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Is "Advertorial" a Four-Letter Word? Part 2

  |  June 21, 2005   |  Comments

Is paid editorial evil? Last of a series.

Part one of this series examined the seeming scarcity of advertorial -- that is, paid editorial content -- and asked if the online media buyer was partially to blame. This week, some myth-busting insight from publishers and online media buyers.

Myth 1: Publishers Think Advertorial Is Evil

Though some publishers still don't, or won't, sell advertorial, generally most will when the proposition fits their Web site's content and audience. In fact, many publishers demonstrate their best creativity when it comes to generating advertorial opportunities.

NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM, which has embraced advertorial since the Web's early days, has entire microsites of paid content. Its EarthPulse campaign for GE is just one example. "Advertorial isn't bad as long as it sticks to the mission of the site," observes Ted Ryan of NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM. "The trick is in finding convergence of relevancy, user experience, brand legitimacy, and site stickiness."

The washingtonpost.com Viewpoint, the paid version of its popular Live Online real-time chats, takes advantage of the Web through user interaction. At Viewpoint, hosted during the workday and clearly billed as paid time, paying guests field questions (sometimes negative ones) from users. Successful user participation, despite the fact the time is paid for, demonstrates the intrinsic value for both parties.

Myth 2: Advertorial Opportunities Are Scarce

Publishers say we see so little advertorial because not a lot of advertisers request it. But publishers also don't create advertorial opportunities then find advertisers for it.

Publishers don't necessarily flaunt their advertorial opportunities. Media kits are often devoid of the word "advertorial." Some may not include any mention of it, even when the publisher sells it. Most ad networks don't sell advertorial, which also reduces demand. If you want to buy advertorial, be ready to ask for it.

Myth 3: Online Media Buyers Are to Blame for Scarcity

No fingers have been pointed, but it does seem most advertorial buy requests have been advertiser-direct, until recently. Ryan notes only in the last nine months have there been more requests from agencies than from clients directly. He attributes this to both the resurgence of the online advertising market and the online migration of traditional advertising dollars. Noteworthy is NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM has no Internet pure-plays participating in its advertorial programs.

Myth 4: Advertorial Is More Complex Than Other Online Advertising

Although advertorial buys aren't typically as simple as purchasing a package of impressions for standard units, the perception of advertorial as more complex isn't wholly accurate. It's all in how the media buyer, creative team, and publisher approach it. Case in point: SpecificMEDIA purchased standard ClickZ ad space (to the right of this column) and uses it as an advertorial-style play.

Advertorial nevertheless requires more than a media buyer and graphic designer. Most advertorial creative relies on solid copywriting and content that's the antithesis of a hard sell. Advertorial can become complex if the publisher must build out separate Web pages to accommodate it.

Tom Hernandez of SpecificMEDIA feels advertorial complexity may be a hindering factor. "You have to select a topic that will appeal to the intended audience and provide real value, and then marshal the resources to complete the project."

Myth 5: Advertorial Performs Better Than Banners

Very few people discuss advertorial in the context of performance. Instead, they view advertorial as more about enhancing user experience and information levels.

"Advertorial is neither about branding nor direct response," comments Eric Easter of washingtonpost.com. "It's about an option to get out more information than the existing online ad opportunities offer."

"We don't even talk about click-through rates or impressions of our advertorials," said Tammy Harrison of BlueSuitMom.com/BSM Media. "Those results are not as significant in the big picture."

Media buyer Shea Park believes advertorial improves campaign performance: "It delivers a more informed customer who's more committed to taking an action."

"My experience tells me that paid job postings and event listings are of just as much interest to our readers as is our editorial," responded Ken Schafer of One Degree. "So far, neither side has complained."

Sounds like advertorial deserves more attention than it's received from media buyers so far. Let's build more demand.

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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