategies that he can use by himself and then at the end, tell him that there is a simple substance that if added into the engine, it will accomplish all of this in just a fraction of the time. If he doesn’t want to buy it, then he has five free options available but it would make a lot more sense to just invest in your product.

There are a few questions you need to ask yourself here.

#1 – Have I’ve offered enough value that his life will be better off reading this?

#2 – Is my education relevant and connected to the product at hand?

#3 – Am I’m positioning my product as a way of getting the same benefits as my advice, just in a faster, cheaper or better way?

#4 – Is this type of information something he’d gladly share with his friends, because he doesn’t feel cheated or baited into reading, but actually got what he expected?

If your answer is yes to all of the above four questions, then you’ll have a great advertorial, far better than what most people are doing.

Thank you,

Razvan Rogoz