I’ve been writing advertorials for over five years, which is funny because I have no background in business or in marketing at all. I’ve written as many as forty (too many!) in a month, but usually average anywhere between twenty and thirty. I’ve had some questions recently about how to write advertorials, and I thought I’d share a “how-to” here.
What is an Advertorial? Simple. It’s an article paid for by the people it’s about. The goal of an advertorial is to entertain and inform…without the reader thinking about the sales technique. A good advertorial reads just like an article.
Step One: The Interview
Sometimes you can write a stellar advertorial with minimal information. Other times, getting a person to tell you why widgets are great gives you insider information that people really will be interested to learn. I don’t have a “list” of questions, but some good ones to get a person talking include: “How did you get started with widgets?” “Do you find that everyone uses their widgets for the same thing, or are they different things to different people?” “What are people surprised to learn about widgets?” If you’re going for a personal angle, ask something like: “How long have you been in the area, do you have family here, do you use widgets yourself?” And my favorite closing question: “Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you want to be sure people know about widgets?” Remember, this isn’t an investigative piece. You want to put your client at ease so they can tell you why they love widgets.
Step Two: Planning
I never cared much for outlining my fiction, but I’m started to come around…and it’s advertorials that have done it. Taking a minute to think of your angle or approach can make the difference between half an hour and half a day’s worth of work. Essentially, a half page article is a four paragraph essay and a full page has five or six paragraphs. In your first paragraph you want a cute lead-in like a question or a joke or an exaggeration. Then you offer the solution (widgets!) and reference the company. You can include a quote from the owner/manager/mascot here. The second paragraph sets out what the widgets are, the third sets out what they do and how they’d help you and the fourth is a “call-to-action”—don’t wait to get your widgets! If I’ve typed up my interview, I may slide pieces of information around, cutting and pasting until like items are grouped together. Once you have your general lay-out, you can fine-tune it.
Step Three: Your Theme
If you’re going for an event (Back-to-School, Parents’ Night Out, Sports Clinic) or holiday, your theme is ready-made. Sometimes the thing itself is the theme, especially if it’s an introductory article. If you can make a play on the name, go for alliteration, or reference a popular saying, song, or show, go for it! Desperate for a theme to liven up an otherwise dull subject? Seize a metaphor and squeeze it for all it’s worth—sports, Hollywood, cooking, the military—anything with its own lingo is up for grabs. For example, I’ve done cosmetic dentistry with a Hollywood star theme. Brain storm some Hollywood clichés…roll out the red carpet, premier, awards, acceptance speech, Oscar-winning, stars, director, thank the academy, big-budget or indie film, special effects, triple threat, paparazzi. You get the idea. Look back at your rough outline and start layering in your metaphors, references and puns, paying special attention to the first and last sentence of each paragraph. If you work your metaphor in the title and your transitions, you’ll have a coherent framework to make your basic information (teeth whitening, invisible straightening, etc) a little snazzier.
Step Four: Final Tips
Including a few quotes throughout your article makes the piece feel more personal and can be a great way to close a paragraph. I was initially surprised to learn that most quotes are either “massaged” or fabricated. The truth is that many people have a hard time articulating what they love about what they do, and since a client has final approval of an advertorial, it’s perfectly okay to write something that he or she would have wanted to say.
One of my favorite kinds of advertorials is a testimonial, because a happy customer or patient will often tell you everything you need. Your only job will be sliding the pieces around until they make a coherent whole. Don’t be too wedded to the actual words, because the point of an advertorial is to capture the spirit of what was said rather than the cold, awkward reality. Like the dialogue in a novel, advertorials have the luxury of leaving out the “ums” and verbal missteps.