The 14 Keys to Writing Advertorials That Sell

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Advertorials are native ads with a single purpose: getting specific action from the reader.

This could be donating to a cause, downloading a PDF, subscribing to an email newsletter, visiting a store, or buying a product.

An effective advertorial grips the reader and leads her to the logical conclusion — pointing her, in very specific language, to what to do next. This is the call to action.

Advertorials come in all shapes and sizes.

  • They could be lists or guides
  • They could be videos or print articles
  • They could be one page or six

Regardless of the format or medium, however, most tell a story.

This is why there are so many similarities between the essential ingredients of a blog post and an advertorial.

But there are still some specific things you must know.

Here are the basic steps for writing advertorials that work — in other words, that sell.

1. Study the publication

Your advertorial will sit in a context, in a magazine or on a website.

You must study and master that context.

  • The design conventions like layout, typography, and column choice
  • The editorial conventions including headlines, blurbs, and bylines

More important, you must understand the publication’s audience. (More on that in a minute.)

2. Study the headlines

Whatever the headline style, match it.

Are the headlines news fragments like Time’s “Court Sentences Berlescuni to Community Service” … or are they inquisitive and complete sentences like Quartz’s “How many hours of your life is air pollution stealing from you?”

Are they long and loose like Upworthy … or brief and dense like the BBC?

3. Study the opening

You must study the first several sentences of multiple articles. You must understand how the publication pulls readers into their stories.

A great place to start is to study the most popular articles.

  • Do they open by introducing a character?
  • Is that description in-depth or shallow?
  • Do they describe a location?
  • What senses do they focus on: sight, touch, sound?
  • Do the opening sentences tend to be short and punchy, or longer and more detailed?

4. Study the body

Does the publication use uniform blocks of text like the American Conservative or irregular rows of dialog like Sports Illustrated?

Is the language sophisticated like Scientific American or simple like BuzzFeed?

Do they prefer short pieces or longer ones?

Your advertorial should match these elements identically.

5. Study the audience

Who is the audience?

Most important: What do they want?

  • Ask the publication for a demographic and psychographic report on their readers
  • Spend time in the comment or letters section
  • Talk to an editor or two who can share insights on their readership
  • Exchange emails with a few readers

6. Understand the advertising policy of the publication

Ask for the publication’s advertising policy. Look for their position on advertorials.

If you have doubts, ask specific questions.

7. Create a story

View your advertorial like you are a journalist. Collect your facts. Stockpile your quotes.

Introduce the character. Describe her life. Introduce conflict.

Remember that a good story has a plot with twists and turns.

In other words, brush up on your storytelling skills.

8. Identify reader pain

What one thing is the ideal reader suffering from?

What keeps her up at night? What is her dominant desire?

And what one emotion do you want to bring out in that ideal reader?

9. Agitate the pain

In a good story you introduce the character. You introduce her normal life. Then you disturb the hell out of that routine so she falls apart.

She was climbing the corporate ladder until breast cancer sidelined her.

He thought everything was fine until his wife walked out for another man.

Your reader should relate.

10. Introduce an enemy

Who or what is behind all this pain?

  • Sometimes it is the government, who wants to take and waste all your income
  • Sometimes it is a big brand, who lies to you about how its products are made
  • Sometimes it is a weird neighbor, who’s disturbing the serenity of your weekends

Rally readers around an enemy they love to hate and they will listen to you.

11. Introduce the solution

Once the reader is sufficiently distraught, trot out the solution … which will be your product or service.

Demonstrate how your mentor program can teach her to negotiate for the higher pay she deserves. That he can get a greener lawn without chemicals.

These are the benefits of your product or solution. The significant advantages that make their problem go away.

12. Support your bold claims

Your story will front as a claim. It is best if this is a true story, about a real person.

  • A grandmother’s idyllic life with her grandchildren that was darkened by unexpected depression
  • An executive’s financial world turned upside down when he was betrayed by a colleague

You must substantiate any claim you make about your product or service with facts, test results, and statistics. Pour this information on.

You must create the feeling that there is not another product on the planet that can offer the benefits that yours provides.

13. End with happiness

This is not a black comedy or an avant-garde French film. You are not trying to win at Sundance or Cannes.

Be creative, yes, but conclude the story with a happy ending — where evil is defeated and good prevails, where the enemy is vanquished and normal life is restored.

14. Add a call to action

If you’ve done your job, your reader will be looking for a way to contact you. She will want to buy your product or to hire you.

Tell her, specifically, what to do.

  • How to subscribe
  • How to download the ebook
  • How to buy your app

You must be very specific. Assume nothing. (See how Star News Online ended this advertorial.)

Conclusion

A good advertorial is about the reader, watcher, or listener. They should see themselves in your ad.

And the ultimate goal of a good advertorial is that if you removed the “Advertisement” label, the brand name, and the call to action, then the content would blend into the publication.

You can find examples of effective advertorials here.

What’s next?

The elephant in the living room about the advertorial is the way it blends into its editorial context. In unscrupulous hands, it’s easy to cross the line into deception. That’s why in a future post I’ll address the ethical concerns behind advertorials in particular, and native advertising in general.

But in the next post, you’ll discover whether these ads are even profitable for advertisers.

Now, it’s your turn

What do you think about advertorials? Deceptive? Or a potentially powerful form of advertising? Have you seen any that you thought were done particularly badly — or well?

Please do join the discussion over on Google+.


Get caught up with the rest of the series

Have you missed any of the posts in Demian’s ongoing series on native advertising? Get caught up now:

  1. 5 Ways to Rankle an Old-School Journalist
  2. Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report
  3. 12 Examples of Native Ads (And Why They Work)

Image credit: Aleks Dorohovich via Unsplash

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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