6 minute read

If you’ve never heard of advertorials, you’re not alone.

When Sophia McDonald Bennett became the editor of a trade publication in 2018, she introduced advertorials as a new format for her advertisers. But instead of rushing to take advantage of this, as she’d expected, advertisers were mystified. They had no idea what advertorials were.

Marketers who grew up in the print era will remember advertorials as articles paid for by companies and published in magazines and trade journals. Now, advertorials have risen to the forefront again as a form of digital native advertising. And they are creating a powerful way for advertisers to reach their customers.

What Are Advertorials?

Advertorials are a form of advertising that looks like editorial content. They’re articles written by the brand or the publication and are published alongside regular editorial content produced by the publication’s writers.

advertorials originated in print

Advertorials emerged as a popular way to sell products in print media, possibly as early as 1915. Since then, the advertorial concept has spread to various media. On radio and TV, advertorials are known as infomercials. In online publications, they are more commonly called sponsored content or native advertising.

Call them what you will—advertisers and publishers love advertorials. In fact, experts predict a greater focus on high-quality native advertising and collaboration between advertisers and publishers this year.

Experts predict a greater focus on high-quality native advertising and collaboration between advertisers and publishers this year. Click To Tweet

Advertorials — in 2020?

As online publications like McDonald Bennett’s introduce advertorials to drive ad revenues, advertisers are finding them attractive, too. Brands are increasingly becoming fed up with ineffective display ads, and advertorials offer them an opportunity to craft the narrative around a brand.

The data backs it up

A study by research company Nielsen backs this up. The company studied readers to see how they perceived native branded stories online. Readers felt the content was interesting (76%), exciting (70%), and natural (66%). Plus, branded stories reported 77% brand recall.

McDonald Bennett says that today’s audiences are ripe for advertorials. That is because audiences are used to consuming copious amounts of content and are willing to at least skim articles about topics they’re interested in. She says when you combine that with the value that advertorials offer readers — a chance to learn something, to get to know a brand — they’re more likely to save and share an article, consider you a subject-matter expert, and engage with and remember your brand.

Advertorial vs. editorial vs. advertisements

Advertorials look less like advertisements and more like editorial.

Click-through rates are higher from advertorials than from display ads, according to Outbrain. The company reports up to 0.38% for premium native ads viewed on a smartphone. “On desktop, the average CTR is 0.16% half that of mobile, but way more than display ads,“ writes Laura Kloot. She reports click-through rates for display ads at .05%.

Despite being marked as paid for by a brand, people seem happy to read and engage with advertorials. They carry greater authority and trust than regular ads because they appear as editorial. The study by Nielsen found that readers spent the same amount of time — about two and a half minutes — with the advertorial-type content as they did with regular editorial.

What Makes a Good Advertorial?

Advertorials can take on different forms, depending on what the publication offers. Sometimes they might include flashy, interactive graphics. In others, the advertorials might be simple write-ups. Either can be effective, but there are a few advertorial best practices you’ll want to get right.

Choose the right publication

When planning a good advertorial, the first big decision is choosing the right publication. Whether online or print, make sure the publication is one that reaches your buyers and aligns with your values.

Not sure what publications your customers read? Look for publishers and stories that resonate with your readers. Enter a topic relevant to your readers into our Content Exploration tool to see the social media publishers getting the most engagement. See more about how to use our Content Exploration tool.

Advertorials by total engagement

Top publishers by total engagement for the term “making videos”

Always ensure that the publisher is labeling advertorials as such. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that native advertising, which advertorials fall under, be labeled as paid content to avoid misleading readers. Google also says that sponsored content should have nofollow links. Many publishers already have nofollow external links, but it’s worth confirming with the publication.

Once you decide on the publication, it’s time to turn toward writing the advertorial.

Make the most of the ad space you buy

Generally, you have two options: a publication will write the advertorial for you, and you’ll have a chance to weigh in, or you can submit your own content.

