Why Content Must Avoid Advertorial Territory

Advertorial tarted up as content stinks like yesterday's fish. Please don't fall for the formula sold by publications desperate for your advertising dollar.


by Peter Coish & Dave Robson

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We’ve written a lot about advertorials versus content marketing. Why are we repeating ourselves? Because it’s the most pervasive problem in the field of native advertising. Avoiding advertorial is a big mental hurdle for most businesses who want to get into content marketing. After all, if businesses have been spending money on short advertisements that talk about their businesses, why wouldn’t they also spend money on longer content marketing that also talks about their businesses?

The reason is simple: it doesn’t work.

This past holiday season, Toronto Life ran an article sponsored by Kit & Ace, a high-end luxury retailer. The “sponsored” bit means Toronto Life got paid to produce it. (Toronto Life is struggling these days to get old-timey ads. So they run “sponsored advertorial”. We sympathize with their plight.)

The article Kite & Ace “wrote”—and yes, they had the byline—was entitled  “For retailer Kit and Ace, luxury is a science, and bricks and mortar an art”. And directly below that headline, it said “By Kit & Ace”.

Let’s put aside the fact that almost no one in their right mind will read that article after a byline like that. It’s right up there with hypothetical gems like: “Why Kanye West is Greater Than Jesus, by Kanye West” and “Out of Touch? Sears is Cutting Edge!, by Sears”. We actually did read the article, largely because we’re content marketing junkies. And since no one else probably did, we’ll tell you all about it, and what you can lean from it.

After a promising start with a story about the death of 19th century French silkworms, Kite & Ace starts plugging itself, “…Vancouver-based Kit and Ace, a new clothing brand…is disrupting both traditional notions of luxury dressing, along with the retail experience itself.”

Does anyone like it when someone name checks themselves? Or writes in the third person?  It screams “we are about to sell you what we’re selling”. As for “disrupting”, ugh. It’s one of the most over-used words in LinkedIn profiles.

Anyway, the article continues by discussing Kite & Ace’s brand-new luxury fabric, promises yet more luxury fabrics, lists some of the things you can buy from Kite & Ace, and declares that all the things you can buy from them are cool, boundary-pushing, and superior in every way. And trademarked. They launch into a detailed description of their store with the insufferable line: “Innovation is such a core part of Kit and Ace’s ethos, it extends to every part of their business model, including their shops.” Cue a list of all the cool things about their shops, including a shout-out to their online magazine, which they say is “hyper-cool”.

The problem? Toronto Life can write an article like that reviewing a luxury retailer because Toronto Life is a lifestyle magazine in the business of reviewing luxury retailers. But a luxury retailer can’t review itself anymore than Michael Bay can review his own films.

Our point: If your business writes a six hundred word article about how great your business is, people are unlikely to read it. Or worse, people will read it and think your business looks foolish. Or desperate. But we see this all the time. This kind of native advertising is so obviously boring and ineffective, yet more often than not, this is the kind of stuff publishers churn out for their advertisers. To paraphrase Bon Jovi, it gives content marketing a bad name.

Lesson: Fortunately, content like this is easy to avoid. Once you have your big list of ideas, cross out anything that is just your business writing about itself, too on-the-nose, or, most importantly, something you wouldn’t read.

If you wouldn’t read it, it’s probably bad.