Internet users have long-dreaded online advertisements.  In the past, advertisers have been sneaky and deceiving.  In the spirit of the scariest month (almost) of the year, here’s a scary Never Stop making history topic: online advertising and its annoyingly intrusive beginnings.  Online ads created the monetization of many platforms. It’s how internet giants like Facebook and Google grew largely at such a quick pace. The story begins in the 1970s when Gary Thuerk sent the first spam email advertising his new computers.  The tactic proved so unsuccessful that no one tried it again for over a decade.  

In 1994, a familiar form of internet advertising was introduced.  The first banner ad was displayed on promoting AT&T. The goal for AT&T was to make the ad seem not to be an ad; the goal for HotWire was to generate revenue.  AT&T got its promotion and HotWire got $30,000 for its ad space.  Both parties reached their goals, with an incredible click-through rate of 44 percent! The average banner click-through rate today is about 0.06 percent. The ad model would eventually evolve from the initial fee model (paid upfront for a predetermined period of time) to the PPC (pay-per-click) model that we know today.

First banner by AT&T

With the launch of a successful advertising technique, advertisers began focusing on better targeting efforts.  Consumers were seeing the ads, but were they the right consumers?  An agency called Webconnect helped clients target their ideal consumers on the web.  The agency developed the “customview tool.” This development combated “banner fatigue” by limiting the number of times a consumer saw the same ad. When the limit was reached, the consumer began seeing a different banner. This practice is still used today.

By the mid-90s, Return on investment (ROI) tools were being developed. DoubleClick and D.A.R.T (Dynamic Advertising, Reporting and Targeting) revolutionized online advertising by telling advertisers where to get the most bang for their ad dollars. Double Click enabled companies to track the click-through rate and views across multiple websites. D.A.R.T allowed marketers to analyze campaigns before completion. This development also introduced the CPM (cost-per-impression) model. Marketers could now edit and redirect campaigns to become even more profitable.

In 1997, what has been called the “original sin of the internet” happened (this is the scariest part of the story… turn on your lights, grab your teddies)… the pop-up ad. These ads quickly became the most-hated ad technique in recent times. The creator of the code that enabled these horrible ads has actually expressed regret in the entire development. Interestingly, pop-up ads were not created with the intent to annoy; the ads were developed for the purpose of differentiating the actual ad from the content of the page that displayed it. These ads had a reign of terror that was thankfully stopped by the creation of web browser pop-up blockers in the early 2000s.  

At the end of the century, search engines were gaining popularity, which brought on a new form of advertising. (eventually acquired by Yahoo) had the first sponsored search results. The problem with this technique was that because of pay-for-placement models, search engine results were not quality. The highest keyword bidders would be placed above more relevant content. This model, that eventually evolved into PPC, created a corrupt system where there was no noticeable difference in paid vs organic search.  The hero of this story, as usual in the world of Digital marketing, is Google (we have to say that, because we like our SEO ranking) When Google came onto the scene, it worked to find a solution to the unhelpful search result clutter. The solution was the creation of AdWords, which originally operated under the pay-for-placement model. Google was different because it added click-through rate into the equation, meaning relevant search results could be placed above high bidders if Google users decided that the information was relevant.  

The rise of social media platforms in the mid-2000s created an opportunity to target younger internet users in a way that was nonintrusive. Facebook initially refused to display ads, but soon saw it to be a way to monetize its platform. Facebook would eventually revamp ad targeting as online advertisers knew it. In 2014, Facebook declared its strategy was less about ad quantity and more about increasing content quality.  This perspective helped to bringabout an increase in content advertising and native advertising.  Media platforms like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Elite Daily display sponsored ads in content that was native to their own platforms.  Marketing and advertising experts expect this trend to grow while becoming even less intrusive. This refreshing form of marketing is creating a need for even more journalism in marketing, which is making an interesting integration of the two industries.


Recent studies show that marketers are 60 percent more focused on content marketing than other forms of marketing in 2016, especially in the form of blogs.  Consumers report that they are seeking informative content in a variety of ways, including blogs and videos.  It can be predicted that the trend of nonintrusive online ads will increase in the future.  Maybe that makes the story less scary, or maybe the monster is still there… you just don’t know it until it’s too late.  (insert evil laugh)