Ask any marketing expert about advertorials. You’ll get the same answer every time. They’ll tell you how advertorials walk a fine line between light and dark in the copywriting world.
Wondering which is better? Well, effective advertorials succeed because they’re sponsored, not in spite of that.
The best advertorials create a win for you, a win for the publication, and a win for the reader.
To help achieve those wins, you should know these strategies for creating higher-converting advertorials. Follow the guide in this article to show you what can make or break your sponsored content.
In this article, I’ll use “advertorial” and “sponsored content” interchangeably, because, ultimately, that’s what advertorials are.
Regardless of the platform or publication, an advertorial is a piece of content that is done in the style of that platform or publication. The only difference is that you’ve paid to have that content in there.
This can range from an interview in a travel magazine or a how-to guide on a tech website to a product endorsement by an influencer.
But why even do this? If it’s just a form of advertisement, won’t readers skip it?
The strength of advertorials is that, when written well, accomplish the goals of published content while also accomplishing the goals of an ad. What you end up with is enjoyable content that adds value for the reader that also establishes and adds value to your brand and draws an audience to your business.
By prominently labeling your advertorial as sponsored content, you establish that the content is being written by an expert in the industry. Yes, in some ways, the content is an ad, but before it can be that, it must be enjoyable and value-adding.
For example, let’s say you’re a professional banana handler looking to run an ad in the magazine Banana Smoothies Monthly. A regular ad may be a full-page image-based ad with the slogan, “When you can’t afford slip-ups in your banana deliveries.”
This kind of ad plays by the traditional rules of advertisement and succumbs to all the traditional downfalls: it’s easy to glance over and ignore.
But what about an advertorial?
Instead, that full page becomes a sponsored article written by an industry professional about the transportation logistics that go into sourcing, transporting, and protecting the best smoothie bananas on the planet. The story that happens underneath the peel.
There’s no explicit endorsement of your banana handling company, but the article does follow your particular logistics chain and the care and precautions that go into ensuring that that malt shop receives the best smoothie bananas possible.
What you end up with is an engaging article that readers will enjoy and that paints your business in a positive light. You win by improving your brand image, the reader wins by enjoying the content, and the publisher wins by getting paid for the ad space but having that space be value-added content.
That’s the power of the advertorial.
Now let’s get into what’s going to make or break your advertorials.
Context is key in all of copywriting, but it’s doubly important for advertorials. Your sponsored content doesn’t exactly belong since it’s not officially part of the publication, so if your copy stands out, it really stands out.
Your goal here is to make your content stand out in a good way.
It’s okay for your advertorial to be an ad—because it’s clearly labeled as sponsored content—but sounding like an ad is a completely different story.
Content sounds like an ad when the reader doesn’t gain any value from it: when a reader is getting lectured, talked at, or sold something.
In other words, if the primary goal of your advertorial is to sell the reader something, you’ve already started off on the wrong foot.
Your advertorial falls apart the moment the reader believes you’re trying to sell them something because the value feels like propaganda.
Here’s a quick list of things to avoid to prevent your copy from sounding too much like an ad:
One of the best ways to avoid sounding like an ad is to properly research your target audience.
This way, you know what kind of content they find valuable and you can focus on that as your primary goal.
Here are some customer-repellent copywriting mistakes that you should avoid.
Yes, an advertorial is sponsored content, but it’s still content. The more your copy sounds like it belongs in the publication, the more likely it is for readers to actually read it.
The goal of an advertorial should be to create a three-way win between you, the publication, and the readers. A well-written advertorial that appeals to a publication’s readers will make money for the publication, provide value for the reader, and bring you closer to your branding and marketing goals.
Tailoring your advertorial to match both the publication’s and your own target audience is easier than you may think: you’ve already chosen the publication because its readers match up with the audience you’re trying to target.
But this doesn’t mean your work is already done.
