by Roscoe Barnes III


There comes a time when all organizations must pay for their publicity. They’ve exhausted their use of the press release. They’ve used up all of their feature story ideas. They’ve depleted their finances for direct mail packages.

Now they’re left with one final marketing tool to push their cause to the next level. It’s advertising.

When you reach that point, it’s not the time to think fancy. It’s time to think response. Instead of the typical ads that you see in most publications — newspapers and magazines, think advertorial — the kind of ad that actually looks like a real news story or other editorial matter.

Advertorials generally have a good track record. They are to print what Infomercials are to TV. They may be corny to the uninformed but, like the TV Informercials, they work just the same.


In his classic advertising primer “Tested Advertising Methods,” John Caples rightfully noted that editorial-style ads get high reading.

As an example, he referred to a test conducted by “Reader’s Digest,” in which an ad for Adolph’s Salt Substitute was designed to look like a magazine article. Here’s what he said:

“A split-run test of two mail order ads showed that an ad that looked like a magazine article pulled 81% more orders than the identical copy, set in ad-style.”

Incredible, isn’t it?

Copywriter Joe Vitale observed that “readers are up to 500 times more likely to read an advertorial than a stratight ad.”

Results like that would compel me to at least try the advertorial.


When was the last time you saw a good advertorial — written for a nonprofit group? In my own case, I see very few. When I thumb through most publications, most of the ads look the same.

However, there was one I saw recently that caught my eye. It was for Food For The Poor of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

The advertorial appeared as a full-page ad in Christianity Today (December 2000). While I don’t know the results of its response, I’m willing to bet that it’s a good one.

You see, the ad looks and feel like the other articles appearing in that magazine. It has two strong headlines, a byline, three photos and NO logo. And that’s the secret.

Would you like to try your hand at developing a good advertorial? Then remember these factors:

1. Study the publication in which your ad will appear.

Get a sense of its style. Check out the competition — the kind of ads they use. Look at the type face and size of the type. Study the headlines and graphics. Then, as much as possible, try to model your ad after those articles.

2. Inquire about the policy on advertorials.

Some publications frown on ads that look like their editorial copy. As a result, they insist that ads have some noticeable differences. Ok. That’s understood. If you must use a different type face or font, so be it. But you can still make your piece look like an article.

As a rule, most publications will require the word “advertisement” printed in small letters at the top or bottom of your ad. Some will only use such ads in special sections.

3. Determine an appropriate size.

To look like an article, your advertorial must be of a size that’s similar to the actual editorial copy. Ideally, you’d want it to be a full or half page in magazines. In newspapers, consider nothing smaller than a quarter page (unless, of course, you can only afford something smaller.)

4. Write a suitable headline.

Unlike the headlines in your brochures and direct mail pieces, a suitable advertorial headline is one that is newsy or very similar to those in the publication in which it appears.

In the typical newspaper, you won’t see a headline loaded with fluff or superlatives that brag on an organization. Instead, you see headlines that are simple and straightforward.

Food For The Poor used: “Poor Families Rely On Trash For Food Clothing — Survival.” At the bottom, another headline appears: “Food For The Poor’s Outreach Creates Hope Among Riverton’s ‘Dump Dwellers.”

You might consider borrowing headlines from your press releases.

5. Use a byline.

That gives it credibility, particularly if the name is recognized by readers. Pen names also are useful. Even if it’s not well-known, the appearance of a byline will suggest that the piece was “authored.”

Food For The Poor use, “Special Report by Geraldine Hemmings.”

6. Use photos with captions.

Captions do not appear in the Food For The Poor’s ad. But typically, an advertorial is stronger when its photos have some kind of caption written underneath, like those you see in newspapers. As with the “article,” include a byline for the photographer.

7. Open and close with a bang.

As with all forms of good communication, your lead paragraph should hook the reader. Just like the articles in the publication you’ve chosen.

Don’t forget to close with something that moves the reader to action.

8. Sprinkle with quotes.

Enliven your piece with quotes from real people, real experts. Use the quotes as testimonials or to back up certain claims.

Insert them throughout your copy. Use them the way a typical journalist would.

9. Break up copy with subheads.

Depending on the length of your copy, subheads can make the material more reader-friendly. Use them to draw attention to crucial parts in your ad.

10. Include the ‘call to action.’

Your piece may look like an article, but it still is an ad. For that reason, don’t be slack in calling the prospect to action. Create a sense of urgency and tell them exactly what you want them to do — and when!

11. Include all contact information.

You may or may not use a coupon (and you probably shouldn’t), but if you do, include contact information on both the coupon and in the copy of the ad.

That way, if the coupon is turn out and another person reads the publication, he or she may still have access to your organization. With these ideas in mind, you should be able to create a winning advertorial. Examine your budget and see if you can’t test an idea. Start small — with small publications or small ads — and work your way up.

Are advertorials effective in every case? Hardly. But neither are other copywriting tools. Even so, I still suggest that if you have the budget, the advertorial is worth a good test.

After you’ve tried it, send me a note. Let me know how it turns out.

Roscoe Barnes III, an award-winning journalist and freelance copywriter, specializes in fund raising and direct mail marketing. Author: “Scooping the Competition: How to Be First in Reporting Hot Stories.” At: “Off to War” –

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