Warning: People Are Ignoring Advertising. But They Do Read News

Just over 20 years ago, David Ogilvy noticed that people weren’t reading his ads as much as they were the editorial sections of newspapers. In fact, the main content was receiving five times the amount of attention as his well crafted copy. Ogilvy, never one to shy away from pushing boundaries, came up with the novel idea of making his ads appear more like news, and so the advertorial was born.

Advertorials have now become a stable form of newspaper advertising. Ads disguised as news can be indistinguishable from the editorial content, apart from the footnote to inform/protect readers.

Advertorials work because they play haywire with your anti-ad radar. Normally your sophisticated array of anti-marketing defenses can identify an incoming sales message and disable it before it can reach your attention.

But advertorials are the masters of disguise. They give the impression of offering content of value, and unwittingly dupe you into letting down your defenses and consuming their content.

Resistance to advertising is almost a source of pride amongst online surfers. They’re in control of what content they’re going to receive and aren’t about to have their time wasted by anything which isn’t offering value.

Marketing online is achieved through information and content of value. Not a bombardment of marketing messages in the hope of a few getting through.

This was illustrated by a recent study by web usability guru Jakob Nielsen on eye tracking on websites (link via Marketing Pilgrim post).

The heat maps below show how the blindness to ads in newspapers is being replicated online:


Red shaded areas received most attention, whilst the ads (green borders) were ignored.

Nielsen has reluctantly concluded that ads need to appear more like the main content if they’re to attract attention. This means ad campaigns focused on getting the ads right for specific sites, rather than mass syndicated networks.

Nielsen’s study might not cover pay-per-click ads on search listings, but these encounter a similar ad averse culture. Other studies have shown that most people don’t click on PPC ads, with the vast majority putting their trust in Google’s algorithm and the natural search results.

People use the internet for information, not advertising messages. Maybe clever marketers should take a leaf out of Ogilvy’s book and start thinking about writing advertorials for relevant websites; providing content that offers information of value, whilst promoting the benefits of your product or service.

Many businesses are continuing to struggle in applying the old methods of advertising they have grown up with. But this is one old advertising technique that might just work.

8 thoughts on “Warning: People Are Ignoring Advertising. But They Do Read News

  1. I agree with your point that content is what attracts people. It also adds weight to brand and sales messages.

    For pure advertorials, I still think the temptation may be (and you do see it) adverts being squeezed into content. A lot of the UK newspapers online do this.

    With regards to pay per click not working, I would only agree in terms of business services or complex product or service selling. Consumer campaigns I run have been, and continue to be quite successful when optimised.

  2. Hi Craig,

    I think I have to start being more conscious of anti-PPC sentiment in my posts.

    PPC can be a very effective tool because it’s easily quatifiable and can get you targeted traffic almost immediately.

    I just feel sometimes that the focus (and lion’s share of investment) seems to be on getting people to websites rather than considering what to do when you’ve got them there, and I think this comes out in my blog posts.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.


  3. 100% agree with you on that. A lot of clients I deal with see PPC as an easy option.

    I actually had one last week who wanted a campaign but didn;t have any pages to send people to!

    I can’t actually get my head around a company that begrudge and won’t justify spending (say) £5k on website updates / improvements / content investment but will quite happily spend that amount in six months on Google Ads.

    Your angle on PPC does have merit though Matt, partly through increased competition driving up prices whilst making ads less efficient and also reliance on the quality of other peoples adverts driving up general prices. It will become less effective over time I think too.

  4. I encounter the same problem. Whilst the businesses I speak to can see the marketing value of investing in new content they’re still hesitant due to the lack of an obvious ROI.

    However, I do think it’s only a matter of time before websites become more of a central pillar of a business’ marketing strategy and the tipping point can’t be too far away. I certainly feel we’re a lot closer than we were a year ago and getting closer every week.

    Thanks for the insight Craig.


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