Sponsored blogposts and advertorial – can we take them seriously?

“What difference does the word ‘honest’ make to this sponsored post?” writes my good friend and highly successful business leader Jenny H. Actually, to save you time, I can reveal that it’s a glowing review (what a surprise) so the ‘honest’ bit is just a little bit of clickbait. Would it work on you? Be honest!”

The sponsored post in question had been shared on social media with the rather unwise headline of My Honest Review Of (name of product.)

Sponsored blogposts - can we take them seriously?

Would you trust a product review that’s themed like this?

This was classic “advertorial” – text written in an editorial style that does anything from provide you with a reasonable – if favorable – view of a product, service, place, etc., to being nothing more than pure, and rather amateurish ad copy, written in a vaguely editorial but hardly credible style.

In this case, to be fair to the blogger, if you scrolled down to the bottom of the article it did say “Advertisement Feature” in reasonably large letters.

Had this appeared in a print publication the “advertisement feature” line (supposedly) normally appears at the top of an article so you know right away that’s what it is, and even online the blogger here was being a bit naughty putting it at the bottom.

But at least she has admitted to it somewhere, which is more than many of these other so-called professional bloggers do, copying the genre from the rather sickly so-called editorial reviews you see in free glossy, usually local magazines.

However what bothered my friend most, was the way that the social media poster had headlined it with “My Honest Review Of (name of product.)”

Can we really trust an “honest” review when it’s blatantly obvious that the poster/blogger was being paid to review this product?

After all, we’ve all seen glowing reviews of restaurants and other services in glossy magazines in the UK and other countries, where it’s steamingly obvious that the “reviewer” knew the venue was about to take out a large advertisement in the publication … and even may have given the “reviewer” and a companion a free meal.

This may not be what you would see in one of the big national glossies, but trust me … the following is an example typical of a “review” in one of the more impoverished regional magazines which depend on advertising for survival.

Would you really trust a review that goes like this?

We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we.

“Opened only a few weeks ago, (name) is already making a superb name for itself amongst the plethora of eateries in (city). You only have to Google the restaurant and you will see an abundance of reviews – all glowingly positive, I hasten to add…

Munching on succulent black and green pitted olives we had just enough time to consider the stupendous menu. The charming and attentive staff helped us discover the perfect dishes for us, explaining all ingredients and methods of cooking. I could have quite easily tried the whole menu, which was a variety of hot and cold meze, house specials, traditional dishes and vegetarian delights. So sad that I just didn’t have room!

Having embarked on a delightful gastronomic journey through the earlier course we were so, so, full … but then, the glorious desserts presented themselves. How could we have turned down this chance to sample such an exquisite display of Mediterranean and other sweet delights ….. (etc.)”

Glowing reviews are fine until you see that they are paid for

Is this absolutely right, or – hang on – are we being a bit snotty here?

Yes, glowing reviews if they’re paid for are about as likely to convince new customers to buy stuff,  as is a slap in the face with a wet and slightly rotting fish.

But, and here’s a  thought.

Some sponsored posts, like advertorial, can actually work

Oh, bullsh*t, I hear you cry.

Not always, I shout back.


Let me tell you about a lovely client of mine (or, well, former client as I’m not writing ad copy any more, but he is still a lovely and well-respected friend…)

As a very senior financial advisor, this client runs an “advertorial” feature in our local newspaper every week. Needless to say he makes sure that the ads clearly are marked as “advertisements.”

Each week he shares, in these “advertisements,” some extremely sensible and useful advice for readers. He doesn’t hide it: every “article” is produced with full attribution.

So do people believe it?

In the case of my client, yes – it they do. Eventually. Despite the initially suspect label, over time, what readers gain is a very helpful bucket-full of financial help that they would pay significant sums for elsewhere.

Because each advertorial is as genuinely helpful as the last, after a bit readers begin to appreciate that the advice is good, fair and altruistic: none of this “buy my stuff” copy. OK, yes, my client ends his articles with a couple of lines of spiel about his company and where to find them. But he boxes that off so it’s clear where the boundaries lie.

He’s not exactly frogmarching readers at gun-point to do business with him and his business, is he? He makes that clear, and even the most suspicious of readers will come to trust that in the end.

Sponsored blog posts have a lot in common with advertorial

In many ways, sponsored blog posts and advertorial articles have a lot in common. In the same way that you need to build up your audience’s trust when you blog for business, so you need to build up credibility with advertorial.

Amusingly perhaps, it takes longer to build up that trust with advertorial (whether offline or online), if only because you are admitting – up front – that you stand to make money out of it. With blog posts you don’t necessarily have to admit to yours being “sponsored” by one or more advertisers even though many bloggers’ posts are.

If I had a dollar or pound (the US version is worth almost as the same £££ these days … LOL …) for every email I get offering me money to slot in a recommendation in an HTWB article here, a hard link to a commercial website there, I would almost be able to afford that new Jeep I’ve been craving for ages.

But remember this: even sponsored bloggers, and advertorial writers, can build up trust and credibility. It just takes a lot more time and dedication.

Why don’t I do it?

I don’t accept payment, sponsorship, even advertisements on HTWB because I’m too proud and frankly too vain to have to climb up out of that “advertorial” label pit and claw back my credibility as an altruistic writing go-to expert.

But this doesn’t mean that businesses that do use sponsored blog posts or advertorial should all be labelled as charlatans, snake-oil sales wallahs, and worse. These are just different business models, and do work for many.

Do you take advertorial or sponsored blog posts seriously?

If not, why not?

Please share your views…