Even if your target audience encompasses readers in, say, both Banana Digest and Plantain Quarterly, your advertorials will have some key differences. Banana Digest readers may want the latest in sweet treat technology, while Plantain Quarterly subscribers may prefer savory food reviews.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the publication’s branding. Tone, style, and word choice are crucial elements that will make or break your reader’s immersion.
Matching headlines is also a good way to make your advertorial feel like it’s worth reading. Just be sure to prominently (and proudly) display that it’s sponsored content.
Trust is transitive.
That’s why we name-drop and why user reviews are valued just as much as professional ones. And when talking about products or businesses, using their name is just a direct way to get information across.
But it’s not always the best idea to use proper nouns.
Certain forms of content just don’t work very well as advertorials, and these tend to be the ones that rely on mentioning competing brands.
The first problem is that you have no control over how your reader views the other brands. This means that mentioning them will elicit an unpredictable response in the reader that could throw their whole experience out of whack.
Don’t believe me? When was the last time a commercial referred to its competing brands by anything other than “leading/competing brand?”
Mentioning another business by name only serves to put that business’s name in the ear of your audience. No need to give them free publicity.
The other, major, problem, is that sponsored content giving opinions or statements on competing brands is just a lose-lose situation for you.
For example, let’s look at the humble review article. The scenario: an advertorial comparing various brands of Entrepreneurial Bananas. Where do you go from here? Do you write an honest review and choose your competitor as #1? Or do you write an honest review and choose yourself as #1?
Both options pose a problem.
Paying to publish an article claiming your competitor has the better product is backwards, and what points you’ll gain for honesty are washed out by an entire advertorial promoting your competitors.
Remember: out of sight, out of mind.
Writing an honest review where you choose your own product or service as #1 also poses some problems: the reader knows this is sponsored content, so of course it’s going to promote your product or service. This makes your advertorial’s choice to award your Entrepreneurial Banana as #1 as hard-hitting as a black banana.
The major draw of reviews is that they’re written by third parties. Sure, many reviewers will have biases and preferences, but the important thing is that they are indeed third parties.
Stick to advertorials that focus on providing useful content for the reader and that don’t mention other brands. One way to focus on this is to do a feature on your product and service, rather than a comparison to others on the market.
The goal is to provide value to the reader and associate that level of expertise and professionalism with your brand: they’re choosing you because you’ve proven to be valuable and professional, not because you beat up a bunch of your competitor’s straw men.
As an advertorial, everything in your copy will be taken in by the reader with a grain of salt. After all, it’s sponsored content, so of course, it’s going to show the business in a good light.
And when you’re legitimately good, you’ll have the data to back that up.
Logos, or an appeal to logic, works exceptionally well with advertorials because it provides a source of unbiased information for the reader. They don’t have to take your word for it: they can just look at the data themselves.
And as a copywriter, it’s up to you to make this information look as appealing and easy to digest as possible.
Citing sources, if you’ll recall from your high school essays, is another technique you can use to show them you’ve done your homework.
What you’re doing here is establishing reliability, honesty, and credibility to make your skeptical reader a bit less skeptical.
You can also do this with the good kind of name-dropping: independent reviews and testimonials.
While not as strong as hard data, the reader can take someone else’s word for it that your copy can walk the walk. A good testimonial or independent review can be the icing on the cake to convert the skeptical reader into an engaged one.
Everyone loves a good story. This is true in all forms of media, and marketing is no exception. Advertorials provide a unique opportunity for your business to tell a particular story. Whether you take advantage of that, however, is up to you.
How-tos are the bread and butter advertorials because they’re one of the easiest forms to write. Find a problem in your industry, write an article using the solution, then promote your product and service at the end.
The value of this type of advertorial is that they’re almost always evergreen and that your copywriters can generate the content using little more than a search engine.
But if you’re only doing how-to articles, you’re missing out on so much of the potential of advertorials.
How-tos are okay. Sometimes they might even be good. But they’re rarely great.
If everyone loves a good story, what kind of story can you tell with a how-to?
While you can provide some great value for your audience with a how-to, it’s not the most effective way to use your advertorial space.
