Advertorials VS sponsored articles: what are the differences? Which is the most effective digital communication lever?

Julien Nishimata

Do you know when editorial content becomes an advertising message? The answer is when you use native advertising. An approach that consists of producing advertising content that is perfectly integrated with the site on which it is published. What’s the point? Much more effective than traditional banner ads: 53% of Internet users prefer native formats and 48% of them retain a brand more easily if it is associated with a positive advertising experience (IAB France). However, two formats are still too often confused in this field: sponsored articles and advertorials. To untangle this confusion (and help you choose THE most effective native format for your digital communication), Paper Club offers you a detailed comparison: advertorials VS sponsored articles!

Advertorials VS sponsored articles: definitions

Why are advertorials and sponsored articles often confused? What is the difference between one advertising format and the other? Before getting into the actual match (advertorial VS sponsored articles), it is best to understand what it is all about.

Advertorials: advertising content above all

The advertorial is not a recent advertising format: it has been (and continues to be) a great success for the print press. This type of content has adapted to web challenges to become a fully-fledged lever of digital communication.

It is called “advertorial” because this editorial content takes the form of a journalistic report, of which it uses certain codes (the realism of the description, giving the floor to experts, etc.) by mixing them with those of a classic advertising format, while adapting to the requirements of its media. This is why this type of content is referred to as native advertising: in terms of layout (layout, colours, arrangement of elements, etc.), it blends in with the media in which it is placed, while aiming to be informative and non-intrusive.

But this report is not really a report: it aims to highlight a product, a service or a brand, to show its features and benefits. In other words: to sell. The advertorial is therefore, first and foremost, an advertising message, a camouflaged advertisement – whereas the sponsored article is first and foremost content. In this respect, it is far removed from the basic editorial content published by the site in question, because it adopts a formatted, marketing-oriented language, closer to a press release. It is therefore native only in part.

The sponsored article: editorial content rather than advertising

As native advertising, the sponsored article can be considered as an advertorial in the broadest sense. In fact, some of the characteristics of this advertising format can be found: content created from scratch for a specific purpose, which replicates the site’s layout, so that Internet users cannot easily tell the difference (even though the sponsored article, like the advertorial, must be indicated as such by the host site).

This format is also focused on a brand, a company, a product or a service, but it must, while getting its advertising message across, respect the specifications imposed by the publisher in terms of editorial line, theme, style – as well as form. It is therefore no longer simply a question of ‘ape’ the visual of a site to publish content that blends in with the rest, but also of appropriating the ‘way’ in which the other content is written, so that the article fits in perfectly with its environment. Note that these specifications can also give instructions on the insertion of links or visuals, the choice of keywords or the total number of words not to exceed.

The sponsored article is written by an experienced writer, who may either work for the influential site or blog on which it is to be published, or on behalf of an intermediary such as an inbound marketing platform or an agency specialising in advertising editorial (precisely what we do at Paper Club!). In both cases, the specifications must be strictly respected. Sometimes the publisher agrees to give the writer complete freedom to create the content, but only on condition that they make the necessary corrections themselves.

Although it is referred to as a sponsored “article”, this type of editorial content can in fact take many different forms: blog post, journalistic article, report, infographic, white paper, case study, etc.

Advertorials VS sponsored articles: the differences between these two native advertising formats

The advertorial vs. sponsored articles match is between two types of editorial content that are similar in many ways: both are native advertising formats that are integrated into the publishing platform. However, the above descriptions already suggest some notable differences which we will now explore further.

Degree of integration of editorial content

The first major difference in this advertorial VS sponsored article comparison is the degree of integration with the host site. Here, the sponsored article goes much further than its predecessor in aiming for a perfect resemblance with the rest of the editorial content published by the publisher. This advertising content seeks to blend in completely with the background, respecting both the layout and the editorial line of the media. The illusion must be perfect: without the indication “sponsored article” or “partner” which must necessarily appear at the top of the content, the Internet user would be completely unable to distinguish it from other content published on the site.

This chameleon-like skill has a definite advantage: it makes it possible to cancel out the negative response of Internet users to any explicit form of advertising. As the figures gathered by IAB France in its study on native advertising remind us, the intrusive dimension of the classic advertising format is strongly rejected by consumers: 95% of Internet users do not wish to be interrupted by an advertisement during their browsing, and the increase in Adblocks has reached almost 40% worldwide.

