Sponsored Content vs. Advertorial.
What’s the difference?

January 22, 2019

As a member of our sales team, I am often asked this question: “Can blogTO or any of your publishers write about my brand?” The short, quick answer is, yes and no. Some sites do advertorial, some do sponsored content, and they all create custom programs.

National Account Executive

Most of the feedback I receive while working with different clients often leans into an affinity for advertorial. My question is why? What makes advertorial so appealing and why is sponsored content the misunderstood cousin?

Truth is, we are living in a time with a very robust and complex media landscape. There are so many effective ways to amplify a brand or product.  This can seem scary or exciting! Either way, let’s take a dive into the definitions of each media property and take a moment to understand how they differ from one another.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines advertorial as:

​An advertisement in a newspaper or magazine that is designed to look like an article by the writers of the magazine.

Advertorial has parlayed itself into the digital media arena and has remained a vital part of the content marketing mix. This form of paid content is generally used to hook prospective customers by leveraging the voice and audience influence of a respected publisher while speaking directly about the paying advertiser’s brand.  This establishes a platform for a brand to tell a very traditional, direct story to their targeted demographic about their brand or product.

The advantage of advertorial pieces is that the advertiser is able to craft a very specific message within the content and present those aspects of their brand they wish to highlight to prospective customers.  I think this is why advertisers lean on advertorial first: they want to tell consumers directly why they’re great, On the flip side, readers can become defensive about such direct advertorial pieces and may instinctively challenge those brand attributes the advertiser wanted to highlight.

A lighter approach to advertorial is to have a piece written that briefly mentions the brand within the context of something your target consumer finds interesting or helpful. Think about profiling a holiday destination while mentioning that a given airline is now flying to that destination. The airline benefits from being written about, but the readers have been given a whole range of inspiring ideas about why they should go there as well as how they should get there.

Curiocity Advertorial – Staples Canada New Concept Store

Sponsored Content

Depending on where you sit within the content marketing world, sponsored content can take on many different definitions. For us here at Suite 66, we take pride in distinguishing our own definition that best represents how we build meaningful relationships with brands and our celebrated publishers: sponsored content has an advertiser and a publisher agree to an article theme that makes sense for both the publisher’s and advertiser’s brand. The advertiser then sponsors or ‘presents’ that article knowing that it aligns with their brand values and will be informative or entertaining to their target audience. This paid partnership borrows the trust and affinity publishers have built with their large, loyal audiences and essentially positions a client through a publisher’s lens. 

blogTO Sponsored Content – Heineken 0.0

The raw approach to understanding this partnership and how it differs from advertorial is understanding that a brand itself has not produced the published written content, nor are they mentioned directly in it. Rather a brand has sponsored a piece that reflects an aspect of the brand’s personality or connects to a key aspect of the kind of consumer a brand is looking for. An inclusion of a sponsor mention within the content piece is the paid opportunity for the brand, as is surrounding the article with the brand’s ads. By choosing publishers that feature content that resonates with their target demographic, there is an opportunity to partner and target tactfully.

The advantage of sponsored content is that it allows brands to tell a story in a less aggressive manner that is more likely to find a receptive audience; by tapping into content that fits the intent of the reader, rather than the intent of the brand, sponsored content helps to create a positive association between the brand and the content. While this may encourage the reader to find out more about the brand, the article doesn’t have the same ability to present the brand attributes in a direct way like traditional advertorial.


Sponsored Social

As the roles of online publishers continue to evolve, there are also opportunities to pair with publishers as social influencers. Through publishers’ social media presence, the non-traditional door opens further.  This is a fascinating adaptation of advertorial as on social media, publishers can talk directly about a brand and find a receptive audience. As many of us follow brands on social media, we’re much more open to seeing and reading about brands in this way. Through publishers as influencers, brands are able to position themselves within a trusted authentic space. This also creates the opportunity for ad-hoc style new content to be generated through the publisher.

Social content can be created quickly and posts provide immediate feedback: that feedback allows brands to quickly adjust approach if necessary. The shelf-life of social posts is short and they don’t have the longevity of other online tactics, though are very effective as a part of an advertising strategy. 

Curiocity Toronto and Curiocity Calgary Sponsored Instagram posts , blogTO Sponsored Instagram and Facebook post

So where do you go from here?

How do media planners, marketing strategists or small business owners go about deciding on which media product would be most effective to invest in?

Since we all love a little smoke and mirrors (let’s be honest, this is the media industry after all), I am going to tell you that its entirely up to you! TA-DAH! In all seriousness, talking to the team here at Suite 66 about your goals for your brand will help us craft the right tactics for you. One thing I can tell you is that we often see high CTRs and engagement rates with sponsored content because people want to see things they can relate to. Sponsored social is a fast way to generate awareness and create some urgency: we love seeing people tag their friends on posts about our clients. Feedback is immediate and you gain valuable insight into consumer opinion. Advertorial is great for product launches where you need to detail more about your brand and it works especially well in combination with other tactics to get your name out there.

As always, drop us a note, give us a call, message us on social. We’re ready to talk through each of these options with you and create the custom campaign you need.

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February 14, 2019

It takes several important elements to create a digital advertising campaign, all of which must work together in order for the campaign to succeed. Sometimes just one element can impede the success of your campaign, but identifying that element isn’t always easy.


Our client was looking to increase sign-ups for their high value service, and partnered with Suite 66 to run their programmatic campaign. Unfortunately, we found that while their ads were performing well, our client was not getting the sign-ups they desired.

