Years ago, when print magazines and newspapers were popular, they published articles called "advertorials." They usually print this word in a small font at the top or bottom right or left of a page. Today, we commonly know such articles as "native advertising" or "sponsored content."
In this article, we'll discuss the history of advertorials, how they differ from editorials and advertisements, advertorials today, and how and why they work.
History of Advertorials
First things first, the term "advertorial" is a combo of two words: "advertisement" and "editorial." This means while the content is actually intended to sell products like typical advertisements, the "editorial" format gains more readership and less averse reaction.
In the 1910s, advertorials were introduced as a new way to market products and services through print media. They took the form of long-form articles in newspapers and magazines that told brand stories with an editorial angle. For instance, Theodore MacManus wrote a popular story as advertorial on Cadillac's "Penalty of Leadership."
Such stories are perceived as more valuable and reputable, which gain the much-needed credibility for the product. Compared with traditional ads, advertorials receive 81 percent more orders. This explains why the late advertising legend John Caples who mentored David Ogilvy was a huge advocate of advertorials.
Editorials, Advertisements, and Advertorials
In newspapers, most articles are reports written by journalists who have been trained to be objective without injecting their own opinions or perspectives, in spite of their relative subjectivity due to cultural and educational backgrounds. Such articles are called news reporting or feature articles.
Editorial articles aren't reports, nor features. They provide some room for opinions and analyses instead of the cut-and-dry descriptive articles. Many readers expect to read enlightening editorials as a part of their daily newspaper consumption.
Editorials are intended to invite readers to look into, explore, and investigate an issue with a specific angle. They're usually written by reputable senior editors and writers, whose views are unique and might be controversial.
Advertisements are marketing communications that blatantly sell products or services. They're disseminated as images, texts, audios, or videos. In print publications, they tend to interrupt reading with eye-catching images and texts which are specifically designed with such intention.
Advertorials are marketing communications a.k.a. ads that look and read like editorials. They're generally "disguised" as long-form articles of 1,000+ words with information that offers solutions to one or several pain points. Also, short-form articles could be used to convey shorter messages targeting specific audiences.
Editorials may look or read objective, but they're actually charged with intelligently "hidden" messages that encourage readers to act. Next, prospective consumers are directed to a call to action to buy.
Advertorials are known to work better than conventional ads as they build emotional momentum with psychological needs based on user pain points that flows from the first word to the last. This further explains why they're popular in today's Internet era, which contains mostly written content.
Today, advertorials are called "sponsored content," "sponsored articles," or "native advertisement." They haven't evolved that much from the print version, other than the formatting that adheres to digital and Web-based environments. This explains why they're structured to fit the digital readers.
However, still there are several differences between print (and online) advertorials and online sponsored articles.
First, both advertorials and sponsored articles or native ads come in several forms.
- Classic advertorials: When readers remove the brand mentioned, the article would read like any other editorial and fits the magazine writing style entirely.
- Online advertorials: Online publications and blogs with high domain authority label them "sponsored content," which would read like any other article there.
- Online video advertorials: Sometimes online advertorials include videos that magnify the message.
- Sponsored content: The content has no clear call to action, only to serve as brand awareness.
- Single-sponsor issues: This occurs when a single advertiser sponsors the entire issue with more than 10 pages of ad space.
- Branded content: In this case, the brand creates the content for publication.
- Product placement: On print or web pages, product placement is usually presented as images.
- Sponsored social media texts or posts: On Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts, sponsors can work with influencers to deliver brand messages.
Second, online advertorials or sponsored articles that work effectively are likely to use tried-and-true format.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Simply use any of the already proven formats, such as case studies, success stories, call outs for misconceptions, demonstrations on how to use a product, solutions to pain points, and objecting obsolete practices.
After delivering the content, always end with calls to action. You can include several options, such as encouraging readers to comment, try, request for a demo, or buy.
Third, online advertorials or sponsored content can be B2C (business-to-consumer) or B2B (business-to-business).
Depending on the target audience, the content could be developed for a specific interest in either B2C or B2B. For instance, a business magazine could publish advertorials that discuss specific angles of running a business without mentioning the brand at all. However, the brand name may be included somewhere in the side bar or a case study.
Appeal to the target audience by engaging them with the type of articles that they've been accustomed to reading. Newspapers, for instance, may tie the brand or its product to events or issues of interest. They can be written to sound "newsworthy" or simply inform and educate. Sponsored content has become a new source of income to conventional news outlets and magazines, including but not limited to The New York Times and Forbes.
How and Why They Work
Advertorials were first introduced in the 1900s with publicity coordinated with media coverage where brands could run ads with long-form copy or ads that further expand the story. If they hadn't worked out well, they wouldn't have been used for more than a century.
First, how advertorials work.
- Advertiser can select the most appropriate publication to target the aimed audience.
The publication's readers are the targeted audiences. With thousands of online and offline media outlets, advertisers have the power to whom they'd like to influence.
- The native formatting allows complete mirroring of existing writing style.
The advertiser can request for the advertorial article to be written by the staff writer or editor of the publication. This would ensure that it adheres to the writing guidelines, so it would appear seamless to other content. Thus, readers wouldn't have an aversion as strong as reading a piece of ad that blatantly sell products.
- Allow the advertiser to educate and inform readers on issues they need to solve pain points and other problems.
Given advertorials' actual value as an educational or informational source, advertisers can provide solutions to readers' pain points or issues. Unlike conventional ads that don't provide any practical value to readers, advertorials are perceived more positively.
- Allow the message to be delivered in an expected and unintrusive way.
Seamlessly published on pages as articles, just like any other pieces, the message can be delivered without disruption. Thus, any brand mentioned would also be registered flawlessly.
- Allow the message to speak directly to the heart and mind of readers that expect to receive new insights from each article.
Avid readers expect to be enlightened from each article. Advertorials allow this opportunity to occur enjoyably.
Second, why advertorials work.
- Their contents are valuable as references or, at least, informative enough.
The best advertorials are those of reference value, which can be clipped and re-read. Creating such content, however, would require a strong collaboration with editors, if they weren't the ones who write them.
- They don't interrupt as much as conventional ads, as they're "native" to the publication and readers are accustomed to the style.
Conformity to other regular articles in the publication a.k.a. "native" ones is key to having advertorials read as one of them. Thus, readers would feel less interrupted, unlike conventional ads that can be too loud and too graphic.
- They give room for the advertiser to strategize with discussions and analyses before calling to action.
Long-form advertorials provide the necessary room for the story to flow, premises to take hold, plots to emerge, and arguments to convince. This would allow the author to invite readers to act over a calling after insights have been delivered.
- They appear natural to readers while directly affect the readers' emotions with persuasion.
The human brain is wired for story, which explains the natural progression of advertorials' calling for action. Cited from Lisa Cron, the author of Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, "When you’re lost in a good story, it’s not arbitrary, it’s not pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It’s biological, it’s chemical, it’s a survival mechanism,” she said."
In conclusion, advertorials will always be a part of (paid) journalism and content marketing. Their impact in promoting products and services is immense, especially in an online environment. As long as the readers' heart and mind are well targeted with persuasive narration that appear seamless to the publication, advertisers can expect to see 81 percent more sales coming from them as opposed to conventional ads.