The nature of advertorials – their existence as a piece of content that fits into a publication’s space – provides a host of new opportunities in terms of copywriting genres and building a brand.
You’re missing out if you’re just sticking to how-tos.
So, go beyond the how-to.
An advertorial is a near blank check to copyright whatever you want.
You could write a spotlight article where you focus on a person’s or company’s business journey and how your product or service helped them.
You could establish and promote your brand by making a statement on a controversial subject, honoring an important figure in the industry, or by advocating for a new technology or way of thinking about things in the industry.
The only requirement is that whatever form your advertorial takes, it fits within the publication you put it in.
The takeaway here is that there are so many different ways to approach advertorials that you shouldn’t limit yourself. An advertorial represents the opportunity to do something very specific with your branding, and you should absolutely take advantage of it.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t continue to use tried and true forms, but you should be open to different genres and how they can affect your branding and visibility.
This complete persuasive storytelling guide will surely help you write better copy.
TL;DR Copywriters write copy: it’s in the name.
But we’re also taught to write more with less. Succinct, powerful copy is always the goal.
As an advertorial, your copy is living on borrowed time. The moment you fail to impress, your reader is moving on to a publication’s actual content.
Copywriters pride themselves on their copy, but the universal truth is that the longer the content, the more opportunities there are to lose readers.
Longform content is powerful and adds a lot of value for the reader, but it’s risky when it’s an advertorial. The copy needs to be amazing, or else it’ll fail to hold readers all the way through.
So when you’ve got killer copy, yes, absolutely stick to those long-form articles like interviews, how-tos, and opinion pieces.
But also: Don’t be afraid to experiment with shorter-form content. Make an impact with concise wording and let the readers enjoy the white space.
It’ll save you time and money.
When you need to write a long-form sales letter, this article can help you.
Don’t neglect pictures and videos.
Magazines and article-based websites are great for longer-form content, but a picture can speak a thousand words. Photo/video content is often easier for readers because they consume it passively.
As technology continues to advance, new platforms are constantly rising and falling in popularity. Research these platforms and learn the best ways to use their media to your advantage.
An image-focused platform, for example, could be great for improving your image and branding. Allows viewers to “eat” with their eyes and have your copy support the image (instead of the other way around).
If you’re looking at a video-focused platform, then you have a fantastic opportunity to show your product or service at work. A video format can be more engaging and provide more entertainment – admittedly at a higher price point.
And again here, a passive, rather than active, audience is more likely to consume the content.
The takeaway here is to think outside of the text box.
Put your copy in a supporting role and make some multimedia shine.
At the end of the day, your copy is a piece of marketing.
Advertorials, while a bit different, also hold true to this. Regardless of the value you provide to your audience, the goal of your advertorial will always be aligned with your business’s marketing goals first and foremost.
Nothing ruins a reader’s experience more than realizing they’ve been tricked into reading an ad.
It’s a shock. Just like overly prominent product placement. The audience is jolted out of their experience and left with a bad taste in their mouth.
Don’t try to be sly or hide the fact that you’re presenting the audience with an advertorial.
That kind of scumminess can tank the reputability of your brand by associating you with trickery and dishonesty.
Prominently display that your advertorial is sponsored content.
It sounds like it might be a recipe to get your copy brushed aside, but if you’ve done your job as a copywriter, your ad will still draw readers in.
In other words, your audience won’t intrinsically hate the fact that you’ve given them a form of advertisement if the content is enjoyable and engaging.
Your business, like your advertorial, has nothing to hide.
An effective advertorial does the following:
Despite how it might seem, writing good advertorials isn’t too complicated. It’s all about knowing what to focus on.
Just follow the steps outlined in this article and you’ll be able to write excellent sponsored content with ease.
You don’t have to be a copywriter to go above and beyond and write some great advertorials. Sure, industries shift with the times. It can seem to take a lifelong learner mindset to stay ahead of the curve.
You might even need years of study and practice to become a master. Even then, the right strategies can slingshot your advertorials light years ahead of the competition.
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