Scroll Top

Native Advertising: The Evolution of ‘Special Sections’

Native Advertising: Then and Now

I began my journalism career in 1978, and before my first year was over I had been thoroughly introduced to the concept of “native advertising.”

Native advertising is the hot, new digital advertising concept often explained as the integration of advertising messages into the normal content of a website. I’ll elaborate in a bit. Back in 1978 and as long as I worked for newspapers, native advertising was known as a “special section,” or, in the case of the mother of all special sections, the annual “progress edition.”

Special Sections

Pick a business category, and a newspaper somewhere had a special section about it – home improvement, real estate, home and garden, auto, summer fun, health, etc. The sections were full of advertisements, and where necessary, copy editors filled the holes around the ads with related syndicated content. Most of it wasn’t local, and most of it wasn’t very interesting.

Progress Sections

The progress section was a high-powered special section, and the entire newsroom got involved writing articles about local companies who bought ads for the section (OK, nobody ever acknowledged that), and the bigger the ad, the bigger the article. Voila! Content promoting local businesses integrated to look like regular news – even written by the editorial staff. Sounds like native advertising to me.

Digital Native Advertising

Digital native advertising is popular now because it gets more clicks than banners and because it’s creating more engagement with marketing content. What exactly qualifies as digital native advertising? One of the best examples is a sponsored post on Facebook. It shows up in the reader’s news feed and looks almost like a normal post. You might also be familiar with sponsored posts on Twitter – it’s the same “native” concept.

Google was among the pioneers of digital native advertising with search ads, which resemble organic search results. Some advertising widgets and promoted listings can also fit the native advertising label. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has comprehensive classifications available on its website.

Today’s Examples

Most website publishers are looking for ways to introduce native advertising to their news stream. For a good example, look at To distinguish ads from the other content, the native ads have shaded backgrounds, include  “Presented by” logos and the words “Featured Partner.”

In Buzzfeed’s case, the ads link to advertiser content that is hosted on Buzzfeed’s site. A click takes the reader to the full article, which also includes links to the advertiser’s social media and buttons that allow readers to share content as social media posts.

Native ads on perform more like traditional banner ads, feeding clicks to the advertiser’s website or landing page.

Foreseeable Challenges

Creating a digital native advertising program for local advertisers presents challenges. Technical and programming issues include building a way to insert advertising into the news stream and to distinguish it from editorial content. You must also decide how to track ad interaction and establish standard reports.

Newsroom managers should be involved in the native advertising process, too. They will understandably have concerns about properly distinguishing advertising content from editorial content. Another concern: newsrooms on tight budgets often are the only source of writers.

Generating content is another challenge. Options for publishers include relying on the advertisers to provide articles or hiring in-house writers. A third option is to work with an agency, like Dream Local Digital, that already has a team of writers and experience with online content marketing. Agencies involved in online and social media marketing understand content that creates engagement.

In the end, the content – and how well it connects your readers and your advertisers – will determine the success of any digital native advertising program. Although a comparison with newspaper sections may seem apt, digital native advertising gives advertisers a valuable platform that won’t tolerate bland, evergreen articles. Instead, it encourages – even demands that – local businesses share useful, interesting or just entertaining information with potential customers.

To learn about our Native Advertising Services, read more here or contact Dream Local to get started today.

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.