How to Write an Advertorial That Works

Five Tips For Advertorial Success

Reading a Newspaper advertorial
••• Advertorial. Getty Images

If you're any kind of writer, be it a copywriter, someone in public relations, or a marketing writer, you will be asked to write an advertorial at some point in your career. Advertorials, also known as long-form copy ads, or native advertising in the digital world, are the opposite of typical ads that feature 90% visual and barely any copy at all. Instead, advertorials are designed to look like a part of the publication in which they're appearing, and are intended to be an interesting read; one that divulges myriad information about the product or service.

So, with all that in mind, let's look at some of the ways you can make your advertorial work for your client. It all starts with the number one rule - entertain them.

Research The Context

Every great advertising star, from Ogilvy and Bernbach to Jobs and Bogusky, know the importance of researching the media. If you're designing for a billboard, you look at location and surroundings. Print ads, you read the magazine from cover to cover. And the same goes for advertorials. Your advertorial should be targeted at the readership of that magazine or newspaper.

An advertorial going in Maxim magazine is going to have a completely different tone from one going in Vogue, although the product or service may be exactly the same. If you know the readers well, you'll be better armed to write a headline and copy that will attract attention, and keep them interested.

Headlines Do The Heavy Lifting

Your ad is not a typical showcase of the product or service. It's designed to look like an article or feature. So this is not the time to pull out incredible visual puns and expensive photo shoots. This is when the copy comes back into its own. Your headline needs to be compelling, interesting, and jarring. You need to give people a smack in the face and want them to read on.

One of the most famous headlines from a long copy ad came from John Caples. "They laughed at me when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play!" It's followed by copy that continues the intrigue - "Arthur had just played The Rosary. The room rang with applause. I decided that this would be a dramatic moment for me to make my debut."

There isn't a hard sales pitch right out of the gate. And even when the selling comes it's not until the last half of the ad and done with masterful tonality. In this day and age, it's easy to ignore long copy ads from the past. But they were masterful. And they can still work in this format.

Make It Interesting

Seems like a no-brainer, but you could line the deck of an ocean liner with the amount of deadly-dull advertorials out there. Writers will be armed with a list of selling points, or touch points, that they must reference. They will also be given a ton of dry research, and from this, an ad will form.

But most of the time, it reads more like an entry in Wikipedia than something that excites and entices. Remember, you're still in the business of persuasion. You still have to take a cold prospect and give them a reason to call, visit a website or email the client. What separates the real writers from the hacks is the ability to sell whilst entertaining and informing, and that's something that can take time to master.

Use Photographs and Illustrations Wisely

You'll see some advertorials filled with photos or diagrams, with little room for the copy. While this "easy read" may seem like a good idea, you're basically wasting the opportunity you've been given to tell more of a story about your product. If you're going to use the advertorial as a picture showcase, you may as well just do a regular ad. This is the time to hold off on visual content and use it both sparingly, and intelligently. Do the photographs help to sell the idea, and move the story forward?

Do they have captions that flesh out the idea? You should always look at this like you would a newspaper article or magazine feature. If there are too many pictures, the words don't have the power to build a story and complete the sale.

DO NOT Make it Salesy

When all is said and done, this is probably the most important piece of advice you can get when writing an advertorial. Remember, this is a piece of advertising that is a Trojan Horse. You may have an army of selling points ready to overwhelm your audience, but they won't read one if they see them coming. No one wants to read an ad; they want to read something interesting, and it is your job to do that. And by definition, selling language and hard-hitting pitches are not interesting. To many people, they're offensive.

So, how do you do this? Well, you have to create an advertorial that has a direct, and logical, connection to your product or service. If you're selling a cleaning product, an article about the unseen dangerous germs lurking in your home will work well. If you're selling a tool, write about ten simple DIY projects that anyone can do. As long as you can subtly work in your specific project a few times, you will tie the two together and plant a seed that turns into a sale. But any kind of blatant selling language is not going to convert as many people into customers.

And one final note. You can create an amazingly well-written advertorial that brings the reader from the headline through to the last paragraph. But if all of a sudden you go from editorial style language, to "now buy this product for only $19.99" you'll see people drop out. It's too much of a tonality jump. Keep the selling messages toned