How to write ROI-winning advertorials

By Jerry Bellune

A boyhood friend started a new business some years ago and needed a prospect-finding ad campaign. We designed a seven-week program for him that featured six display ads and an advertorial.

After the first three display ads ran, he called to complain that he was getting no calls. So we inserted the advertorial the fourth week and his phone started ringing. After that, he wanted to junk the display ads and just run advertorials. We tried to discourage him but he had found what made him happy, so we did it his way.

Some newspaper owners ban advertorials because they think they cheapen their newspapers. They certainly have a right to any opinion they want. Frankly, I think advertorials are a powerful weapon for advertisers and newspapers. Few people are fooled into thinking they are editorial. And if you fear they might, just stick “Advertisement” at the top.

A well-written advertorial does these three things exceptionally well:

1. It employs the techniques of news writing, photography and graphics used in news columns.

2. It directly addresses the audience the advertiser wants to reach.

3. It tells a story in a compelling way that sets up the ideal prospect for the offer.

I’ve been watching Groupon and Living Social Deals of the Day that pop up in my e-mail every morning. They have much to teach us about effective copywriting and advertorials.

Here’s how a recent “deal” was worded.

It was an offer of a $15 coupon good for $30 in services at the client hair salon. That’s a good idea because it does not restrict the buyer from buying more than $30 in services. But it gives the buyer half off on the first $30. That’s Lesson No. 1 for us.

Lesson No. 2: The writer brought a sense of humor to the advertorial—“If your eyes are the windows to your soul, your hair is the tunnel to your mind. Keep your mind-matter from escaping with today’s hair-taming Groupon. For $15, you get $30 toward any services at a Regis Salon. This Groupon is valid at the Columbiana Centre location and two locations at the Sumter Mall.”

Then the writer imposed a caveat about varying prices that was not necessary: “Service prices vary according to the location.”

This was a mistake as it was another reason for the prospect to stop reading.

Then the ad continued: “Armed with current techniques for properly maintaining noggin lawns, the Regis Salons network of stores keeps clients’ hair in order as dictated by the latest trends. Within this caravan of hair bazaars, customers’ wild manes are tamed by skillful stylists. Use your Groupon toward a shampoo, cut and blow-dry (starting at $22) and dream of dancing. We carefully shampoo and condition your hair and then clip it into stylish head hedges.”

Lesson No. 3: Next, the writer used alliteration to make the copy sing.

“Afterward, the hair that’s left behind will receive a loving blow-dry for a style that gleams and glitters like a ruby-encrusted bowling ball. During the treatment, stylists offer tips and tricks to help clients care for hair at home. If a shampoo and cut isn’t your sports drink, put your Groupon toward the cost of another service, such as hair coloring (starting at $65), highlights (starting at $45), or a perm (starting at $70).

“Regis Salon uses only high-quality products to keep its customers’ hair in good humor. Our stylists are highly trained in the school of head locks to keep on top of current trends. With today’s deal, give your hair the affirmation it needs to feel successful in life and not like a moth-mangled wig packed away in a retired clown’s toupee trunk.”

Lesson No. 4: Now the biggest mistake of all.

I suspect the copywriter didn’t want to write this but could not talk the client out of it: “This Groupon is only valid for new customers or those who haven’t purchased a service at the salon for at least 90 days prior to January 13.”

Why would you deny this bargain to your loyal clients who brought you to the dance?

This is a common mistake many advertisers make in their quest for new business or to reclaim lost clients. Don’t make this mistake and offend your best clients.

June takeaway thought: Need help teaching your salespeople more sophisticated approaches to selling? My Advertising & Marketing letter will help them. Contact me at © The Bellune Co. 2011

Jerry Bellune and his family own and operate book and newspaper publishing companies and a consulting and sales training company. For information on how he might help you, e-mail him at


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