In addition, the use of a sponsored article circumvents the phenomenon of “banner blindness”, which causes Internet users to ignore banner ads and other “pre-roll” videos that impair the user experience on the web. When faced with quality editorial content, which may carry an advertising message but is ideally integrated into the site they are visiting, users are tempted to think that it is indeed in-house content or, if they identify the sponsored article as such, to be more tolerant because of its authenticity and the added value it can bring.

Choice of publication media

Regardless of what the objective of an advertorial content is (as with any digital communication action), the advertiser will inevitably seek to publish it on influential sites likely to increase its visibility.

On this point, there is another notable difference between advertorials and sponsored articles: the media chosen do not meet the same challenges.

An advertorial is primarily an advertising format, and its integration into the site is essentially visual: the advertiser does not therefore have to worry about thematic consistency. Content about the performance of a new farm tractor can be published on an influential blog about the economy (with a tenuous thematic link between the two). In printed format, this disconnect between themes is even more pronounced: there may be no link between the media and the content.

The sponsored article must follow the editorial line of the host site: it must be aligned with the latter’s themes. It is therefore not enough to choose influential sites to host the article, but also to ensure that the content proposed is consistent with the subjects usually covered by the media.

The sponsored article: a win-win agreement

Another crucial distinction between advertorials VS sponsored articles relates to the person writing the advertising content. As you have already understood from our descriptions above:

  • The advertorial is written by the brand itself;
  • The sponsored article is written by an experienced writer who may work for the target site or for an intermediary (this also explains why the price of a sponsored article is higher than that of an advertorial: the target site and the writer must be paid).

The sponsored article is therefore written by a specialist in the subject who masters both the codes of the media and the advertiser’s issues, who is at the same time careful to get an advertising message across and to provide content with high added value for Internet users, but also for the target site, which will not accept to publish just anything, just anyhow.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but this difference changes everything. By writing its own content, a brand is simply following a marketing line: it wants to present a product or a service, or talk about its news, without necessarily bringing anything to its readers. But the experienced writer’s mission is quite different: he or she must produce content that will have influence (that could go viral and be shared on social networks) and that will add value to the publication media.

For a webmaster, for example, the publication of a sponsored post should enable him to gain visibility, to position himself on a search engine, or to monetise his blog. It is therefore a win-win agreement, which implies relying on truly qualitative content. In return, the content benefits from the credibility of the site or blogger who publishes it and who, in the context of influence marketing, takes the place of an opinion leader in his field.

Hence the use of a seasoned intermediary such as Paper Club, not only to ensure that the content is published, but also to ensure that it meets the site’s issues.

Advertorials VS sponsored articles: which is the most effective lever?

These differences, revealed by the advertorial VS sponsored articles comparison, mean that these two types of content meet different objectives. The question is therefore not so much to know which advertising content is more effective, but which one best meets the objectives of your digital communication.

As we have said, both are native advertising formats. But while the advertising message is the main reason for the advertorial, the sponsored article has higher ambitions. The aim is not just to promote a product or service or to present the latest news about a brand, with a view to generating sales. Sponsored content is part of a broader strategy to :

  • Gaining visibility,
  • Positioning on one (or more) search engines,
  • Generate traffic on the advertiser’s website,
  • Increase awareness,
  • Create a buzz with a viral article (particularly in the context of a social media strategy),
  • Boost natural referencing through netlinking.

This last point is essential. Using a sponsored article is often used to obtain a quality backlink, i.e. an external link to a specific page published on a site with a high authority (influential blog, institutional site, information platform, etc.). This is all the more important as search engines, when they are interested in the backlinks obtained by a site, look closely at an indicator called “Trust Flow”: a trust score based on the quality of these links.

For any advertiser wishing to implement a netlinking strategy, the use of sponsored articles is an excellent way to obtain high quality backlinks and to build an almost natural “link profile” (with “dofollow” links allowing the sharing of “SEO juice”).

To sum up, the sponsored article remains the most relevant option for awareness, visibility and obtaining quality inbound links.

And the best way to produce high value-added sponsored articles is still to entrust the writing of them to a specialised editorial agency like Paper Club. In addition to writing your editorial content, we identify influential blogs and sites from a database of over 10,000 publishers in all subject areas. So you’re sure to reach your goals!