The Copywriter's Crucible

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.

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