There are basically two types of space advertising: promotional ads and advertorials.
Each has its place in your marketing toolbox. However, while most copywriters and designers have at least a fair understanding of promotional ads, advertorials can pose a challenge.
Designers in particular have issues with advertorials because they’re ugly.
So let’s take a look at a sample advertorial and see what makes it tick.
Just in case you’re not clear on what I’m talking about, here’s a pretty good definition for advertorial from Wikipedia:
An advertorial is an advertisement written in the form of an objective article, and presented in a printed publication—usually designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. The term “advertorial” is a portmanteau of “advertisement” and “editorial.” Merriam-Webster dates the origin of the word to 1946.
Typical ads are designed to catch the eye with visuals and jump off the page. They are obviously ads. But an advertorial is meant to blend in to the surrounding editorial matter.
To the uninitiated, that may sound strange. Why would you want to create an ad that “blends in” and doesn’t catch your eye? Because the idea behind advertorials is that people often tune out ads. They develop “ad blindness.” After all, people don’t pick up reading matter to see ads.
By presenting the ad so that it looks and feels like surrounding editorial matter, advertorials actually have a far better chance of being noticed and read. And since they are copy-heavy and present more information than the typical ad, they engage the involvement rule: The more time people spend reading about your product, the more likely they are to make a purchase.
In the picture above, you can see an advertorial I recently clipped from a local weekly. The product is a space heater. Click the photo to get a close up view.
You’ll notice a few basic characteristics:
- Big, attention-grabbing headline. It presents a prime benefit and a complete thought.
- Newsy copy. It’s written with what journalists call the inverted pyramid, which presents important information first, then develops that information further with supporting information. It’s low-key without hype.
- Simple, informational design. It mimics the layout of the publication. In this case, it appears in a newspaper, so it uses a multi-column format, newsy typography, and a few photos with captions.
This particular advertorial breaks the rules by including a coupon and a little promotional copy in a grayed box at the bottom. But that’s okay. I’ve done the same thing when I thought it was important to push something a little harder than the core editorial copy would allow.
The challenge for copywriters is to tone down the copy so that it’s newsy while still pushing the product. It’s a balancing act between promotion and objective information. For designers, it’s about understanding that ugly works. This may not be something that goes in the portfolio, but the goal is to sell, not to impress.
You should always look at the publications where you’ll be running the ad and make sure both copy and design fit in. Often one ad can work in multiple publications, but it’s worth the extra effort to create different versions.
The best way to understand advertorials is to study a few. So here are some additional advertorial samples.