If you MUST write advertorial, at least do it well. Here’s how…

When you see a piece of advertorial in a newspaper or magazine, do you immediately retch and think, “BORING!!!?” I do. Why?

In my school and college vacations I would work in the editorial office of my Dad’s newspaper here in the UK. And the truly terrible advertorials that customers wanted us to run made my eyes water more ferociously than the Niagara River thunders over Horseshoe Falls.

Advertorial: how to make it work

No prizes for guessing why even today’s advertorial looks like “fake news…” read on, and get yours right

Fortunately my Dad didn’t like advertorials either and usually told customers to place a conventional ad and he would get one of the editorial staff (i.e. me, mainly) to do a “write up.” Although in so doing I wasn’t able to be truly honest about filthy, stinking fish and chip shops or awful pub food, at least the “write ups” were fairly lively and didn’t read like they had been written by the business’s accountant after a few liters of beer.

(The experience also taught me how to be very, very creative in the use of adjectives and adverbs that sounded nice but, er, weren’t. Story for another day…)

5 home truths about advertorials to help you write good ones that get read

1.Ask yourself why you want to use an advertorial in the first place. Do you really believe readers are going to be fooled into thinking that your advertorial is a real, unbiased, journalistic piece of work? Or do you realise that as all advertorial (in the UK, anyway) has to be labelled as “advertising,” albeit in small type, it’s going to be seen for what it really is – “fake news,” as the dear POTUS would say? Getting to grips with this home truth should make you see why any advertorial you produce has to be good.

2.If you’re buying a conventional ad space to accompany your advertorial, don’t duplicate its content. This may seem like a no-brainer but the number of times I have seen advertorial text that just repeats the nearby ad copy only in a vaguely different style, would make you wince. If you buy the two options, whether side-by-side or vaguely near each other in the publication, make the best possible use of the difference.

3.Make your advertorial look  like an article, not ad copy or brochure copy. More often than not the publication or website will just upload your original advertorial text as it is, with no editing or designing. (After all, you’ve paid for it to go in, so it’s not down to the publication to tinker with it.) So check out how real articles are laid out in the publication concerned, and copy that. Not only is this likely to make your advertorial look better, but also – if it mirrors the publication’s own editorial style – it will make your advertorial look more like the real thing.

4.Don’t write about what readers probably expect you to write about. Most advertorial text tends to be very heavily we-wee orientated, and of course anyone foolish enough to try reading it will see that straight away. And most readers glancing at it will expect that. Instead, use your imagination … imagine you are writing a proper article that would engage readers whether you’re paying for the space or not.

5.So what could that (advertorial) article be about? Advertorials can be – or perhaps should  be – similar to blog posts in that they are part of your marketing mix, but need to offer a strong benefit to readers without  you trying to sell them anything. With blog posts you are freer to determine the topic. But here are a few ideas on what approaches / topics you could use effectively for an advertorial article in a relatively general publication … assuming your ad copy gets over the key benefits your product/service offers to customers.

  • Something newsworthy in your field of business or your immediate area, and how you and your customers are dealing with it effectively
  • Something newsworthy that isn’t necessarily connected with your field of business but is likely to be of interest to your customers and prospects locally
  • A (genuinely) interesting short case study of how a customer came to you with a problem which your company solved, how, and what the result was
  • A (genuinely) interesting historical piece about your business and its relationship with your locality and local customers
  • A seasonal article sharing issues readers should be thinking about and how experts like you (not just  you) can be helpful
  • A commentary/opinion piece on some local business or other topical issues
  • A poll asking readers to share their views on a topical local issue that is connected with your business
  • A competition inviting readers to enter with the incentive of an attractive prize
  • A piece sharing your company’s charity activities that asks for readers’ support and involvement
  • An invitation to participate in a charity fundraising event or activity that’s sponsored by your business
  • …and so-on.

What if a publication offers you help with writing and design?

In the first instance, this sounds great.

But be warned. Many publications – especially the hungry, hopeful local business and social magazines – will be willing to prostrate themselves in verbal terms and write glowing words about your business even if the steaks would make Doc Martens boot soles look tender. (NB: for good advice on writing restaurant reviews, click here.)

If you possibly can, write the advertorial yourself, or hire a professional writer to do it for you.

So how do you make advertorial as genuine as possible?

  • Don’t be tempted to let sycophantic publications write the stuff for you. Just like the POTUS’s fake news, it won’t fool anybody.
  • Write about your business in a way that will genuinely interest not you, your accountant, your Mother, but your readers/customers. They’re the only ones who matter.
  • Make your advertorial interesting: crisp, light, humorous if appropriate and digestible: plenty of white space, no more than 2-3 sentences per paragraph, with plenty of sub-headings that allow readers to scan through the whole thing before going back to pick up on more detail.
  • Only include the most discreet call to action at the end, referring readers to your nearby ad (if relevant) for more information.

What are your most recent experiences with “advertorial?”

Please share!