If you’re writing your own content, ask the publication about their advertorial guidelines. Keep in mind that you will have a limited number of words to convince your reader why they should shift their perceptions, so make the most of that space. Here are best practices to keep in mind when preparing effective advertorial content:

  • Mirror the writing style of the publication. The closer to the publication’s native editorial style, the greater trust its regular readers will place in your message.
  • Capture attention by using an exciting headline, telling a story, and using appealing images.
  • Educate readers so they feel they’ve learned something new.
  • Build credibility by citing studies.
  • Use quotes to support points.

Use a tried-and-true format

Advertorials can take on different formats. If you’re just getting started, you may find it easiest to speak directly about your product. If so, keep in mind the following:

  • Consider featuring a case study of a client.
  • Call out common misconceptions about your industry or product.
  • Demonstrate how to find success with your product.
  • Show pain points and the ways the customer overcame them.
  • Counter common objections you hear from the target reader audience.
  • Include a call to action with clear steps on what the reader should do next.

3 Advertorial Examples to Inspire You

Let’s look at some examples of online advertorials today and how they’re tapping into the format’s advantages.

1. B2C Advertorial in The Atlantic

Netflix features its show Collateral in this Atlantic piece titled Is There Hope for the Institutions That Have Failed Us? Paid for by Netflix and created by the publication’s staff, it discusses the thought-provoking topic of corruption and the role that women play. Here’s what we see it doing well:

  • Editorial ties the show to a bigger issue
  • Q&A with writer and director illustrates the connection to the issue for those involved in creating the show
  • Video trailer as call to action gets readers excited to watch the show

advertorial example that reaches its audience

This advertorial lets the brand reach an audience that is specifically interested in the topics broached in the show.

The story does not mention the brand specifically, but there are opportunities positioned throughout to engage with the brand. A synopsis of the Collateral story appears side by side with the editorial. The piece also features an interview with the show’s writer and director, which expands to fill the page. The topics they discuss align with the content of the editorial. And at the bottom of the article, you’ll see a video trailer that clinch’s a reader’s interest in the show.

Netflix has also followed a similar approach for its show Orange Is the New Black in this advertorial in the New York Times: Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work.

2. B2B advertorial in trade publication

This classic advertorial example published in Window Fashion Vision directly features the sponsoring firms in its editorial. What we like about this advertorial:

  • Powerful visuals appeal to the publication’s audience
  • Case study shows real-life result
  • Includes advice to educate, not just sell

advertorial case study

The case-study format builds in third-party validation (Hey, if those vendors are good enough for the Eleanor Roosevelt Suite . . .). It paints a picture of the possibilities with their products and services, while the pictures are likely to attract the publication’s readers.

Even if you’re not in the market for their services right now, you’ll come away with a favorable impression thanks to the advice they provide.

3. B2B advertorial in the New York Times

Adobe, the computer software company, published an advertorial on the New York Times website that features a compelling narrative about the rise of technology in retail. This advertorial does the following really well:

  • The writing falls in line with the publication’s typical editorial style.
  • The quotes and examples throughout build authority.
  • A visual call to action invites you to learn more about how Adobe fits into the topic.

catchy CTA featured on an advertorial

Those who know Adobe from its Photoshop and Reader products may not know that the brand now offers products and services that cater to various digital experiences. By aligning itself with a story like this, brands can begin to shift buyer perceptions.

The eye-catching call to action at the bottom of the advertorial invites readers to learn how Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For readers interested in the topic covered in the advertorial, this is likely to pique interest.

Ready to Try an Advertorial?

Advertorials may be called something different today, but they’re still one of the best ways to reach your audience effectively. If you haven’t considered including advertorials in your brand promotion strategy, take a look at the native advertising options of the publications in your industry. If you’ve got something to say, chances are, they’ll work with you to help you say it.

Want to try out the Content Exploration tool mentioned above? You can find it in your Alexa Advanced account or try it with a free 14-day trial of our Advanced Plan today.

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