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Ads or Articles – Which is Better to Market a Small Business?

Thursday, February 10, 2022

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The Advertorial, The Challenge Of Maximum Readership Reconsidered

The knee-jerk answer is: articles. And the argument for the “advertorial” i.e. an ad made to look like editorial material is that it is obvious; people buy newspapers and magazines for the articles, not the ads. But, like all dogma, ain’t necessarily so. For example, lots of people buy the Wednesday newspaper to get the supermarket coupons, buy the Friday or weekend newspaper to see the movie and nightclub ads. In analogy, people often go to national conventions more interested in the trade show than in the seminars, me included.

MY ADVICE: DON’T STEP IN THE DOGMA

Anybody who has an ironclad rule about the most successful way to do something can be proven wrong. I constantly violate one of the most respected direct response copywriter’s rule about the number of words for a headline. The “A-pile mail” argument makes perfect sense, but I have beaten it in split-tests with teaser copy laden envelopes. Not often. But sometimes. To conclude that the advertorial is the ad format that will always get the highest readership is wrong. On the other hand, a lot of advertisers err in never using it – in space as well as in direct-mail.

I try to be careful about this; I know too much about what doesn’t work. So, I try to be careful not to be dogmatic, or too quickly shut off a client’s idea. I’ll say: I’ve never known ‘x’ to work, and I’ve certainly seen it not work, but let’s explore it from several different directions, including:

-- Can it be easily and cheaply tested?

-- Is there a more reliable approach that will do just as well?

-- Is there enough benefit to balance the cost of experimenting? Etc.

THE CHALLENGE OF READERSHIP

Here’s the key point to keep in mind, whether contemplating different ads or FSI or direct-mail formats, headlines, photos, grabbers, etc.: it can’t sell if it isn’t read. The Big Lesson is – you have to WORK JUST AT GETTING IT READ. Not presume readership, which is what most people do. Way, way, way too much advertising and mail is produced with a presumption of readership. Actually, the opposite is the smarter approach; presuming every recipient will try NOT to read it.

THE BEST WAY TO MAXIMIZE READERSHIP IS targeting. My message to market match’ principle. But when you can’t target, when you must use mass media and fish from a very large lake, then you have to work even harder at getting people to bother reading your message.

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