When Is an Ad Not an Ad?

Regardless of what niche you want to write for, your prospects are skeptical. Almost as soon as they see the envelope carrying your promo — or land on the web page you’ve written — they know you’re trying to convince them to buy or to act in some way that you want.

As soon as they know this, their sales resistance jumps up. It’s a normal and very common response. But, an easy-to-implement strategy makes an end-run around that skepticism. And it also builds strong relationships with your prospects.

What is this powerful, little-understood strategy?

This strategy — using advertorial copy — came up a while ago in one of my COS peer reviews. It turned out that many members didn’t know what advertorial copy is — or the power it brings with it.

So what exactly is advertorial copy?

Let’s start with a very brief review. You’re very familiar with standard sales (or advertising) copy. Most of the writing you’ve been working on has probably been advertising copy — whether for print or the Web. No mystery here.

This is copy you write whose purpose is to “sell” something — a product, a fundraising opportunity, a political candidate, or anything where your bottom line is to have the prospect respond.

And you know editorial copy, even if you’re not sure that’s what it’s called.

Editorial copy’s main purpose is to educate or inform in some way. If you subscribe to an investment newsletter, what you read is editorial copy. Now, please understand, well-written editorial copy does have a sales component to it. It tries to sell ideas in ways that convince readers to do something. And ultimately, strong editorial copy “sells” renewals.

Advertorial copy is a combination of the two. It’s written like it’s editorial copy but whose true purpose is to sell a product (or candidate, or fundraising opportunity).

And here’s the core to this strategy. If your advertorial is properly written, your prospect doesn’t realize he’s being sold anything.

Like a magician’s sleight of hand …

There are a number of reasons advertorial copy has become so popular — and successful — in the past five years. The main reason for its popularity: It doesn’t look or read like an ad. Because of that, it can get around your prospect’s natural sales resistance.

Also, a good advertorial contains real, valuable information. You’re giving your prospect something he’s interested in. This establishes a sense of obligation on your prospect’s part. And this, in turn, begins a personal relationship with him, a crucial part of making sales.

Finally, you can say things in advertorial copy that you can’t say in standard sales copy. Careful now, though. Exactly what you can say depends on the type of advertorial copy you’re writing. More on that in a moment.

For this third reason, advertorials have become very popular in a number of niches, particularly alternative health.

The FDA has serious restrictions on what you can say in sales copy. For example, if you’re selling a supplement that balances blood sugar, you cannot use the word “diabetes” in straight sales copy. It’s a super FDA no-no.

And you can’t say “arthritis” in straight sales copy. In fact, how you talk about most of the major health concerns today — including Alzheimer’s and heart disease — is restricted in sales copy.

But advertorials can discuss these conditions openly along with alternative approaches to improve them. That is, as long as you do not attach a sales message with a product name to the discussion.

Let’s say you’re talking about Type 2 diabetes. You could write an advertorial that describes research on gymenea and cinnamon. The advertorial could tell how they reduce blood sugar levels naturally. As long as you don’t try to make a sale at this point, you’re on the safe side.

Bringing it back to the sale …

The bottom line for advertorial copy, though, is to convince your prospect to act in some way. Hopefully, in most cases, to spend money.

So when it comes to selling your product in advertorial copy, you still must adhere to regulator guidelines. Your strategy, then, is to make the focus of the advertorial copy so attractive that the prospect wants what you’re describing without having a product name attached to it.

Then, in writing the sales part of the copy, you would tell the prospect something like, “The best source of the highest quality gymenea/cinnamon supplement combination for balancing your blood sugar is …” Notice that in this copy, you do not use forbidden words. And you’re not directly saying your product controls blood sugar. Instead, it’s “a good source” of the components.

It’s important to clearly mark out the editorial part from the sales part in advertorials. Many companies do it by putting the sales section at the end of the editorial part. You can also include the sales part as a separate insert or as a clearly-marked “Paid Advertising” section.

While I’ve used alternative health as my example here, advertorial copy can be used very effectively in many of the niches you’re interested in.

I’ve written a lot of advertorial copy. And I love doing it because of the freedom it gives the copywriter. I also like doing it because I know even if I don’t make a sale this time, the prospect is learning to trust the client. And this will eventually lead to many sales down the road.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: March 26, 2012

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