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It's Not Advertising, It's Not Editorial, It's Advertorial!

Dan Cash

Advertorial is the next stage on from editorial features and press releases. It’s either an advert or an editorial yet it has many of the features of both, hence the name. Back in the old days of last year when all this was fields and the internet was still very much like the Wild West you could say whatever you liked on the internet with impunity but now there’s a sheriff in town in the form of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). More than half of complaints the ASA received in the year up to last September were about adverts which appeared on the internet, over which the ASA had little or no control. Now your advertising has to fit within the same parameters that it would if you were advertising in the traditional broadcast media.

Lector Caveo? (that is your actual latin!)

If you’re writing advertorial in The States you would be advised to do everything you could to make your copy have the same look and feel as the paper/magazine you’re being published in, in a survey carried out by Readers Digest an advertorial which looked like the magazine in which it was being run was read by 500 times as many people than would have done if they had realised it was advertising copy. In the UK you are required to distinguish between advertising and journalism. In a case that saw a complaint against The Herald in Scotland the paper was successfully sued because it didn’t make it clear that an article titled ‘Professional Brief’ was in fact an advertorial. The paper argued that the article was a ‘sponsored column’ and reflected the views of the author. The ASA pointed out that the author had paid to have the piece published in the paper and this constituted advertising and the article should have been highlighted as such.


This advertorial is spiffing: I must have a complete set of these things!


Killing 99.999999% Of All Known Germs?

Now that the ASA also oversees marketing campaigns which appear on the internet you can no longer make wild claims for your product on your own website and non-paid-for platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. If you’re found to be in breach of the regulations then the ASA will remove paid for advertising, have your pages removed from search engine indices and also publish their own advertising pointing out any continued non-compliance. None of those are good things.

So why are you choosing to use advertorial as part of your SEO methodology now? Well, basically you’re still putting out press releases, the editorial features are doing ok and you’ve finally convinced some-one in control of the purse strings that you know what you’re doing and they’ve allowed you a little cash. Not enough for a real advertising campaign of course but enough to write something that’s going to be placed on credible websites and in media where you’re able to control the message and the timing; remember that one of the drawbacks with editorial is that you could well be edited and left on a shelf until the editor was finally ready to use your copy. But now you’re waving some cash and they who pay the piper call the tune.

You might be thinking:

“I don’t know what he’s quacking about. I hardly ever see advertorial, even on line”.

Oh, but you do gentle reader, you do......

Back in 2005 the Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelson, a vociferous champion of media diversity and localism,  opined that the increasing commercialisation of American media was making it more and more difficult for readers to identify what was real journalistic content and what was part of a commercial agenda. Since then the social networking sphere has exploded and websites which have the look and feel of authoritative, "credible"  media organisations which will host your advertorial have sprung up everywhere.

Of course it’s possible to get advertorial very, very wrong when it comes to subtlety and capturing the public zeitgeist. In August 2010 the American magazine Woman’s Day ran advertorial for Summer’s Eve feminine hygiene products which couldn’t have been much worse. Where should I start? Well, here’s a thing to be getting on with, if you want your advertorial to work, don’t patronise an entire gender, especially if that’s the same gender you’re trying to sell to.

Advertorial Can Be Educational

When it comes to writing successful advertorial, brainstorm an interesting, novel point of view that will make the article interesting and believable as a news item. The better you know your product the simpler it is to develop ideas of what is newsworthy about it and that will make relevant copy.

Use an everyday scenario where your product outperformed the normal expectations. When you use concepts that are familiar the reader is more comfortable, interested and engaged.

If you are able to, include action and dialogue, do. Readers tend to look for different aspects in a story so making it as multi-dimensional as possible will create appeal for more consumers.

Remember to give the advertorial a clear narrative flow. Open endedness appears vague and is less memorable than a structured story.

Avoid mentioning the price or other details that would not appear in a normal editorial, a discreet mention of the website and contact details is more effective.

If you can, include case studies, independent consumer survey results and user testimonial. If you are introducing technically complex or new concepts then expert explanation and quotes from satisfied customers reassure the reader.

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