The Fine Line Between Advertorial and Editorial Space
The Best Form of Affiliate Advertising Does Not Appear to Be
Next time you visit the Wall Street Journal online and see them favorably
review a product or service, see if there is a link to buy that product.
From top information sites like the Journal to affiliate programs, the
power of the "advertorial" is sweeping the Internet. Putting an
advertisement or endorsement into the context of the Web Site and/or information
is an excellent way to generate sales. An advertorial is content that appears to
be reporting or sharing information, but which is in reality a sales message.
Statistically, the advertorial approach has proved to sell much more
products. People still love to post banner ads and can drive lots of traffic.
Advertorials yield less traffic, but better traffic. These are people who are
interested and driven from a trusted resources who honestly endorses your
This endorsement is critical. Merging the right offer to the right person, an
"advetorial" is a preferred form of affiliate marketing. In fact, one
of my $5,000 plus afffiliates insisted on an advertorial...
As usual, he was right, and a brilliant direct marketer....remember that this
was only a test.
In our first few weeks, we were getting an amazing 8% sellthrough on our
visits. This has to due with the extreme targeting of the message and our
conversion piece. Now we generate more traffic for the programs, but often
through banner ads. The conversion rate drops.
While you can cite the early acceptance as a spike, in reality this was a
very limited test which showed amazing results. We are continuing to develop
this and target the estimated 1 million affiliates cited in a recent ZDNet
What The Advertorial Means to Content
The advertorial will bring challenges to traditional models of advertising.
In print, editorial space and writers, who are "unbiased", generate
readers. Masses of viewers generate advertising dollars from outside sources
Online, a different model is emerging. You will still have unbiased news
reporting, but even newspapers online are integrating more and more advertorials.
The knee jerk reaction is to think this is the worst thing to do; in
"brick and mortar" terms, this amounts to pure bias and has no place.
In the old form of publishing, ads were separate from content.
Ads were designed to interupt unbiased content. With advetorials, the
advertising is embedded in the content. Now look at an affiliate program; the
focus is to place your advertising in their site.
If the ad is from a stranger, an outsider like a banner ad, it does not work
as well. If the ad seems to be within the context...from that site...it is read
with greater interest.
On the Internet, this is emerging into a hybrid model; like infomercials,
this form of advertising works because it mixes information with advertising. If
it works well, it is respectable. Poorly presented it can be extremely harmful,
because customers may feel like you are tricking them.
The print model of selling ad space does not work for most online. Selling
advertising space on the Internet is tough; even for those who do it well, there
is always dead advertising space, which leads to affiliate programs and
advertising within the context of a Web Site.
The logic is simple:
- Print media attracts advertisers through unbiased reporting. Advertisers
interrupt the information through classified ads, display ads, and full page
advertising. Businesses buy space. Consumers buy if they stop reading the
information and respond to the ad.
- Online advertisers reach audiences through endorsement and recommendation.
Placing an ad to interrupt a Web Page, like a banner ad, simply does not
yield performance in terms of sales or traffic. But if the article favorably
recommends a product, and there's a link, the sales will increase.
Businesses don't buy space, they try to work into a favorable positioning
within the Web Site. Consumers buy the recommendation within the
The implications of advertorials are tremendous, as advertising and editorial
space start to merge. This gray area of advertising will fuel many
controversies, and remember that this is being done by many famous Web Sites,
like the Wall Street Journal. It is a way of marketing on the Internet.
For affiliate programs, advertorials are the most effective form of affiliate
advertising. Here's why:
A. Advertorials appear to be part of the Web Site, woven into the context.
Even if sent via email, the power of an advertorial is the power of a
recommendation. When someone is trusted, and the offer appears to be from
them, or with their support, sales increase.
B. It's all about being a familiar face, not a stranger interrupting. Trust
is embedded in the content; when you step outside, you make people aware that
they are being sold.
C. When the advertising appears to be an advertisement, it is less
successful than when it appears to be an editorial comment.
Ethical issues abound in this approach and could fill an entire article on
its own. For purposes of affiliate programs, the challenge is clear. Here's what
you should focus on:
- Get your affiliates to promote your offer as an integral part of their Web
Site. If they list you with 50 other companies, it is all about selling, and
consumers will not react as well. If you can get them to recommend or
endorse what you do, the power of that recommendation carries weight.
- Encourage believable testimonials. If your affiliates stretch the truth or
exaggerate, it does not bode well for your offer. It is better to be
believable and credible, than to try and impress someone. If your offer is
not believable, they will not buy it.
- Weave your advertising into the Web Sites of your affiliates, and teach
them how to do this. Teach them how to write a testimonial, how to place
your ad copy within their site...with their personal embellishment. If you
just give them banner ads and forms of advertising, that is all they will
focus on, and you will lose sales.
- Teach your affiliates how to do it right. Train them.
Advertorials are one of the most successful means of marketing for affiliate
programs. The challenges this will present to the industry go beyond the actual
content, and into the believability of what you read.
Look at it this way; Forbes and the Wall Street Journal are looking at this
because it makes sense. This is not something being done by fly by night
companies. It is being put into action by the mainstream media who realize that
advertising on the Internet, perceived as advertising, does not work.