We could see that people were dropping off as they moved through the sign up process. 45% of people who clicked the ad begun the sign up process, but when it came time for them to enter their payment information 69% of the people who clicked the ad had abandoned the form.

Was the plan too expensive? Was their credit card not accepted? Did they forget the promo code shown in the ad, and go back to look for it?

We needed to figure out what was preventing these potential customers from following through. This is what we found.

Clicks aren’t everything

Getting lots of clicks is great, but a high CTR and low conversions can often indicate poor targeting tactics. We knew that we needed to use the right tactics in order to reach the right customers. We understood that switching service providers is a big decision that can require a bit of initial hassle. Even if the savings are great, the idea of making that switch can be daunting. Our strategy and targeting tactics allowed us to make sure we found qualified potential customers at a time when they would be most open to making a switch. 

We started by serving potential customers ads that educated them on the features and benefits of our client's offering. Once our audience was familiar with the service the team re-targeted those who went to the landing page but did not complete the sign-up form. People who clicked the first ad were later presented a second ad that outlined the benefits of switching services along with a promo code to further entice a switch.

We found that potential customers were starting to fill out the sign-up form, but were giving up before completing the switch. Their actions indicated that they were interested, but something in this process that was stopping them from signing up and making the switch.

The importance of visual consistency

The re-targeting ads promoted a significant discount for switching to our client’s services. However, after the ad was clicked, there was no mention of the promotion on the landing page or throughout the sign-up process. The form only mentions entering a promo code in the second last step — just before the user is required to enter their payment details. By this time they may have forgotten the code shown in the ad, and may abandon the page in order to look for it.

There are two problems here. One is that the messaging on the ad is not consistent with the messaging on the landing page. In order to foster trust and reduce confusion the messaging and design of the ad and landing page need to be as similar as possible.

The second is that while promo codes can be an effective way to win new customers, they can lose their power when customers leave your page to look for in search of them. A study by Paypal and Comscore found that 45% of shoppers had abandoned multiple shopping carts in a three week period. 27% of the people who abandoned their purchase reported that they did so to look for a coupon or promotion.

Changing the language from “Promo Code” to “Discount Code” or “Gift Code” has been shown to reduce cart abandonment, and reducing the prominence of the promo code helps reduce a potential customer's FOMO.

Since our client’s goal was to increase conversions through the ads, we recommended they keep the promo code visible throughout the sign up process or apply the discount automatically to reduce shopping cart abandonment.

Using design to reduce customer stress

We know that changing service providers is rarely easy. By simplifying the sign up process and making it as stress free as possible, we hoped to alleviate some of the potential apprehension felt by potential customers. There are tons of articles out there detailing form design best practices, like Venture Harbour — Form Design Best Practices, UX Planet — Designing More Efficient Forms and UX Planet — 16 Tips that Will Improve Any Online Form. But what all of these best practices come down to is minimizing the  mental effort needed to process and store information, known as the cognitive load .

Remove irrelevant elements using conditional logic

Don’t confuse people by offering services that may not be available to their home. Instead, we suggest asking for the person's postal code before they selected their services, then showing them the services that are available to them. This is called conditional logic — providing only information that applies to them based on their response to the previous question.

This reduces the average length of your form, while also reducing form abandonment by not displaying questions that might be irrelevant or confusing.

Reducing form fields and using top aligned labels will help make forms less overwhelming for your customer

Reducing form fields from 11 to 4 increased overall conversions by 120%, with no impact on quality of the conversions. Removing unnecessary form fields like “office phone number” and combining fields like “First name” and “Last name” to “Full name” reduces the number of steps required to complete the form, and in turn reduces the user’s cognitive load.

Form fields can also be reduced by using tools like a zip code or postal code lookup which remove a persons need to fill out their full address, saving time and reducing form fields.

By asking for a full name and using a postal code lookup, you can reduce form fields from 9 to 4.

Another way to reduce form fields is to ask yourself “Can this item be asked of the customer at another stage in their journey?” For example, the option to choose paperless billing would be more appropriate in the payment segment of the form.

Another simple design change is to include the label within the input area, rather than have it sit above. A form with only 4 fields can look quite long with each label placed above it.

Build trust with transparency

A study done by IDC (International Data Corporation) found 50% of purchases are abandoned because people want to make informed decisions but they not being provided enough information. The more money the product costs, the more information a person will want. Giving enough information throughout the sign up process can help prevent a person from leaving in search of answers.

Assuring people that they can switch their plan or cancel at any time eases them through the payment process. 

When it comes to a multi-step form, it is crucial to show people the total number of steps in the form, where they are in the process. Letting potential customers know exactly how many steps they have already completed makes them feel accomplished, and showing how many are left gives them a goal to work towards. It also lets users know that they won’t be clicking “Next” forever.

Transparency in the billing process is a must when asking people to purchase a high-value service. We recommended that the page that asks for payment information also indicate when service will start, and when the user’s account will be charged.

A behavioral economics study by the University of Chicago found that people are more likely to commit to service where they will be charged in the future, rather than right away. By letting the user know that they won’t be charged until a later date, we have given them more incentive to complete the form. 

By making tweaks to your consumers post click journey, you are able to optimize to better acquisitions.

Realizing our client’s service isn’t typically an impulse buy for consumers and that it takes a while to build consideration, we were able to suggest solutions to ease the consumer’s journey, giving their customer’s the tools they need to convert.

I am a digital designer working at Suite 66, a Canadian independent online sales agency, servicing advertisers and representing website publishers in Canada and the U.S.


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