Note: This article was excerpted from Direct Response Advertising Made Easy, which is available from EntrepreneurPress.com.
There comes a time when all small businesses 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 generate hot leads and push their profits 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.
A Tip from Reader's Digest
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 percent 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 straight ad." Results like that would compel me to at least try the advertorial.
Although much has been said about advertising in print media, it goes without saying that most of the concepts provided here will also apply to the Internet.
For instance, veteran copywriter Clayton Makepeace has been extremely successful in writing advertorials for the Internet. In an interview published in his newsletter, The Total Package (May 23, 2006), he surmised that effectiveness on the web was because people are used to receiving free information on the web. He explained:
If you begin a promotion that says, 'Hey, here's my product. Isn't it beautiful?' You're really saying, 'Hey, you know, if you read this I'm gonna try to sell you something.' Whereas, on the other hand, if you go in with an advertorial appeal and you talk to the person about fulfilling their desires or assuaging their fears or eliminating their frustration, by the time you get around to the sales copy, you're their friend and advocate instead of a salesman trying to get them to sign the dotted line.
A Good Example
When was the last time you saw a good advertorial written for a small business? In my own case, I see few on the local level but dozens on the national level that appear primarily in business opportunity magazines.
However, there was one I saw a while back that caught my eye. It was for a nonprofit organization, 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 was 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 a NO logo. And that's the secret. To look like an article, your advertorial must be of a size that's similar to the actual editorial copy.
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 typeface 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 typeface 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 about 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 uses "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" and contact information. Your piece may look like an article, but it still is an ad. For that reason, don't slack in calling the prospect to action. Create a sense of urgency and tell them exactly what you want them to do--and when!
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 torn 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.
To learn more about other direct-response advertising tools, read Direct Response Advertising Made Easy from EntrepreneurPress.com.