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.

Key Takeaways

  • An advertorial is paid advertisement designed to resemble an article, video, or webpage.
  • An advertorial may contain useful information, but its ultimate goal is to promote a product.
  • Advertorials can generate effective reader engagement and can be more effective than ordinary ads.
  • Advertorials raise ethical questions for publishers, particularly if there is a perceived conflict of interest between the client and the audience.
  • Advertorials also run the risk of alienating the consumer, especially if they appear too much like an advertisement.

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.

Special Considerations

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.

Warning

The Federal Trade Commission requires publishers to clearly identify paid or advertorial content.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Advertorials

Advertorials allow brands to engage their target audience without tipping them off to the fact that they are consuming paid copy. Since people are naturally suspicious of advertising, they may be more likely to engage with marketing copy if it appears in the form of an ordinary article or video. Depending on the product, a well-designed advertorial may generate more business leads for a lower price than ordinary advertising.

Advertorials are also likely to attract more readers than ordinary ads, especially if those readers use ad-blocking software. Once readers are engaged, an advertorial can also go into greater detail about the advantages of a specific product, which is not possible on ordinary banner ads. If the content is especially strong, they may even share it on social media.

One major disadvantage to this approach is that, if an advertorial pushes too hard, it may leave the reader with a negative impression of both the brand and the publication. False or exaggerated statements may likewise discredit the brand. If a magazine is perceived as relying on paid content, it may alienate a large share of its audience, ultimately losing both readers and advertisers.

There are also regulatory risks. The Federal Trade Commission requires that publishers clearly identify paid content, including online content. Google has also cracked down on paid ads where the relationship is not disclosed to the reader.

Advertorial Pros
  • Can be more engaging and less expensive than traditional advertisements.

  • Once readers are engaged, there is more space to introduce the advantages of a particular product.

  • Can penetrate ad blockers and other software.

Advertorial Cons
  • May leave readers with the impression that they are being "sold to."

  • May discredit publications that rely too heavily on advertorials.


  • May raise ethical questions for the publisher, especially if the relationship is not disclosed.

How to Write an Advertorial

One of the most important rules of advertorial writing is to avoid being too promotional. An advertorial is intended to engage the reader as if it were an ordinary article. Nobody is going to be convinced by an article that leads with a hard sell.

A well-written advertorial should fit in with the publication in which it appears, mimicking the editorial tone and style of the other content. It is also important to provide value to the reader; a sufficiently engaging advertorial may even generate organic hits from social media and search engines. Once the reader is sufficiently engaged, it is possible to end by informing the readers how to buy a product or service.

Advertorial FAQs

Are Advertorials Ethical?

Advertorials raise ethical questions for publishers, especially if the paid content is viewed as contrary to the audience's values. There are also legal requirements to clearly identify paid content. Most publications have editorial policies on advertorial content, and many publishers refuse to run advertorials at all.

Which Markets Convert Best Using Advertorials?

Due to the number of factors that go into a successful conversion, it is difficult to establish a direct line between advertorials and sales. One study, commissioned by Mode Media, found that mobile users were more likely to show intent to purchase than desktop users. The same study found that people exposed to branded stories showed 77% brand recall.

Other studies suggest that the success of advertorials could be linked to age and gender. A study by Nielsen found that editorial content such as newspaper articles was considered trustworthy by 81% of people under 20, compared with 70% of the general population. Another study on advertorial copy length, from High Point University, found that advertorials generated better ad and brand attitudes for female viewers than they did for males. The same study found that "lighter" copy lengths tended to improve brand attitudes for female subjects more than they did for males.

How Much Does Advertorial Advertising Cost?

A study by Harvard Business Review found that the average cost for a native advertising campaign cost $54,014, with lower-tier publications costing anywhere between $70 and $8,000. Although the number of leads generated tended to correlate with the cost of the campaign, researchers did not observe significant gains above $50,000.

The Bottom Line

Advertorials are an easy way to introduce a brand to consumers without a hard sell or annoying pop-up ads. By blending promotional and informative content, advertisers can engage with consumers while also creating value for the readers. Once engaged, a well-crafted advertorial can attract more leads at a lower cost than typical display ads.

However, any paid content runs the risk of alienating the audience, especially if the sales pitch appears heavy-handed. Readers may lose trust in a publisher which regularly uses advertorials, especially if those advertorials rely on false or exaggerated claims. When it comes to advertorials, it is important to focus on engaging the consumer before you try to sell them a product.