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The Fine Line Between Advertorial and Editorial Space

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 product.

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 article.

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 information.

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.

Stay tuned as the trend grows within and without affiliate networks.

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