What Is an Advertorial?

An advertorial is an article, website page, or video programming that is designed to look and read like objective journalistic content but is, in fact, a paid advertisement. An advertorial may convey useful information but its primary objective is to market a company's products, enhance its reputation, or promote its views. Mainstream media companies that publish advertorials require that they be labeled as advertisements.

The word advertorial combines the words advertisement and editorial. The newer term "native advertising" has been coined to distinguish advertorial content from display advertising.

Understanding Advertorials

Advertorials are a sharp departure from traditional advertising as they don't rely on catchy slogans, attractive models, or cheerful music. Instead, they convey information, but they aren't bound by journalistic principles requiring objectivity or balanced reporting.

Because advertorials can provide useful and interesting information, consumers may pay them greater attention than they would traditional ads. Advertorials also provide the opportunity to include significantly more information about a product or service’s benefits than a traditional ad, which is heavy on images and light on text.

There is some evidence that advertorials can be more effective than traditional display ads, at least on the web and on mobile devices. Advertorials, or "native ads," receive twice the visual focus of banner ads, according to a Nielsen study. That is, the eye gaze of consumers focused more intently on the native ads than on the banner ads.

Many publications indicate when content is an advertorial to avoid misleading readers. The advertorial will appear alongside the publication’s regular content or as a supplement to it but may be labeled “sponsored” or “special advertising section.” Some publications will not print advertorials at all.

As with traditional advertisements, when companies use advertorials to promote a product or service, they must make sure the ad has the right tone and content for the consumer audience. An advertorial that appears in a financial magazine or on a science news site will have a different tone than an advertorial in a celebrity gossip magazine.

Advertorial content typically mimics a publication’s editorial style in the way headlines are written, the type of font used, the layout, and the illustrations. They often draw the reader in by telling a story that draws upon a reader’s problems or fears and then describing how a product or service can solve the issue. The advertorial may support the assertions with statistics, test results, and relevant facts. Facts that don't support their claims are omitted.

The advertorial often concludes with a call to action that informs the reader how and where to purchase the product or service.

Sponsorship vs. Advertorial Content

Sponsored content is not the same as advertorial content. Most publications and programs accept advertising in order to defray the costs of their programming. The content is produced independently.

Advertisers choose to be associated with certain programs or publications by paying to have their messages aired during a program or published alongside editorial content, and the two are clearly distinguished. The advertisers have no input into the actual editorial content.

That said, cable television and YouTube have led to an explosive growth of longer, more elaborate, and more entertaining infomercials. They are, in fact, program-length infomercials that may reach an audience on their own merits.