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

By: Dan Kennedy on: July 9th, 2009 11 Comments

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.


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:

  1. Can it be easily and cheaply tested?
  2. Is there a more reliable approach that will do just as well?
  3. Is there enough benefit to balance the cost of experimenting? Etc.


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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    Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to

    11 Responses

    1. Rob Anspach says:

      The problem with fishing in a big lake… is that you have to catch and most likely release a whole bunch of the wrong fish. But by fishing is a smaller lake that is stocked with the fish you want to catch – it makes fishing more enjoyable.

      This is true with marketing… many times you are enticed into placing an in the phonebook or coupon magazine… and that might not be your target audience.

      A carefully crafted direct targeted marketing piece to the exact match cliente is always a safer bet… and makes attracting and working with clients more enjoyable.

    2. Often the fish I catch I wAAAAAAAAAAAy don’t want. but consider a mouse and a snake.

      If you put a mouse in the cage with a snake, and the snake does not eat the mouse within 24 hours–they become friends for life.

      Isn’t it true that when we engage and relate and care for our clients, they love us back?

      Stage Hypnotist Simone

    3. Mike says:

      Love your point about presuming every recipient will try NOT to read your article or sales letter.

      I’m always working hard to make my message irresistible to my target market. But never thought about it in this way before. Thanks.

    4. Excellent post!

      the mindset is this:

      “Does this mail piece stand a chance when opened over the trashcan to get rescued from certain destruction?”

      Lumpy mail… handwritten letter… what kind of stamp… no matter how good the message inside is, if it goes directly into the trash, you don’t stand a chance…

      One idea we have successfully used a while ago is using USPS overnight envelope… sent via regular mail!

    5. One of the toughest things I see my clients struggle with is the need to go after LESS people — to target a niche — instead of thinking they’re McDonald’s or Coca Cola and trying to sell to anyone with a pulse.

      Me: Who is your ideal prospect?
      Client: Anyone with back pain.

      Good luck with that marketing strategy, Mr. Small Business Owner. You’ll be out of funds WAY before you attract the number of patients you need to stay in business…

    6. Les Rose says:

      Just received a Google direct mailing shot this morning. Clear window envelope showing what appears to be a Red card with $50 value. How could I NOT open this envelope ?
      That is an amazing device, There’s nothing like the offer of free cash to get your attention !
      Don’t forget, if your selling a product, the value relates to the full retail value, not your cost, and the take up rate is usually in the single figures, so your actual costs are not so bad.
      The important thing is to get that envelope opened and the message read.

    7. Les,

      although that is true, you will usually get a higher open rate with a plain vanilla envelope then you will for one with a teaser.

      Of course, free Google money or “bulky mail” kind of mailings do get opened as well… but for the average unknown business, i’d stick with a plain white envelope or a “priority mail” type…

    8. Rob Anspach says:

      I’ve used the fake “priority mail” envelopes in the past…they look like official USPS priority envelopes. Customers would be fooled by the official looking envelop and open the piece, then I would capture them with my brilliant marketing piece inside.

      My sales would always increase when I sent those out… almost a 25 to 1 ROI

      although the last mailing I did with them – all 1500 of the envelopes mysteriously dissappeared at the post office and about $2000 in printing and mailing costs lost plus lost any potential sales to offset costs

    9. OUCH, Rob!

      How did you find out that none of your mail got delivered?

    10. Great info. Lucky me I found your website by accident (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

    11. Bend the tree while it is young. – Italian Proverb

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