The Magic of Advertorial Content (Part II: “How To”)

In my last post, I wrote about advertorial content: content which is both advertising and editorial simultaneously. With many successful analogies in the real world and in the online world to use as a guide, current web innovators have a lot of opportunity to experiment with new models facilitating advertorial-based businesses. However, advertorial content is effective only if executed correctly. Without careful consideration and implementation, it can easily alienate readers and discredit the publisher of it.

Last night, I went to see Warren Miller’s Higher Ground movie to gear me up for the upcoming ski season (trailer here). This film is a perfect example of advertorial – it profiles skiers driving to ski resorts (Copper, Vail, Aspen) in their Jeeps, wearing Obermeyer jackets, and snacking on Nature Valley Granola Bars. Other product placements are abound in the movie, yet a whole theatre of us paid to go see it. Why? Because the movie met followed the three lessons about expectations, context, and packaging that all successful advertorial content does. We wanted to go watch expert skiers ski with all of the products and services promoted within.

Expectations. Last night, the audience expected to see advertorial content. Just like a job seeker expects to see job listing ads in the newspaper classifieds and at Or when users pull down an RSS feed of sale items content from a specific online merchant, they anticipate advertising. Advertorial content should never surprise a reader or viewer. It informs and/or entertains, along with promoting the interest of the advertisers, but the perspective presented shouldn’t shock (like pure editorial can). Often these expectations are set beforehand with a type of transparency that allows the consumer to make an informed decision about how much to “trust” the content, given its source.

Context. Advertising that is content should be surrounded with an appropriate context. It is an advertisement, yes. But first it has to be content, and must be treated as such. The coupon leaflets in the Sunday paper are included within the other merchant catalog advertisements, not in the features or editorial section. Accordingly, readers aren’t confused who is promoting what viewpoint, nor are they put-off by the blatant advertising; many welcome it.

Packaging. Finally, successful advertorial content is packaged effectively. At Sombasa Media, all of our bargain content was packaged into an opt-in e-mail newsletter which was individually customized and personalized for every single one of our readers. eBay packages it’s advertorial content well with buyer ratings and easy navigation – it doesn’t force one specific seller onto its buyers, but rather enables people to find the best one. How the advertising is presented plays a key role in enabling the consumer to decide whether the content should be dismissed as merely an ad or whether it contains value beyond just a promotion.

I believe that as both web companies and individuals innovate, we’ll see new ways that content, especially user-generated content, emerges. However, it is imperative that they follow the guidelines outlined above, as bridging the divide between advertising and editorial can be perilous. Without a mindful approach to expectations, context, and packaging, advertorial content can be easily dismissed of both its advertising and its editorial value.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.