The authenticity boost of sponsored content vs advertorials

Emerging media is as much about technology as it is how people use it. The resulting products and byproducts multidimensional media trigger evolutions within the digital ecosystem and consumer behavior.

acid rain

You want to prevent acid rain (negative consumer reactions), you have to understand what triggers acid rain. You want to find more rainbows (shining consumer content), you have to understand what conditions make a rainbow possible.

Make Rainbows

Advertorials vs Sponsored Content

Since my primary focus has been on unpaid traffic and organic optimization for the past six years, I hadn’t thought much about the difference. But Al Chen co-founder of Coopertize happily broke it down for me at PRSA ICON. Most of us are familiar with paid ads that look like content, aka advertorials. Whereas sponsored content is content paid for by the brand but created independently. To make it even simpler, brands have total control over advertorials, brands do not have control over sponsored content. This lack of control over the final product lends a level of grit and authenticity to the work.

Influencers vs Advocates

Here’s the crazy thing, both have influence over audiences, but guess who has greater influence? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the celebrity influencer. We live in day and age of authenticity, where consumers can smell the stink of BS even when it’s contained in a pretty digital post. Advocates hold exponential power because they can’t be bought. They can be rewarded, and they can certainly be fostered, nurtured and cultivated, but their opinions are their own not paid for endorsements.

Are you an influencer or an advocate?


  1. Debra McGaughey

    I understand your point about influencers vs. advocates. I argued the same thing in a previous IMC class, that influencers did not help sell product or influence sales as much as we marketers think. My professor politely rang me up about it. She cited a study of a colleague that pointed out how much celebrity influencers affected sales. Having not seen the study, I guess I let her win that round.

    Generational differences abound with this subject, I have found. A chart from Nielsen in a story about this outlines it well: Basically, younger people are more influenced by celebrity influencers than older people. Influence goes down as people age.

    Another couple of lines from the blog I read said it best:

    “While celebrity endorsements certainly help to attract consumers, its direct influence on the consumers’ purchasing decisions are inconclusive. In the book Contemporary Ideas and Research in Marketing, researchers found that 85% of people surveyed said that celebrity endorsements enhanced their confidence in and preference for a product, but only 15% said that celebrities had an impact on their purchase decisions.”


    Sokolovska, A. Impact of Celebrity Endorsement on Consumer Buying Behavior | Guided Selling. (2016, October 4). Retrieved from

    1. Interesting points, and certainly something to pay attention to. I expect to see more contradictory studies given the usage of “influencer” to mean both paid celebrity and unpaid high impact content creator. (Something I’d planned to go more into detail on, perhaps in a follow-up post.) I find it interesting that as marketers we seem to be the worst at finding and standardizing unique terms to classify or identify real variables. To bring this full circle, it would be fair to say that the value of authenticity in persuasion may depend on the target audience. Yet, still can one ignore the fact that products using celebrity endorsements clearly have more of an ad spend than those going after other lean methods?


  2. Stephanie,

    Your point where consumers can smell the stink of BS even when it’s contained in a pretty digital post is spot on. You’re right when saying advocates hold exponential power because they can’t be bought. How about some of LeBron James advertisements which actually hint at consumers “smelling the BS.” Do we really believe he drives a Kia even though the commercials advertise the fact despite the “BS logic” he does indeed drive a Kia? Sticking with LeBron does anyone actually believe his pregame meal consists of a Big Mac and a Sprite? Not hardly.

Comments are closed.